Welcome! This blog is all about how to train your dragon! Also known as how to build an associate photography team and how to train an associate photographer. However, we think of them as your secret weapon so you say associate photographer, we say dragon. Potato, potato.
First things first, are you ready for an associate photographer? Pulse check, are at least 3 of these you?
- You’re turning down more than 20% of your inquiries because you’re already booked
- You want to hire an associate, but don’t know how to train them
- You need a mini-me who photographs just like you do
- You feel the burnout from so many weddings
- You want to make more money, but you can’t be in two places at once
Phase one was reviewing the 6 signs that you’re ready to build an associate photography team in your wedding business. We are now onto phase two, getting them trained!
Real talk – Every time you say “I’m already booked for that date,” you’re losing money and giving it to your competitor. Ain’t got no time for that, honey. The best business structure for photographers is to set yourself up for scaling. So let’s get your dragon trained!
1. Worker smarter not longer!
You think you don’t have time to train? How much more time would you have if you weren’t shooting a wedding every weekend? If you could double the bookings you have on prime wedding days? What if I told you that you could onboard your lead photographer in a day? Would you freak the fuck out?! Yeah. Me too. By setting out to build an associate photography team, you are working smarter. You don’t need to put in 10 hour days 365 days a year. You need to put in some QUALITY training time and get time back to focus on the business and GASP maybe even yourself?? Yes, let’s get your life back.
2. Build your associate photography team to your vision and share brand guidelines
This includes who you and your clients are, and how associates should interact with couples. Your brand needs to be consistent. Whether a couple is working with you or your associate photographer, they should be getting the same experience, the same photos. This is why choosing an associate photographer is so important- your reputation is on the line! You cannot choose someone based on just their portfolio. Does their portfolio look similar to yours? Does the way they view the clients and how they approach them match your style? Your associate photographer is a reflection on you, so make sure their values align with yours and then train them up!
Share your mission statement with your associate photographer. We really hope you already have one of these, but if you are still in the set up phase of your business, decide on one before you move any further! A mission statement is a short statement of why an organization exists, what its overall goal is, the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation. A mission statement will ground you and your brand and it will ground your associate photography team. If what they are doing is not aligning with the mission, it’s time to refocus them.
how we interact
We interact with our couples with kindness and a willingness to serve them. Customer service is so important in maintaining a working relationship in which they feel heard and important. Be it with family, the couple, the wedding party, or other wedding vendors, we are always kind and courteous to them.
We make our couples feel at ease by being the expert behind the camera and giving them confidence in our abilities. We are also transparent with our couples and are always checking in with them to make sure they are comfortable and having fun. Humor and playfulness plays a big role in how we interact with clients. When posing them, they have to feel comfortable enough with us to be silly and vulnerable.
We are professional, while we enjoy a beverage on our off time, we don’t drink alcohol on the job. Our team doesn’t party with the guests at the wedding. We know the line between being really friendly and helpful, while also remaining professional. We’re gonna bustle that dress, we’re gonna pin that boutonniere, we’re gonna hike our bags up the mountain, but we will also be professional.
That’s us, how do you interact with your couples? Work together with your associate photography team a couple times before letting them loose. See how they interact with your couples. This is a great opportunity for you to lead by example and give them real time feedback.
3. Break down their responsibilities
What does an associate photography team do? Obvious – take insanely amazing photos and build rapport with our couples! Not obvious – embrace team culture and send recaps. How to build an associate photography team includes breaking down their responsibilities. Communicate clearly what your expectations are. Something that may be intuitive to you as the pro, may be something they have to learn.
Our team culture is the values and beliefs that guide the way we work with our clients. This includes our core values, kindness, passion for people and their stories, and serving our couples. The associate photographer is part of your team! That means you encourage their success, build a photography community, they photograph what you do (weddings!), and they have support the whole way. Having an associate photography team is not having someone who does as you say. This is not a dictatorship, this is a partnership! View it like Batman and Robin, you work together. After you choose your associate, it’s equally your responsibility to train them, make them feel valued, help them blossom!
How to create a photography community within your business is huge! Make sure your associates get to know each other and can lean on each other as well.
We love to hear it, we need to hear it. The easiest way to recap the day is by voice memo. As soon as you get in the car, take out your phone and go to the “Voice Memo” app. As you’re driving home, take a few minutes to talk about the wedding day.
Topics to think about are:
- Summarize wedding day
- Special wedding day moments
- Couple’s first look reactions
- What the wedding looked like
- Where did the wedding take place?
- What was the relationship like between couples/families?
Now, in a world where social media rules all, there is this fallacy that blogs are outdated. No one cares about mommy bloggers, they all care about influencers. Well I’m here to influence you to write the damn blog. You know what doesn’t pop up when you search for things in Google? Instagram posts. There is an absolute strategy to social media as well, but the voice memos are ESSENTIAL to writing the blog which is ultimately how you can prioritize seo as an elopement photographer.
4. Photo do’s and don’ts
Providing examples of photos you love and photos you hate are a great start for how to build an associate photography team. This is the easiest way to teach not only what you want to see, but also eliminate the time spent taking photos that they don’t need to. A great resource is to check out your previous years recap. In our Best of 2022 elopement & wedding photography blog, we spill all the hot tea about our favorite adventures, looking back through our work, and marvel once again at how KICKASS our couples are!
For wedding photographers, there are soooo many shots to get. Getting ready, first dance, family portraits, send off. But these are the tips of the iceberg that everyone can see. It’s not always about what to get but how to get it. That, my dear, is the bummock. IE the portion of the iceberg submerged in water.
For instance, the associate shooter should know when photographing people talking, to be sure to feature who is talking and who they are talking to.
They should NOT take photos for the sake of taking photos. Sometimes, especially someone newer, can feel that they have to seem “busy” and to be taking photos constantly. That isn’t the case. They can capture the wedding day beautifully without taking photos every second. All photographers should be intentional with when they click the shutter and don’t overshoot.
Cropping differently or getting closer to the subject would make the image different enough to keep both. If the photos look very similar, choose the best one. How many times is your camera roll on your phone full of nearly identical images? How long does it take to go back and delete some of those? Don’t pass this headache onto your couple, you are the professional, they trust you to make some of these decisions for them!
The focal point on close ups should be on the eyes. When focusing on closeups, we focus on the eyes of (usually) the bride. The first thing that draws our attention to the image will be the eyes.
These are just a few examples. You will also want to walk your associate photographer through movement photos, horizon lines, when the couple is above / below you, composition, focal length diversity, sharpness, and so much more!
Once you have your dragon trained and ready to release them into the wild, HYPE. THEM. UP! When they feel confident and supported, they will pour that energy into their work. We also like to highlight them on our team page and on our Instagram. Most couples are coming for your work, so making sure they feel comfortable with your associate photographer is HUGE! They should not wonder who the associate is, they should be able to say, “Oh Landon is working with us! I also love his photos and that his pro tip is to run through the woods on your wedding day and throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care!” Psst – they know that because we like to highlight Landon all the time!