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.
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.
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.
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.