So you have been hired to photograph a birth, the deposit has been made, contracts signed, childcare arranged- now who will be your backup?
Working with a backup photographer is an essential part of running a thriving birth photography business. Backups provide both you and your client with peace of mind and show them that you understand how important the birth of their baby is to you. I can hear it now – “But I don’t take that many clients at a time so working with a Backup isn’t necessary!” WRONG! Regardless of how few births you take on during a month things happen that could make it impossible for you to attend the birth – you get sick, your child gets sick, family emergency, car won’t start, horrible weather, travel plans, childcare that doesn’t pull through, and a whole slew of unpredictable events that you don’t think would ever happen in a million years will find a way to impede you from making part of the birth or miss all of it. I don’t want that guilt hanging over me, so yes, you need a backup.
So how do you find a backup?
Depending on where you live and what the birth photography market is like in your area this could be easy as pie or extremely tough. The easiest way is to call up a friend that is also a birth photographer and see if they are available. This is my favorite way and is just one more reason why it is important to build a strong network of other birth photographers. Yes, technically they are your competition, but they are also your support system. Some birth photographers work as a team taking on-call times like doctors in a practice, if one photographer can’t make their on-call time their partner(s) can jump in. If you aren’t currently friends with other birth photographers in your area then get on it! You don’t have to become best friends but you do need a friendly relationship. Go grab some coffee, get to know each other, don’t be afraid. What if there aren’t any birth photographers in your area? Not going to lie, this is tough. Birth photography is a specialized niche that not photographers can thrive in. Look for professional photographer organizations in your area and join. Get to know those photographers and see if there is someone who might be interested in birth photography. Be honest about what backing looks like. Are they okay with a middle of the night call, do they have a basic understanding of birth, do they have the right energy to be attending births, do you like they style of photography, does their style mesh well with yours? If your truly can’t find anyone to hold space for you then you must be very open with your client that there is a possibility that you might miss their birth and no one will be there to photograph it – not a conversation I want to have!
- Do they have a similar shooting style? – This will make editing easier for you; the clients hired you and are expecting their images to look like yours.
- Are they prices similarly to you? – It will be difficult to explain to your clients why you couldn’t make their birth and another really great photographer did, but they charge a fraction of what you do. This is why it is important to make sure your pricing is competitive in your market and shows your value. (stepping off soapbox)
- Sign a contract with your backup. Even if they are your friend, this is your business, run it as such. There are backup contracts available online. I recommend this one: http://www.thelawtog.com/product/second-shooter-contract/. You will have to tweak it to fit your individual needs.
- Offer to let your clients meet the backup. This is their birth right? They need to feel 100% comfortable with everyone that is in their space. If they don’t fit with your backup don’t take it personally, time to offer another backup instead. I have found that most of my clients trust my judgement but I never want to make assumptions.
I have in my agreement that the backup will shoot the birth but I will edit and deliver all the products to the client. From the clients perspective nothing has changed in what they can expect for albums, prints, digitals and who is their contact. My backup sends me the RAW images after some basic culling. I then edit and deliver to the client as I normally would. After a period of 6 months the backup photographer can edit and use the images in their portfolio.
Decide if you are going to do a flat rate, hourly rate, hourly rate with a cap. If you find yourself needing to call on your backup more and more or if you have specific dates they are on-call for you, either for a trip or family function consider paying them for their on-call time. Those type of circumstances require them to limit their travel and live as if they are the primary photographer. Respect their time and dedication. The more people feel valued the easier it will be to work with them.
Do not abuse your relationship with your backup.
If you find yourself getting busier and busier and calling on their services more I would recommend that you consider raising your rates and/or referring out more inquires. Your backup could start to feel used and frustrated if they are shooting births for you but only receiving a fraction of the fee over and over again. Be open and honest about both your expectations. Remember they are going to be a reflection of you and your business so take your time and choose wisely. Hopefully you will be as blessed as I am and work with a group of stellar photographers that are interested in raising everyone one up and providing exceptional service for all our clients.