Author Topic: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings  (Read 1143 times)

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Offline Rustic Lovebirds

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Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« on: February 19, 2016, 04:59:41 AM »
Hi guys, this is my first post so sorry if this has already been asked.

We are wedding photographers that have slowly built up a good business which is getting busier and busier. We are noticing we are having to turn down work now due to getting multiple requests for the same date. So we are thinking of recruiting a couple of photographers onto our books that we get on with and trust and are to a good enough standard and also fit in with our own style of photography, thus allowing us to take on more than 1 job on the same date.

Our post on here is for advice really. My biggest worry is that we find a great photographer, seems to tick all the boxes but then they let us down last minute. For us it could really damage our reputation, but for the freelance photographer its no big deal. Is there a particular contract that is generally used for this situation? How is the best way to be confident that the photographer isnt going to let us down last minute?

Also, in terms of finding a suitable photographer, we are considering the following: 2/3 years experience photographing weddings?, confirmation of kit they use, portfolio of images, portfolio of last wedding photographed, confirmation of public liability insurance. Is there any big things i'm missing?

Any advice or previous experience on this would be greatly appreciated.

Offline Jenny Gavin-Wear

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2016, 05:14:44 AM »
Hi guys, this is my first post so sorry if this has already been asked.

We are wedding photographers that have slowly built up a good business which is getting busier and busier. We are noticing we are having to turn down work now due to getting multiple requests for the same date. So we are thinking of recruiting a couple of photographers onto our books that we get on with and trust and are to a good enough standard and also fit in with our own style of photography, thus allowing us to take on more than 1 job on the same date.

Our post on here is for advice really. My biggest worry is that we find a great photographer, seems to tick all the boxes but then they let us down last minute. For us it could really damage our reputation, but for the freelance photographer its no big deal. Is there a particular contract that is generally used for this situation? How is the best way to be confident that the photographer isnt going to let us down last minute?

Also, in terms of finding a suitable photographer, we are considering the following: 2/3 years experience photographing weddings?, confirmation of kit they use, portfolio of images, portfolio of last wedding photographed, confirmation of public liability insurance. Is there any big things i'm missing?

Any advice or previous experience on this would be greatly appreciated.

I realise this is not what you asking for, but have you considered not taking on staff, but putting your prices up?

Offline Todd Muskopf

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2016, 05:36:25 AM »
I think you would have to look hard at whether you want to be a manager or not.  You'll have to hire people, train them to do everything YOUR WAY (or the highway!), and hope for the best when you turn your back and let them do their thing.  When people talk about bringing on other photographers, I don't think they fully realize that managing that team is another job they are adding to their already busy workload and it may or may not alleviate that sense of being overwhelmed.  A bigger team could equal more volume, so all the backend stuff, retouching, album design, etc. is also going to grow, so don't forget to add more of those people as well.  Oh, and SALES! Who does that?  Could they do 2 or 3 times?

I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying plan for it, be ready for it, and understand that there's more involved to doubling your workload than just hiring one person.

Offline Jeff Behm

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2016, 09:34:17 AM »
In keeping with the two things already posted, as my business grew I went through similar growing pains.  First I took on a regular assistant I trained to work with me, not shooting, just everything else.  Then I raised my prices, and still was turning away business.  Then I doubled the prices and still was busy enough to consider the second and eventually third shooter.  I started with the assistant and trained her to shoot exactly according to what we'd already been doing and made her the #2 primary, and trained two new assistants.  Eventually one of them became the third shooter.  But here's an important fact that may differ in our respective situations:  These were all full time employees because I had a large studio in which these people had jobs all week and made bonus when they shot a wedding.  Also, even though they were trained by me to shoot as my studio's reputation required, the 2nd and 3rd shooter each had their own sample albums they could show, so if I was booked, they would interview with the prospect to see if they meshed and show their own work so the client could see what they might be buying.

Offline Joe Federer

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2016, 11:12:58 AM »
It looks to me that you simply have a few dates each year where you have enough interest that, if you wanted and had additional shooters, you could double book a date.

It doesn't appear to me that you are looking to bring on a big staff or completely revamp your workflow or bring on managers or full time assistants or anything.


I ran into this problem in the past and solved it simply by creating a tight-knit referral group.  I passed off weddings to people that were roughly my same style and roughly the same pricerange... they passed their extras off to me.  Sure, I wasn't able to double-book weekends... but I WAS able to fill slots for weekends that might have otherwise gone unfilled.  I then controlled demand through increasing prices such that I wasn't really passing toooo many.   In the end, I think this resulted in more money coming into my pockets than had I found a suitable associate photographer, hired, trained, and paid them for the 3-4 extra weddings per year.

Now, I didn't come to the 'plan' because I thought it through.  I simply couldn't find what you are looking for -- someone with a few years experience, good reqs/gear/insurance/etc...  because that person was already shooting weddings on their own and generally was already booking at what they felt they were worth.  ... such that I couldn't sell their services for 'more' and profit.  For example, I could have found someone acceptable that was currently doing weddings for 4k.  But I couldn't sell their work for 5k ... and they wouldn't accept much less than 4k.   Sure, if they outsourced the post to me they might have gone for less... but then I'm busier and instead of being a photographer, I've become a post-processor (which makes less per-hour than shooting).    In the end, I found that for the minimal additional bookings it would have gotten my company, it just wasn't worth the hassle.

