A lot of wedding photography businesses use so-called ‘associate photographers’ as an available option for their clients. An associate photographer is also known as a ‘partner’, ‘ambassador’, ‘lead’, or ‘mutant clone’. OK, I made up that last one, but the idea is spot on. Having associates enables the business to shoot multiple weddings at the same time, essentially splitting themselves into two (or three, four, or ten)!
In this article, I will take a look at exactly what an associate photographer is, what the advantages and disadvantages of hiring one actually are – and then we dive deeper into what drives people to become an associate photographer. Keep reading!
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What is an Associate Photographer?
An associate photographer is one that works under the lead photographer’s brand as an independent contractor. The associate’s pricing is often cheaper than the lead photographer’s pricing – who is typically the business owner.
It’s a way that photographers can scale their businesses and have clients benefit from more affordable prices. As the associates are trained by the owner or manager, their style matches the house style. This creates a consistent brand experience for the client, no matter which photographer shoots their wedding.
Everything else is taken care of by the business owner. (or delegated to others within their team) This includes the initial consultation through editing and album delivery. An associate does not deal with sales consultations or customer service, but there’s normally an opportunity to chat before the wedding.
Not to be confused with a ‘second photographer’ who is there to capture a secondary set of angles. A second photographer is available whether you choose the business owner or an associate to photograph your wedding.
Also not to be confused with an ‘assistant’, which is a non-shooting role. The assistant simply helps the photography team carry their equipment, set up shots and other ad hoc duties as directed by the lead.
Why book an associate photographer?
The main advantage from the client’s perspective is they usually pay a lower rate for commissioning an associate. This is because economies of scale are possible when there are multiple photographers working under one business owner.
Different wedding photography businesses operate differently. Some only technically use ‘associate’ photographers. This is because the business owner is the manager, not a shooter that is available for hire. (Often the case for larger and nationwide photography enterprises).
Are you curious about how to approach price negotiations and discussions with your wedding photographer? I wrote the guide on this – check it out!
Another huge benefit is more safety and peace of mind for the client. Let’s say you book a company’s associate photographer to shoot your wedding. Unfortunately they fall ill and cannot fulfill their duties. It is likely that another member of the team will be able to jump in at a moment’s notice.
If there are a lot of associate shooters available you can flick through portfolios and choose the one who you vibe with. It can feel like you have more control and more flexibility than dealing with just one individual. Also if you are having a particular kind of wedding, you could ask for an associate experienced in that.
Everything should be detailed in email correspondence and during a consultation. Find a photographer that works with integrity and transparency. In case it isn’t clear, take a careful look at the contract so there is no possibility for misunderstandings. No one likes to feel they’re a victim of the ol’ bait and switch.
When can you meet your associate photographer?
In my own business (and this is one thing that may vary across businesses, depending on their relationship with the associate shooters) a client can chat by video call with their associate close to the wedding date.
Though clients will be able to look through a few associates’ portfolios, an associate is not allocated to the wedding until a later date. It may not be possible at the time of booking.
So yes, you’ll be able to get to know them through one video call (and an engagement session if you choose to book one), but WHO your associate shooter will be will not be confirmed for sure until closer to the wedding date (typically within 1 month, but sometimes 2 – 4 weeks out).
Though if you have a strong preference for one photographer over another, it will be endeavored to place them in the role for your wedding. However, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, associates are not full-time employees so availability is allocated based on who’s available at that time.
They are independent contractors that may be busy with their own businesses, their own clients. They may have full-time jobs, family commitments, and travel plans. They are not ‘on the hook’ to be available for every inquiry that comes to my business, sadly. Nor will they know far in advance if they will be free – if they get their own booking, they would be foolish not to take it.
TL;DR: suffice to say, a great photographer will be allocated to your wedding. You will be able to chat with them and view their portfolio prior to the big day.
What are the downsides of booking an associate photographer?
There are many great aspects of booking an associate photographer for your wedding, but a few downsides as well. For one, the person shooting the wedding will not be the person you’ve built a relationship with.
As weddings are such personal, intimate events, it can be jarring if the personality of the photographer doesn’t mesh well.
Another possible downside is this. Every associate has been trained to an excellent standard. So much so that the business is staking their reputation on them. But still, they are likely not as experienced at photography or at handling themselves at weddings as the business owner.
However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the associate may even have more experience. But speaking personally, I started out as an associate before I booked my own weddings with my own business.
Many associate photographers are, in fact, established professionals. Some have clearly defined rates that they’ve earned over years of hard work. The rates may differ depending on which associate you choose. One that is trying to break into weddings may have a lower rate than one who has years of experience and is in high demand.
