hiring a wedding photo assistant? (not 2nd shooter)

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by greg_dunbar|1, Aug 13, 2014.

  1. So we are starting to take on more weddings than we can handle, which is great but we need an assistant to start helping us out, which will also allow us to expand our creativity at the weddings, not having to worry about bags and equipment, etc. Have no family or friends that are interested.
    So what's the best way for a wedding photographer to do this? We can't really take on an official "employee" and pay for workers comp, insurance, payroll etc, I mean really what wedding photographers can afford that, except for the huge studios that have 20 photographers? And this wouldn't be full-time work obviously, just one day a week or every other week so employeeship doesn't make sense.
    How do you do it? We were thinking hiring them as a subcontractor, but were told by a friend who is also in the wedding business that the subcontractor would need a DBA and also to have liability insurance, else it would be illegal to hire them. Is this true? I can't find any information about this ANYWHERE on the internet. So what do you guys recommend? The problem is we cannot find anyone who wants the job that is willing to go out and get a DBA and pay the $400 a year for liability insurance - most of the people responding to our ad on Craigslist are photography students who want to learn while getting paid, but are scared about getting a DBA and insurance for something they aren't even sure they want to do.
    Surely we must not be the only wedding photographers in the country that [want to] utilize assistants, but a google search for "how to hire a wedding photography assistant" does not reveal any helpful information, just people who are asking what fair pay is for the position.
    Any ideas?
    ETA: We are in New York, USA
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I feel your pain. I am NOT familiar with the red tape you have to deal with in your area: but maybe my story will give you some ideas to run with.
    My business is a Private Company with two shareholders, I think that is similar to what you have as an “LLC”. Under that entity I work as an employee and so too are any other employees or subcontractors, are subcontracted.
    For many years, (mainly because as I tutor and I could hand pick quality and enthusiastic Students), we made an opening for up to two Students (last year of high school – 18 or 19yrs) to come in and “work” as part of the “Work Experience” program that our High Schools have. Typically this was for two weeks – BUT – the system allowed for it to be ongoing whilst the person was still a student. This was an ideal win/win situation where someone with no skill got skills and there was (the equivalent of) worker’s accident coverage under the same government plan for students as if they were on site studying at school (or, more importantly to keep the arrangement ongoing - students at university). For our small company to take on that same student, as an employee or apprentice, it would be around $1000 just to set it up – but as “work experience” it was nil cost and nil ongoing liability to our company.
    Of course the system has now changed, (supposedly for the better we are told – there is more red tape and more rules and regulations): but what I do know is there are fewer, even large companies, taking on High School Students/Uni Student for ‘work experience’ but rather waiting for university graduates and offering ‘internships’ which are non-paid internships. (I don’t know how that is better?)
    BTW, after the initial two week period of work experience that the School would arrange, for any people who showed enthusiasm and we asked to continue learning as "an assistant" - we gave them an ex gratia payment for their time, which was quite legal and did not jeopardise the insurance umbrella under which they were still viewed as “students”.
    So that’s a long-winded answer I know: but maybe there are some ideas in it that you could follow up upon.
    On a side note exposing my pain . . . (I guess because of the amount of commentaries I sprout out on this and a couple of other forums), I’ve received up to five emails per year, for the last few years, from budding Photographers wanting to tag along on our gigs, offering to do so with no pay: it is really sad to say NO – and the “no” is simply because it would cost me several hundred, just for the insurance cover. I just cannot offer "real life on site" experience any more, not even to the kids that I tutor without it costing several hundred in insurance and then added other minor necessary on-costs: the best that I can do is set up a 'weekend workshop' where we can only 'simulate' a job - and it cannot be really 'on site'.
  3. "I can't find any information about this ANYWHERE on the internet."​
  4. "this wouldn't be full-time work obviously, just one day a week or every other week so employeeship doesn't make sense."​

    Considering it is common knowledge that there are so many millions of part time employees in the U.S., it is curious why this would be deemed so. In any event, I'll assume the google links have been reviewed. That it revealed that people working for you cannot be labeled and treated as contractors merely because one doesn't want to or can't afford to "pay for workers comp, insurance, payroll etc". If that were the case, almost every employer would be doing it long long ago.