From talking to people in my referral group, it seems the only real way to do it is find someone that simply needs to cover the costs of their new gear and doesn't really care about starting their own business.   ... or, simply have enough extra volume that the extra headache makes sense.  My problem was that I couldn't find that person, nor did I care to focus on volume when I could, instead, just raise prices.   

Offline Jeff Behm

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2016, 11:49:17 AM »
If it's only 3 or 4 times a year, it might be better to just raise prices.  How much?  No way for us to know, and difficult enough for you to figure out.  We don't know your pricing structure or market.  But if you got, say, 3 more weddings a year, how much extra profit would that generate?  Divide that  profit by how many you usually do and consider whether adding that amount to your fees would work for you. 

Another thing I've heard, but never did for weddings (I did do it for portraits) is to have higher fees for the highly desirable weekends, like the end of May through the end of June, for instance, and the mid 2 weeks in October.  If you look back over past years, you can usually see which ones are almost always in demand.  Or look at those Memorial Day/4th of July/Labor Day/Halloween dates that fall on Saturdays.  You have to be careful in constructing such an approach and how you speak of it, but I've heard of studios doing it and liking the results.

Offline Joe Federer

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2016, 04:29:35 PM »
"If it's only 3 or 4 times a year, it might be better to just raise prices.  How much? "

The thing is, you can never get away from those 3-4.   I had my prices in the 5-digits and was only shooting 8-10 per year (at my peak, I've dropped considerably as my time to focus on the biz has dropped) and STILL would get 2-4 double-ups per year.  Shoot, I think it was 2011, I had 2 total weddings before August 1... but had had 5 requests for May 28.  That's why a good referral group helps -- you pass them all a May 28 and they pass you other dates you don't already have full.   

Obviously this only really works at a lower volume -- if you are shooting 50 a year, you are always booked anyway and bringing on help might be the best way forward.  I know of one person that tried this but didn't want it to affect their 'brand' so they simply opened up another brand (super easy now-a-days) and stocked it with photographers she trained and work at a much lower pricepoint.  She then exclusively pushes people (either people she's busy for their date... or who can't afford her premium rates) to that second business.  That said, as Todd and Jeff noted... she's now a 'manager' of that business rather than all 'photographer'.


Offline Darren Cassese

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2016, 07:54:25 AM »

Our post on here is for advice really. My biggest worry is that we find a great photographer, seems to tick all the boxes but then they let us down last minute.

Has something happened that has led you to make this assumption up front?

As someone who has both hired photographers to shoot solo for my own business and as second photographers as WELL as having shot weddings as solo and as a second for someone else, I can tell you that this model can work extremely well.

I think the advice on raising rates is spot-on if you are only looking to fill a few spots. But raising rates too much can cost you to also lose business. You may have found a sweet spot where you're at and if you raise rates too much and too fast, you'll potentially lose business.

I will also differ from some here in terms of how to train your photographers. My model was to find extremely talented individuals and just let them do what they do best, creatively. If you handle all the transactions and meetings and just hire them to shoot, it frees them up to just focus on shooting.

I can emphatically tell you that micromanaging how a creative individual is supposed to shoot a wedding really inhibits their work. I do not agree with this approach and would never recommend it.

Also don't think you need separate brands. Another approach is to price differently based on skill level and/or years of experience. You market the portfolios more than the brand but the brand stands behind the portfolio giving it lasting street cred. Similar to a hair salon with master and apprentice stylists...you can't even get an appointment with the owner at some places. Photography is very similar. Everyone wants Jane Doe photographer but she is booked all year. So you can have John Doe for this rate. You like John's work, but not as much as Jane. It doesn't mean you won't be happy. But your expectations are different and it all evens out. John probably produces work just as good but if he has a down day, the expectation on him to produce like Jane is less. Does that make sense?

The guy I shoot for now does about 100 weddings a year. He follows Todd's approach of strict training and micromanagement. It has worked very well for him. He trains by having his seconds shoot as thirds for a very low rate for a period of a few weddings, evaluates photos, then promotes them to second. He micromanages the heck out of the seconds until he gains confidence in them to leave them mostly alone. At that point, he starts asking them to "handle" certain scenarios on their own. He evaluates that work and if he feels confident enough, starts giving them their own gigs. He starts at low rates of pay and gradually increases based on feedback and experience. While I don't like the micromanaging approach, I am sharing because he has had a lot of success.

Also - You'd be surprised what experienced photographers are willing to work for if we have nothing going on. Don't assume someone needs $1000 to shoot a wedding. When all you have to do is show up with camera and then hand over RAW files after 8 hours, working for less isn't a bad gig.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2016, 07:56:21 AM by Darren Cassese »
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Offline Jeff Behm

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2016, 10:15:53 AM »
I can emphatically tell you that micromanaging how a creative individual is supposed to shoot a wedding really inhibits their work. I do not agree with this approach and would never recommend it.

