Finding someone to “cover” for you on a photography assignment can be tricky business. Not just for your client, but for you AND the person who you hire to do the shoot in your place.
Look, stuff happens. We all get sick or a relative passes away or there is emergency medical situations that make shooting the scheduled gig impossible. One sure thing we cannot do is to leave the client hanging. Simply not showing up is NOT an option.
The same thing can happen, to a lesser degree, when a long time client calls with an emergency shoot for a time period when you are not available. Simply saying, “nope… outta town dude” is not an option and it could cost you the client for future gigs.
So what do we do?
We find someone to cover for us. And that opens a can of worms filled with conundrums and highly charged with confusion, fear and paranoia.
The client is in a rush and needs 25 photographs of the staff of a new company they had just acquired, and they need them shot next Tuesday at the official announcement meeting where all will be in attendance.
The timing sucks as it is the same day you are auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance” and will be doing pirouettes and leaps on Tuesday.
You are unable to do the gig so you reach out to another photographer to ‘cover’ for you. I do hope you have made some good relationships with other photographers that allows that to happen… you have… right?
You cannot let this client down, they represent a good amount of fees over the course of a year, but you feel a bit reticent at sending over one of your ‘competitors’.
You know you have to service this client, so you tell them you are unable to do it, but have someone you will vouch for to cover it. Vouching for means you KNOW they will do a good job and a job that is up to yours and your client’s standards.
I have heard of photographers getting lesser qualified shooters to do a slightly less than excellent job to show the client how much better they are than other competitors. I will also say that usually ends up biting them in the ass… so don’t do it.
It is at this point that the paranoia part starts to wear down on you… what if the other guy ‘steals’ my client? What if the other guy does a better job than me? What if the client loves the other guy and wants to give him all the work… forever?
Get over it. Your professionalism is what counts.
You call your buddy, we’ll call him Tony, and give him the rundown. This is what the client wants, here are some of my lighting setups (you do photograph your setups so they can be replicated later, don’t you…), and the contact information for the client. You even let him know what to charge the client so that he doesn’t undercut your pricing or piss them off with a higher price.
“Call the client and get everything set up for the shoot, and let me know how it goes,” are the last words you say before hopping on the bus for LA and a chance at fame. Since you are actually incapable of dancing, you know you will be returning to the world of photography in a few days.
But hey, it was YOU who decided to make that bet… heh.
The above scenario is what happens – usually. And what else happens usually? The new photographer ends up with the client because they were there. THEY called and handled all the upfront logistics. They got the setup done and the people were thrilled and hey, he had such a great personality.
And to be fair, your buddy did not try to take your client. He didn’t hand out business cards or in any way try to solicit them. They just needed a few more shots done on Thursday, and called him direct.
Expecting him to turn down the client and send them back to you is not going to work – you are in the hospital with a badly mangled knee. Yes, hip hop IS that hard.
And that client is now your buddies client. It is quite awkward to expect that your buddy simply refuse the gig unless they offer it to you first… how does that work?
All transpires as above to the point of your call to the client. Yes, you have an associate who will cover the gig. Yes, they are right up to the level we need to do a great job. You get the “associate” on a three way call and introduce the “ASSOCIATE” to the client, go over logistics and make sure everyone is comfortable with the upcoming gig.
You send over the samples of the previous shots, lighting schema, and any personality quirks that the client perhaps displays from time to time… in other words you prepare them as you would an associate.
You go off to dance and your buddy takes care of the client. She calls to make last minute logistics, shows up and knocks everyone’s socks right off. She is pleasant and cool, and gets the images down just like you would have.
And then she delivers them… to you. You then send them on to the client.
And you bill the client, and pay the photographer. I am not going to get into percentages and all of that – ya’ll work that out on your own. Some do a cut and some negotiate a flat rate and some just pass it on through… whatever, it is plain as day to the client that the fill in photographer is under YOUR company banner.
When they need something on Thursday, they don’t call her, they call you and you call her. She is an associate of yours and working for you – not them.
Same outcome, but this time you keep the client and they love the fact that you can get the job done for them even when recovering from major dance injuries incurred while doing a hip-hop stunt on a whiskey keg… don’t ask. It wasn’t pretty.
Keeping our clients safe, happy and close is more important these days than ever. So be smart when finding someone to cover for you, and stay in control of the gig.
PS: If you are the one being hired to fill in, do that. Don’t try to sneak in a portfolio review, or hand them your business card because you forgot what was happening. Don’t try to take that client away from your buddy who entrusted this shoot to you.
It’s wrong, and karma can be a real bitch sometimes.