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GETTING YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER:
AN EMERGENCY BACKUP PLAN FOR YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS

Acclaimed New York City, USA-based wedding photographer Angela Cappetta has dealt with more than her share of potentially ruinous events over the past few years. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 destroyed nearly everything in her apartment, including such work-critical items as her three computers, backup images, private paperwork, and furniture. “Nothing could be salvaged,” she says. “Fortunately, my negatives were elsewhere, but the library system that categorized everything was gone.”

Angela Cappette, New York City

Cappetta's house following the fire

In January of 2006 she suffered another blow when her country house burned down. She had an art collection there, as well as work product—two laptops, a desktop, a studio, some cameras, and all of her backup.

And it can even be worse, of course. Last October WPJA member Michelle Otto met an untimely death on a Texas, USA highway while returning from a wedding, spurring numerous concerned WPJA members to help sort out her files, notify clients and fill in where needed. Read the Michelle Otto WedPix article here.

These experiences drive home an unforgettable point: What if as a result of illness, accident, family crisis or other situation you are unexpectedly unable to address your commitments? Are your schedules and files organized and stored so that someone else could step in and take over if necessary?

It is a good idea to establish an emergency backup plan for your business. A set of best practices for protecting your files and photos can help ensure that no matter what happens, your business and clients will suffer minimum disruption.

USE BACKUPS AND MULTIPLE FILE LOCATIONS

Whether you work digitally, with film or—like Cappetta—a combination of both (she shoots with film and prints conventionally, but employs a digital workflow for resale and portfolio items), archives and work files kept in a single location inevitably subject you to great risk. Experience a house fire, an earthquake, a flood or even a hard drive failure, and you could indeed lose everything.

That’s why it’s advisable to keep copies of client files and photos in an off-site location, whether those are in physical files or even on an online component.

Physical backups could be kept with your parents, your best friend or even with other photographers, suggests WPJA medal recipient Jay Premack, based in the Washington D.C. area. “Let’s bring back the buddy system by sharing your filing and records needs with another WPJA members,” he recommends. “And along with these files should be backups of your images on either DVD or hard drives.”

Cappetta’s unfortunate experiences have led her to purposely separate all of her archives among three locations, so that if she has catastrophic loss at one, she’ll still have the other two. Prints are in one place, negatives are in another, and computers are in the third.

And there’s also digital redundancy in that she has recorded most of her work online or on the computer. “Even the administrative files that live on my hard drive also live in my [remote] email inbox, so if I lose my computer they would survive,” she says.

Premack is a Pictage client, so as soon as he books a wedding he posts job details there as well. “I create an ‘event’ on Pictage as soon as I book a wedding and a link to it from my website,” he notes. “It is part of my workflow, and creates a record of each wedding I shoot, as well as upcoming weddings are listed by name and date on my website.”

A little low-tech redundancy can’t hurt either. Premack also keeps a bulletin board on his wall, listing all bookings through 2007, with names, addresses and phone numbers.

BE ORGANIZED

And what if you’re no longer able to manage your affairs due to personal illness or accident? Well-organized files are of course key to ensuring a seamless continuation of your business should you be incapacitated. That means clearly labeling all files with full names of the clients, email addresses, phone numbers, fee schedules, locations and times and any other information about the event.

“Like a business plan, create a photo workflow sheet and fill one out for every job you do,” Premack suggests. “That way you and anyone else who picks up your work will know where you are with each job.”

He believes that if necessary someone could step in and figure out the status of each of his weddings. “I’m still building the business,” he notes. “And as I grow I’m trying to figure out the best workflow for maintaining a worksheet that includes all details for clients: the date of the event, what’s been paid, remaining balances due, contacts, and addresses.” His worksheet also includes notes on the particulars of each couple, including preferences such as portraits before or after the ceremony. Folders are organized by date (soonest first) and clients’ names.

“I’ll do everything the simplest way possible,” Cappetta says. “Not because I’m a control freak, but because I don't want to make extra work for myself because I’ve got so many irons in the fire all of the time. My paper filing system is alphabetical…not some crazy esoteric thing, and my hard drive is organized alphabetically as well. If you know the alphabet you could run my business.”

PROTECT YOURSELF LEGALLY

Jean-Paul Sartre said “hell is other people,” and Cappetta strongly feels that no flood, no fire, no infestation and no illness could be worse than what an irate individual with an axe to grind could do to you—especially if you’re working with intellectual property in sometimes unpredictable environments.

“When you get to my level, you have to live in a paranoid world,” she states. “Somebody could decide to drag you through the court system because they can—it’s expensive, it’s time consuming, you’re at the mercy of a system that isn’t always fair—and that is the thing that every artist has to protect themselves from with an excellent contract.”

HAVE A PLAN…AND A NETWORK

And if you positively can’t make a job due to illness, injury or family matters?

“I once had a booking that I had to pass on to a colleague because it was Father’s Day and my dad was in the hospital,” Cappetta notes. “That was a decision I made and the clients were okay with it because they were very nice people, and they trusted that I would only affiliate them with somebody I personally had professional faith in. That’s really the bigger picture. The greater good is paramount.”

Premack recommends building a list of other photographers in your area with a similar style and reputation that could step in and shoot for you should you be unable to make the job. “Being open and sharing—and being part of a community like WPJA—are paramount to being successful,” he says.

He has also reached out to other photographers in the Washington D.C., USA area, creating his own local network. And, he works with a talented staff of journalists at The Washington Post where, by day, he is a photo editor. “So I have a network there, too. It makes me comfortable knowing I can call these people if I’m in a hard place.”

“WPJA is a very good affiliation to have, and one I take very seriously,” adds Cappetta. “Stuff like [the WPJA community's response to] the Michelle Otto situation you cannot put a price on.”

Premack agrees. “The Michele Otto affair definitely got me thinking—the way everyone pitched in and picked up for her. This kind of discussion is important.”

—by Michael Roney for the Wedding Photojournalist Association