I don't disagree with Darren on this too much, you do have to understand they will address their creativity in their individual ways.  But if they're representing your studio as a brand, as was the case in my studio, there are certain parameters that must be met.  But the individuality is why, if I was booked, the client met with either Jennifer or Rebecca to see if they meshed as "their" photographer, and in so doing, the client looked at work that those two had created.   

It does, as Joe has mentioned, make us a manager as well, but I already was the owner/manager/photographer in my studio anyway.  Expecting these other photographers to meet our standards is our responsibility as owners if we wish to maintain our brand's reputation, whether it's with freelancers or employees.  That's best accomplished with training; not to impede creativity, but to ensure quality control.  After that they can cut loose.  For instance, Jennifer, my #1 assistant and studio manager, proved to be a much better Senior photographer than I, so all of them were turned over to her as a line within the studio.  But it was still my brand.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2016, 10:20:18 AM by Jeff Behm »

Offline Joe Federer

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2016, 10:01:58 PM »
Also - You'd be surprised what experienced photographers are willing to work for if we have nothing going on. Don't assume someone needs $1000 to shoot a wedding. When all you have to do is show up with camera and then hand over RAW files after 8 hours, working for less isn't a bad gig.


This is wicked true.

I am generally 'not cheap' to have me shoot your wedding.  At this point, it's going to take 4-5k to get me to just show up.

But if it's Feb 20 and I don't have a single gig between now and May (and thus my weekends aren't particularly valuable) and you are talking about Feb 27 and offering me 1k to show up for 6-8 hours, shoot, and hand over some files (and I have no plans otherwise) ...  I'll do the math and realize that's literally 150 bucks a worked hour.   That's a great gig!

Now, ask me to do the same thing on Feb 20 ... for a gig in June?  Nope... too large of a chance that I could get a bigger booking (which matters more ...even if it's less per hour).   Even if it was only a week ahead of time in June, my weekends are more valuable in the summer (for recreation with friends, if nothing else) such that I might need more.  But still - the principal applies... show up, shoot, hand off CF cards and never think about it again?  I'll do that for WAY WAY WAY less than my normal gigs.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2016, 10:04:28 PM by Joe Federer »

Offline Rustic Lovebirds

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Re: Advice on emplying a Freelancer to help with weddings
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2016, 04:50:00 PM »
Hi guys,

Firstly, thanks for all your replies and advice. Lots to consider there and lots of it makes sense in relation to our situation.

You are right when you say this requirement for another photographer is only for a handful of weddings.

We are not yet at a point where we are doing enough weddings a year for it to be a good full time income (although it is slowly getting there) and therefore we are not looking for other photographers to take on work as we have too much. Rather than that, it's just that, as Joe mentioned in a previous post, there always seems to be a few dates a year that we are turning down which is a bit frustrating.

One of the main reasons for this is, when we started our business, we sold ourselves as being 2 photographers being present on your wedding day. This soon became our biggest USP and we got lots of bookings from people liking this fact that they had a lead photographer for all aspects of the day (bride prep as well as groom prep etc).

So the problem is now presenting, because there is just the 2 of us in the business, and we advertise our full day weddings as having 2 photographers always - there is the occasional wedding that comes up where one of us might have other commitments, meaning we turn the wedding down. As well as that, we always seem to get a few wedding enquiries a year for the same date which obviously at the moment means we turn down all but 1 for that date.

The idea was to get a couple of photographers on board that can step in with 1 of us when needed. And for when we get a double enquiry for the same date, we would have 1 photographer to go with myself and 1 photographer to go with my partner, meaning we are increasing our exposure and income.

Joe you are correct when you say we are looking to create a tight knit referral group, but with people who are also wanting to join us if they are available on dates we need another shooter.

We have got a friendly connection with another photographer who has worked with me once before and it went fine, we worked together well, therefore Im happy to work with him again. I'm just wondering if people who have had similar experience with freelancers, require the freelancer to sign a contract confirming they will keep the date free rather than just taking their word for it that they will keep the date free. Especially when we are getting enquiries quite far in advance (summer 2017 onwards etc) and we need a second photographer to be available in order for us to be able to say yes to the booking.
We have recently also been in contact with another local photographer who seems very similar in style to ourselves, and he has expressed he would be interested in working with us if he had the availability. We are going to meet up with him next week to chat further.

Nothing has happened previously to make me sceptical as to why a freelance photographer would let us down last minute. But I suppose, the worrier in me thinks: We book in with a freelancer to work with one of us, he nearer the time gets a last minute booking on his own and lets us down last minute. For him, he does this it as he gets more profit for a wedding under his own booking. For us, our reputation could be ruined if we cant find another shooter in time. I guess thats just a risk to take with taking other people on to join us. Is having a contract with this person a pointless extra?

With regards to increasing our prices. We have slowly increased our prices since we began. We increased our prices slightly around 6-12 months ago and we probably will do again in another 6-12 months. Again we are conscious about increasing too much too soon as we are keen to keep our workload on the up.

Sorry for the lengthy reply. But lots of your advice has already helped quite a lot.