PS – Looking to save money on your wedding? Here is my detailed guide on what to cut from your wedding budget!
As businesses must take care of their bottom line, it’s reasonable to assume that you will pay for the difference in skill level of the associate.
How do you hire an associate photographer?
Interested in hiring an associate? The first step is to ask the business owner if this is something they offer. It may surprise you that many photographers do not advertise or even mention that they run an associate program. They may only ‘outsource’, to an associate if they are already booked. First and foremost they will be the one taking the bookings that come in.
Assuming that the photographer does have associates they use, ask them how to proceed with next steps. Each business will have their own way of funneling clients interested in that option. But here are some general guidelines.
Typically you will be able to view online portfolios that show extensive samples of the associates’ work. If there are multiple associates with availability on your date, you may be free to choose the one whose work and personality appeal the most. Unfortunately, there will not be an opportunity to interview or meet several candidates and make a choice that way.
The next step will be jumping on a phone call with the associate. The business owner will also be there to lead the conversation. This will be your first time to chat to both people. The owner will guide you through next steps.
Typically you will not have any contact with the associate again until the wedding day (or engagement shoot). This is due to them being an independent contractor, usually with their own business or full-time job. An associate is only contracted at specific times when you’re paying for that service. They are not an employee who is available anytime during office hours.
Do all wedding photographers have associate shooters?
No, not all photography businesses have associates as a matter of course. It’s only necessary when the main photographer reaches a certain level of bookings.
But if you are interested in associate photographers, tell your photographer! It’s valuable market information which indicates there’s a demand for this service.
Usually having an associate program is a sign that the lead gets so many inquiries that they cannot possibly fulfill. It makes financial sense to service these in-house instead of passing them off to another business, even if those leads are sold.
It’s smart to use associates as a wedding photography business grows and becomes more successful.
Why become an associate photographer?
There are so many reasons why it’s an attractive proposition to many photographers. Here are a few of them!
To shoot weddings but never have to deal with running a business
Many creatives are drawn to the art of photography but have little interest in the business side of things. According to Petapixel, business tasks take up a whopping 96% of a photographer’s working hours. It’s understandable that shooting weddings on the weekend is a dream gig. Particularly for those that already have a job that pays the bills.
To get your feet wet with weddings and build a portfolio
Not all associate photographers are beginners. But this will be many’s first foray into dealing with the craziness that is weddings! It takes time to learn this. When they begin booking their own clients, they will have experience. Also, they’ll gain a portfolio of higher-end weddings that will help them to book such weddings independently.
To learn from the business owner
What you see on the wedding day is only a small part of what goes on behind the scenes. There are huge opportunities for associates to learn purely by their association with the business owner. There is typically mentorship and image review that the lead offers. The associate can ask any questions to their heart’s content, furthering their education in business, photography, customer service, marketing, relationship management… just about everything!
To build a network
Photographers are very affable people ☺️ but it can be lonely working as a wedding photographer. We do not have coworkers or people in our inner circle unless we go out of our way to connect with them. Networking is a task that often falls by the wayside. Working alongside other photographers is sometimes the only peer interaction we get! When you’re starting out, working as an associate is a great way of getting your name out there. You’ll pick up more work and make valuable connections along the way.
How do you become an associate photographer?
Network is everything. If you’re looking for associate photographer opportunities there are a few things I can suggest. Firstly, join Facebook groups and other online local communities where photographers and wedding professionals congregate!
Follow photographers that you want to work with on social media – they’ll post when they are looking for new associates. I’ve found associate shooting opportunities this way myself. You could also make your own posts about being available for associate work.
Google search your area + wedding photographer associate program. Though you’ll find a lot of outdated blog posts I’m sure, it may provide a basis to get emailing! Same with searching for older posts in those Facebook groups and using hashtag searches on Instagram.
Connect yourself to the real-world community by taking photographers out to coffee and so on. Mention that you are looking for this kind of work. Let the photography grapevine work to your advantage 😉
Same info goes if you are planning to hire an associate photographer for your business. It tends to be who you know!
I hope this has been helpful understanding what an associate photographer is when it comes to your wedding photography needs. A larger team can be a really good thing. It frees up the business owner, leading to less chance of burnout. It gives you, the client, more options to find the best photographer for your big day. The business owner is able to take on more weddings and clients pay less – win-win!
Hungry for more wedding planning tips? I’ve a complete resource of all of my most helpful wedding planning resources at the link below!
If you’re a photographer where are you on this journey? Do you want to become an associate and work for other businesses? Or are you at the point where you are thinking about scaling up with an associate program?
One more thing – did you learn something in this blog post? Let me know in the comments.