The Art of Second Shooting for Wedding Photographers

So you want to be a wedding photographer but what is the best way to get started? Second shooting for a photographer who has an established business is one of the best ways to fast track you in the right direction. You can see how someone else does it, learn on your feet and make industry contacts. But how do you get the gig in the first place, what’s the etiquette and how can you make the best of the opportunity for both you and the main photographer?

DevlinLook2 513

You have two main options when it comes to seeking out second shooting work. You could target specific photographers and most will be flattered that you know who they are and that you get in touch. Contact the ones whose work you admire the most or that feature on your favourite blogs or wedding magazines. However be aware that the more well known they are, the more likely that they will have regular second shooters.

When you make initial contact, please don’t just send a generic email to a few people. Busy photographers have busy in-boxes and if you can’t be bothered to put my name on an email then sorry but I won’t take the time to reply. Do attach a link to your work and/or a BRIEF biography but don’t send dozens of files that will take time to download. Unless you get a complete no, then its good to follow that email up. In all your communications be mindful. So don’t go in thinking what’s in this for me, think what could be in it for the other person? I get plenty of emails from aspiring photographers saying I want to come and work for you, I want to follow you around weddings and see how you shoot. Well sorry but there is very little in that for me so think about what a photographer might need. Help carrying gear? Help in the office rather than at weddings? What have you got to offer them in exchange for them helping you?

Make sure you follow lots of photographers on social media as this is where the jobs will come up. Last summer all my second shooters were booked out so I put a shout out on my business Facebook page to fill dates.

Your second option is to seek out specific second shooting groups on Facebook. There are plenty around but I’d try smaller ones local to your area rather than really busy national ones. The good ones ensure that lead photographers post about pay and hours for all jobs but don’t stress if you are brand new and want to build up your experience. You should see jobs cropping up that are voluntary so you’d get to go out to weddings without the pressure of having to deliver images of a certain standard.

DevlinLook2 549

Which leads me onto this important point.

Be honest from the outset to yourself and the main photographer about your level of experience. Always pipe up if you are unsure of something or you feel out of your depth. There is very little time on a wedding day to check up on a second photographer, so if you look like you know what you are doing, I will leave you to get on with it. I would much rather that someone told me they needed help with something than they just shot hundreds of frames that are not much use to me. As a second shooter you are there to learn. When there is some down time, like at dinner or when things slow down in the evening its your chance to pick the photographers brain or ask to see their images so you can relate what you have seen them do on the day

Dos and Don’ts for Second Shooting

Do get a clear plan for the day from the photographer including which shots you are expected to get. At certain times I need the other photographer to be where I can’t, like with the groom in the morning. I expect a decent portrait of the groom as well as the getting ready stuff and photos with whatever family or groomsmen he is with. At other times I need them to be backing me up, helping work through a list of family shots or covering the drinks reception while I am doing details.

Don’t lose track of where the principal photographer is and what lens they are shooting on so you can avoid getting in their frame.

Do get a different angle and perspective to the photographer, avoid standing near them with the same lens on. This can sometimes mean you get a shot you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Don’t shoot with your own portfolio/blog in mind or at any point decide to direct the action. Tempting as it is, you are there to back up the main photographer and time is usually of the essence. It is annoying when it comes to post production if there are a lot of similar shots.

Do think of the gaps the photographer needs, if they have already done the table details you don’t need to repeat them even if they are super cute. It’s fine to ask what they need from you as you go along which might not be that much.

Don’t make out on your blog or social media that this was your wedding, make it clear you second shot and who for. It’s just good manners and respectful to the fact that the principal photographer worked hard to get that booking. They might be your photos but they were never your clients.

Do check if you will be allowed to use the images for your own promotion. These are someone’s wedding photos and though they may be happy for the main photographer to use them, that might be the limit. Whether you are being paid or not, you are there as an employee, you will be expected to sign over your copyright so the images you take will not belong to you. And never post images that the main photographer did not deliver.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your images after they have been processed. Taking on board an honest appraisal will help you to improve your photography and business. So also don’t delete images on your card before handing it over. Yes it is cringe letting another photographer see all your mistakes but if I don’t see them, I will not see where you need the most help. Rest assured that none of us shoot perfectly ALL of the time.

Do experiment, I see this as big part of being a good second shooter. The pressure is off you in a way as it’s not your gig and when you are sure you have what is required of you it’s good to have a little fun and try things out. One of my second shooters comes up with all sorts of shots that I don’t see. A high proportion of what she shoots doesn’t work but the rest is genius and I find it really inspiring. I’ve second shot for other photographers and this is one of the most fun aspects (well and that you don’t have any editing at the end!)

How long you second shoot for is up to you. Some will only do it a few times before feeling they have got everything they need out of it. Others decide that it’s all they want to do after realising how much pressure being a wedding photographer is. Whatever you decide, it will enrich your learning experience and open your mind. I did this shoot in Nevada with a photographer pal and we agreed to take turns being the main photographer, then second photographer. There were times when it was frustrating but I was forced into finding another angle that I simply wouldn’t have got to otherwise. Being second photographer is a challenge but with some empathy, sensitivity and creativity it can be an amazing opportunity, giving you access to weddings at a level you might not be reaching on your own. You will learn every single time and in situations that cannot be replicated at any workshop.

DevlinLook2 547

Author: Lisa Devlin. This article first appeared in 2013…