    Rather, the distinction is determined by a reviewing a continuum of factors that show the amount of control the hiring party exercises over the contractor. The factors are weighed to see if the balance tilts towards control or not. Relative to the quote above, the question is less likely to be about frequency of work but whether the person is required to work at the times told and also are they free to decline to take other work or do other things. That is just one factor among many and not the be all and end all and circumstances may affect the weight given to the control exercised if any. It illustrates, however, the kind of issues that are involved.
    A second shooter may work fairly frequently, have to show up at the time and place told when accepting a shoot, and do things in a certain way but, other factors often negate those controls. Using their own equipment, freedom to decline jobs, artistic discretion, wardrobe choices and all sorts of other things. Its important to know because, absent enforceable agreements, the second may claim copyright to images they shoot even if they turn them over for use consistent with the first's contract with the client. An "assistant" shlepping stuff around and having to follow your orders all the time is less likely to qualify as independent.

    As to the question of whether "a DBA and also to have liability insurance" is required, I'm not going to review New York law but will note those are prudent measures. They might even be among the factors of control considered.
  5. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    NY and surrounds has a much greater population density and I expect possibly a greater depth of potential workforce to be an enthusiastic ‘Photographer’s Assistant’, than what is available to me: even though Sydney is a large and diverse city.

    Reading John’s responses, and then re-reading your original post it appears that I may have misinterpreted or at the least put too much emphasis on my assumption that rooting out people with the necessary talent, skills and (particularly) the enthusiasm to be a useful Assistant was a part, if not the greater part, of your problem.

    In any case, it won’t do any harm you investigating if there is a potential workforce in the Student population of the Schools and Colleges which have Art, Media, Photography, etc., as the dominate focus of their curriculum.

  6. I think finding suitable help IS a big issue here. Worthy candidates just wish to be paid something while performing work that may have the additional benefit of helping them learn. Making financial investments for such sporadic work is usually undesired. If they are independent, then that issue will still exist and be a problem for recruitment. Indeed, it is a factor (if you will) in deciding if employment may be most suitable even if not required.
  7. The type of "wedding assistant" you are describing is going to be deemed your employee regardless of whether you call him an employee or an independent contractor, in the case of a lawsuit or a workers' compensation claim. This is because the duties of that person are not the duties of an independent contractor--that status is for someone with an independent calling, who typically provides his or her own tools, who does the job when he wants to and at his own pace, without any direct supervision from you. What you need to someone to help you at the weddings, which means you are controlling the hours, when he must work, you are providing the tools, etc. So, if he gets hurt, you may be liable for workers' comp even if you did not buy the insurance, which may not be too expensive for a photographer. Check to see if you even have to buy work comp insurance in NY, as you may not need it with only one or two employees. I don't know the answer there. But hiring an employee and trying to get away with calling him an independent contractor may cause you some unintended legal consequences.
  8. So basically it's not even worth it then to hire on a helper. I mean I'm talking maybe 5 or 6 weddings for the remainder of this year they would be assisting on. But then to have to have them as an employee and have to pay for insurance, payroll, etc etc I would lose a lot more money than I'm making by having the extra help at weddings.

    I have a feeling a lot of fellow photographers do it all under the table and just have friends or family do it. I was hoping of taking on someone that has an eye for photography and help them out by giving them experience in the process. I don't have any friends or family that like that.
  9. I don't see how the assistant is deemed to be your employee just because you paid them and told them what hours to work. The wedding couple paid YOU and told YOU what hours you needed to work. Are YOU considered to be THEIR employee? Do the bride and groom have to pay for your insurance and give you benefits? That doesn't sound logical at all.
  10. Dan, my guess would be that it's because the bride and
    groom are consumers, not a business.
  11. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    So basically it's not even worth it then to hire on a helper.​
    Did you follow up investigating if there were any avenues of taking on Students in some manner: Senior High School and/or College / University ?

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