Let me start, on a personal note, by saying that I’ve been photographing weddings professionally since 2003 and I have never missed a wedding in that time, been late for a wedding or had any major disasters. In fact I’ve photographed a wedding with a recently fractured elbow, during the onset of a mild anaphylactic reaction and through dizzying headaches so things would have to be pretty bad for me not to make it. However, sometimes things do happen that are out of our control so, what would happen if your photographer is ill on your wedding day?
This is a question that you need to ask when you meet your photographer for the first time and the absolute bottom line answer should be that, if the worst came to the worst, and the photographer wasn’t able to be at your wedding they would be liable to return all of the money you had paid to them. This should be on the contract and you should ensure that the photographer has insurance against this as well. This is very much standard procedure and the photographer’s insurance should cover them for public liability as well.
In practice most photographers will have a network of other wedding photographers who they know and trust and, if they worst did come to the worst, would try to find a replacement. This is normally the end of the story and the assumption is that this back up plan would work and everyone would be happy which I personally think is rather naïve.
In reality, finding a replacement photographer at short notice, particularly for a busy summer Saturday, wouldn’t be easy. If there was a photographer available the chances of them shooting in the same style and of them being as tuned into the wedding and the couple is rather remote. Most couples choose a photographer after a lot of thought and consideration and, by the time of the wedding, there should be some sort of mutual trust and relationship built which simply can’t be there if another photographer steps in to take their place.
It’s a tough one.
The only real guaranteed way to avoid the problem is to go to a large studio where they have a number of photographers and you will be assigned whoever is available. This is great but you will probably lose the personal touch and miss the personal individual style of a single photographer. A number of photographers work with “second shooters” as well and this might seem like a good safety net but do bear in mind that (in a majority but not all cases) the second shooter will be a student or inexperienced photographer and that for them to suddenly be thrown into the deep end and have responsibility for the whole day could be too much for them.
So, from the client’s point of view there really isn’t a completely reassuring answer. In the best case scenario a good replacement would be found but this is nowhere near as easy as you might imagine, particularly at peak times. If the worst did come to the worst you should have it in your contract that the photographer would reimburse you and they should be fully insured and prepared for that.
Personally, there are only two things that really stress me at a wedding these days. The first is the logistics, transport and parking and the second is the possibility of being ill or a member of my family being desperately ill and needing priority. I can reduce the risk and complication on the logisitics by meticulous planning and making sure that I allow a generous contingency in my travel times. I look after myself pretty well and don’t have any ongoing health issues so, I am a pretty safe bet (!) but I can’t guarantee 100% that I will not be afflicted by some terrible illness, be involved in a car accident or one of my children ends up in A and E and I need to be there.
As I said above I have photographed through some pretty tough times and my personal view is that if I can walk I can work. The temporary pain of actually doing the job would be far preferable to the awful misery I would feel if I let a couple down. I’m also always slightly surprised and intrigued that, when I have photographed and been under the weather, the actual quality of my work stays the same. I’m lucky in that whatever conditions I work in I am able to be consistent and the actual photographic process doesn’t seem to suffer.
Finally I’ll briefly refer back, if only to reassure myself that it’s all alright now, to a long dark winter wedding several years ago where I photographed for the day with my right arm in a sling with a fractured elbow having recently been knocked off my bike. My Mum came with me, drove the car and carried my camera bag for me. I love my Mum dearly but it was one of the strangest days and was rather a fraught experience for me.
It was probably topped only by the summer wedding where late in the evening (luckily in the dark) I had an anaphylactic reaction to something. I had never had one before or since but my face swelled, I was unable to talk and, as I photographed the couple’s first dance I was becoming acutely aware of the fact that my throat was constricting and I was having trouble breathing. Luckily it was a short drive home and 24 hours later I was fine and the pictures were actually pretty good!
Apologies if this post hasn’t been massively reassuring! I think it’s important to be honest and to set realistic expectations. No photographer can guarantee their health and they are extremely unlikely to be able to guarantee a like for like replacement. The best that they can 100% guarantee is for you to get your money back.
Do bear in mind that you yourself could be sick on your wedding day. The venue could burn down, the cake could be ruined and the weddings cars could break down (all happened in my experience!) The chances are that everything will be fine but if the worst does come to the worst then you should have wedding insurance to fall back on anyway. It’s relatively inexpensive and can at least mitigate the financial implications of things going wrong.
Other than that we just have to accept that things do happen and that, despite best laid plans and intentions, some things are just out of our control.
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