Important Lesson For All Wedding Photographers

Important Lesson For All Wedding Photographers

As wedding photographers we are hired to show up and photograph one of the most important days in the life of our clients. So what happens if you get sick, or even die, with weddings jobs under contract? Do you have a plan? This week I had an eye opening experience that made me rethink my own plan. Here's my story and some tips to help you develop a plan of your own.

I woke up Thursday morning with a sharp pain in my left shoulder, but thinking I just slept on it wrong I continued on with my plan for the day and boarded a plane to Utah where I was to teach a workshop for the following two days. Each day the pain persisted, but I just loaded up with some pain meds and went forward with my daily agenda.

Fstoppers Important Lesson for Photographers 2

After flying home on Sunday, I started to have some sharp pain in my chest. The pain continued to get worse and by 11pm that evening my wife insisted I go visit the emergency room to get checked out. That night at the ER they checked out my heart, my blood even my gastrointestinal system just to make sure everything was in good order. It was. So after 6 hours of monitoring me they told me to set up an appointment with a cardiologist and sent me on my way.

The next day, Monday, I tried to get some things done on my computer but the pain persisted. After having a consult with some potential clients that evening I began driving home around 7pm only to find myself short of breath and a barrage of stabbing pains in my chest. I called my wife and told her instead of going home I was heading back to the ER to have them check me over again.

Fstoppers Important Lesson for Photographers Drive

As I arrived at the ER I started thinking about my family history and the fact that a number of family members have passed away from heart disease or an aneurysm of the aorta. This got me scared as my symptoms were quite similar. I knew I had a wedding this weekend to photograph in Sun Valley, Idaho and so with the thoughts of getting checked into the ER and the possibility of surgery I set a plan in motion to make sure my clients were going to be taken care of.

I knew flying into Sun Valley was a bit difficult as it is a small airport. My flight was leaving from Phoenix, through San Francisco and from there to Sun Valley. Knowing this I reached out to some very experienced and talented wedding photographers that lived nearby San Francisco. I went back and grabbed the bride, groom and their parents phone numbers and sent them over to the photographer. I gave them instructions not to call the bride and groom unless it was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to do it myself. This photographer also had my wife's cell phone number and stayed in touch with her via text messaging. As the doctors wired me up and started performing different exams this photographer started setting up plans to travel, checking flights out of SFO, and even calling on one other very talented photographer to assist at the wedding thereby making quite the dream team to fill in for me. Knowing this lifted a lot of stress off my shoulders as I knew worst case my clients were going to be taken care of.

Fstoppers IMportant Lesson for Photographers Real Deal

While in the ER the doctors did the same round of tests as the night before and once again declared that I was heart-attack free and should just go home and rest. But the pain was intense and as I shared my family history once again with the doctors I insisted they dive deeper and find out what was causing the problem. The doc ordered a CAT Scan and the results came back 45 minutes later. I was diagnosed with pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs. With this diagnosis the doctor prescribed me some inflammatory medicine and drugs for the pain as well as a visit the next day to the cardiologist. There, I was able to get a clean bill of health and report that I had a healthy heart. A few days of taking the prescriptions and now my inflammation is all but gone and the pain has subsided. I'm now able to prep myself for the wedding and be there for my clients.

This whole experience has been eye opening for me. Here's what I learned.

1. Always have a back up plan in place with a number of different photographers that can step up for you in case of illness, injury or even death. I belong to a couple different groups of photographers on Facebook. Over the months and years we have become a tight knit family. I also have surrounded myself with a group of extremely talented photographers that I have 100% confidence could step up and deliver amazing images for my clients if I were unable to do it. Noam Galai talked about this concept of making other photographers your friends, not your enemies in his article, Five Kind-of-Weird Photography Tips No One Ever Told You

2. Let your spouse, best friend or family member know where to find your written back up plan which outlines how to access your passwords for your email, calendar, social media accounts and studio management software. That way if needed they can jump in and help assist finding people to cover you if you are unable to do it on your own.

3. If you were to pass away or become disabled. Have a plan ahead of time of who is going to step up and help you to edit your work and how your family can access your bank accounts to help pay for these services.

4. Have an organized workflow system in place that makes it easy for anyone accessing your computer to see what shoots still need to be edited and everything labeled properly.

5. Have a life insurance policy and maybe even disability policy in place to provide the necessary income or influx of money to cover any expenses on your behalf as well as provide income to continue supporting your family. You don't want that extra stress to be on them.

6. Become an advocate for your own health. Had I insisted the first night in the ER that they dive a little deeper (because of my family history) I would have been able to start the prescription drugs earlier as they would have discovered the cause of pain that first night.

In summary, this experience has taught me the importance of having a plan in place. Do you have one? What else would be important to have in the plan? Let me know in the comments below.

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Dave Wallace's picture

Great article! Thanks for stirring up some thoughts for me Trevor.

Wow! Thank goodness you're okay & was very persistent about your own well being. Glad everything worked out for you.

Stephen Vosloo's picture

Such important thoughts. Thanks for sharing Trevor!

Plus make sure in your contract with the couple that your maximum liability in the case of accident or ill health is the amount of their payment...don't want to be sued for the full cost of their wedding if you break an ankle heading into the church and have a car accident on the way...

That is one of the smartest things a photographer can add to their contract. People can become so distraught that they will sue for the entire cost of their wedding, even if you were taken hostage or something.
Another term I have is that I will not produce a shot that -- in my opinion -- will endanger myself or my gear, is illegal, or unsafe to the client. Having expensive gear break, getting arrested, or someone getting hurt isn't a logical way to cover a wedding. Even pro gear has its limits when comes to adverse weather.

Finally, I also have a retouching term that limits it to basic blemish removal, density, and color-correction/grading. This allows me to turn around the photos in a timely fashion and manages client expectations. You don't want to get stuck with, "I don't like the way my stomach looks in photos 0735 to 0755. Could you, like, tuck it in?" without getting paid for the extra work. You have to plan for that client that just doesn't like the way they look or is so nit-picky that things are never really "right" or "done".

Incredible story. I love the advice. However Id love to know how to actually do the advice given. How do I actually make a photographer stand by in case something happens to me, especially just starting in the business? It's a heavy thought worth having. Great, as if I don't have enough to worry about as it is. Smh.

Great article. Similar thing happened to me several years back. As a result I helped set up an informal support network among my local photographers. So true that other photographers are your best friends not your competition. As well as having people I can call on in emergencies. I get 2nd shooter gigs and referrals on the jobs they aren't available to do. Win win!

Thanks for sharing this! I thought a lot about this when Marvell passed - there's so much to think about. #6 is the biggest one, you truly have to be an advocate for yourself! I'm so glad you insisted on further diagnosis.

First Trevor, I'm glad you are doing well and it wasn't serious. The points you made are applicable to anyone who owns a business, you NEED to have strategies in place for unforeseen events like you experienced. At the very least your spouse/partner should know what to do in the event that something happens to you, and no it's not a fun thing to talk about, but nobody ever really plans when they might have a heart attack, or be in a car accident, but hey it happens and bring prepared is the best thing you can do.

Thanks so much for sharing this scarry, but true story! All of us photographers need to understand that stuff happens and we need to think quickly to react and still please our clients. I will start my own tight community of friendly photographers that can cover my shoots one day If I need them and vice versa. Thanks once again for sharing a life lesson that applies to all of us. Cheers and I wish you all the best. Be sure to fly down to Brazil and watch the Fifa World Cup Live!

Glad to hear you are healthy and great advice on creating a backup plan in case of emergency! If you truly want to be an advocate for your own health and have a history of heart disease in your family, please go in for regular checkups! The ER has to send you away when there may be people actually about to have heart attacks waiting. I'd like to add regular preventative care to your number 6 (for anyone who doesn't already do so) so that maybe you may never have to visit the ER in the first place.

Trevor Dayley's picture

You are absolutely correct Christine!

Interesting timing as I broke my (dominant) arm yesterday...struggling now!

Thanks so much for this valuable information, Trevor. Glad you're feeling better!!

My take on any wedding photography is that it's always best to hire two or three local photography major students for couple hundred bucks than hiring so-called "professional". the end result is same and I just save my clients thousands of dollars. Oh please, don't give that pros takes better pictures. No. they take the same god damn pictures as photo major college kids and matter of fact, those photo majors do better job 99% of the time. period.


Dear Mr. Cartier-Bresson, thank you for coming back from the dead and offering these invaluable pearls of wisdom.

Ha ha, anytime! Hope you learned something!

Kristi Woody's picture

Great article! I worry about this often, and I've made sure my husband knows where to find my wedding forms and client info if I ever pass away or am unable to communicate. I need to set up something more efficient though and have contact info for backup photographers. This is a great reminder!

I recently thought, What if I get blind?! That scares me a lot, that's why I started searching for insurance companies and hospital plans to take care of any situation.

I wonder how much would it be to ensure our eyes as photographers, there's people ensuring other body parts why not the eyes? Great article by the way.

This is the second article ive read today dealing with disability. Everyone needs it and no one likes to talk about it. Disability is far more common during our working years than death and it is the leading cause of mortgage forclosure. No emergency "plan or strategy" will replace your income or cover your business expenses if you become disabled. Find a good agent from a leading company and buy it

I had a bad wedding experience myself as a videographer a few years ago. Lucky for me I was the second photographer, but at the wedding I got injured and had to be rushed to the hospital. I wont go into details about what happened but lets just say the my friend took over and everything worked out fine. Oh and I have a clean bill of health too.

Great great article... One of the things I did right was to setup those insurance policies a while ago - good advice I was given early on. I had something similar to this happen to me on a job in Florida and wound up in the hospital for 4 nights. It's a very long story but luckily nothing was terribly wrong with me. They just couldn't figure out what it was, and ultimately it was something that my Dr. back home figured out from my discharge papers! Nevertheless great article.

I had this EXACT same thing happen to me!! I was in Oklahoma, of all places, for a work trip, and on Wednesday I took a trip to the ER for stabbing chest pains. They gave me a CT scan to look for a blood clot in my lungs, and while waiting for the results I started contacting other photographers who could potentially cover for my wedding that Saturday back in Virginia. Turns out it was just pleurisy as well (most random condition ever), but it scare the pants off of me!