December 12, 2022

For Photographers, Weddings + Elopements

How to be a Top Notch Second Shooter

Bride and Groom at The Chateau Venue
Created by Ali Coşkunfrom the Noun Project

I’ve had the opportunity to second shoot 5 weddings this year, in addition to the 17 weddings that were on my books! I love second shooting for lots of reasons – you get to know other photographers in person, and it can be really fun working together! It’s a great time to get in practice if you haven’t shot a wedding solo, and if it’s okay with the primary photographer, you can also use the images for your portfolio. It’s a great way to become familiar with shooting in new venues, and because you are not the one getting all the must-have photos, it can allow you the space to stretch your creativity with composition a bit!

Through my experience, not only as a second shooter, but as the main photographer who has hired seconds, I have picked up on plenty of to-do’s and what NOT to-do’s! I had an experience with someone I used earlier this year that was a good example of how to never get hired again. Yes, they were new to the wedding industry, but had worked for me once before and did really well! I don’t want to go into TOO many of those details, but some of the sticking points for me were most of the images being blurry, only receiving JPEGS, talking poorly about the couple’s religion in front of family at the reception, and sitting in one spot for the entire ceremony. On the other hand, I have recently found a girl who is a joy to work with, keeps it professional , and in turn, ensures I hire her over and over again!

Here are my top tips for being a top-notch second shooter!

1. Make sure there is a contract in place. If not, ask the main photographer to draft one. We all know as photographers that we need to be using contracts with clients, and it should be the same with anyone we hire. In the case of my second shooter who dropped the ball, we had a contract in place that stated everything that was expected. And when it was clearly disregarded, my contract allowed for pay to be re-negotiated. But it also covers you, as the second shooter. It sets expectations, and dictates your allowed use of the images as well.

2. Don’t shoot for your own portfolio. Above all else, you are hired by the photographer, and essentially the couple, to get B-roll footage of their wedding day. The whole point of hiring a second photographer is to capture the moments that the first might miss when getting the most important shots. This means you are focusing on photos of guests during the ceremony, or close-up expressions of bridesmaids and groomsmen during formal wedding party photos! That being said, you SHOULD also shoot as if you are shooting for your own portfolio. Sub-par images are not okay. While second shooters also act as assistants during the day, your main job is IN the description. You should be taking photos! Which leads me to my next point…

3. Please, for the love of all things holy, take lots of images! This doesn’t mean over-shooting, because that can be annoying to cull, but shoot enough so that the main photographer has several good options from each scene. ESPECIALLY if you are branching out on your own to do groom’s getting ready photos for example, or taking venue detail shots. Okay I hate to bring up my bad experience again, but I think I ended up being able to use 4 total venue shots they delivered me, and we were at the botanical gardens!!!!! Use your time wisely, and get creative while grabbing those photos for the photographer. It will benefit you too in the long run!

4. Do a settings check! This will earn you major brownie points with the main shooter, because having the same settings (like ISO, f/stop, and white balance) will save them lots of precious time in the editing process. You may need to do this a few times throughout the day, as the scenes change. Bonus, it’s also a learning opportunity for you to see how others adjust for certain lighting situations. Want EXTRA brownie points? Sync your camera’s time + date down to the second with their camera when you arrive. They’ll be able to sort them by date when culling, and everything will be in order!

5. You’re going to need to know how to use flash. You don’t have to be a professional yet, but some basic knowledge is essential. Of course part of second shooting is learning, so be open to being taught! If you’re anything like me, you started out shooting weddings and crossing your fingers every time hoping that the entire day would be outdoors, in beautiful daylight. Guess what? My very first two weddings in 2015-2016 were! But that moment came when I booked a winter wedding in a dark, moody-lit barn and I was on the struggle bus. I had read somewhere you could get away with shooting at 1/60 shutter speed, so it’s no wonder almost all my first-dance shots were a blur. Oh, and also, bring your own flash! You can get a decent one for about $70 from Best Buy.

6. Be up for anything! A positive attitude goes such a long way. Weddings can be hectic, and sometimes things don’t go as planned. You may need to go grab photos of the groom’s details unexpectedly. In fact, that’s actually what happened at my last wedding, and my second shooter happily ran off to get those shots. She told me later that she had to ask the groom to take off his bowtie, shoes, and suspenders which is what I would have done too because those images were important to the bride. She just did exactly what needed to be done, and it gave me time to get extra bridal photos too. During the same wedding, I saw a bridesmaid motioning to her that they had forgotten the ring! No questions asked, she slipped back into the bridal suite and grabbed it. I couldn’t help but laugh as she handed it to the last bridesmaid, who in turn handed it to the next, all the way down the line until it was in the maid of honor’s hands. She totally saved the day!

7. Don’t post images before the main shooter. This should go without being said, but I am saying it anyway! Some main shooters don’t allow you to use the images at all. This is something you should have already been made aware of before you agree, to avoid any issues. But many wedding photographers don’t mind. Just be mindful, there is a certain etiquette to how you use the images. Never post before the gallery has been delivered to the client. And don’t tag any of the vendors, guests, or clients on social media. The use of these images for your personal portfolio is a courtesy, and shouldn’t interfere! Another thing to note is that promoting your own business when you second shoot is taboo. Along with using the experience to leverage yourself in any way. (The second shooter I’ve been telling you about from that one wedding messaged the videographer on Instagram the next day asking to go out for coffee, so she could learn more about video. It just felt a little shady after the way things played out that day.) Don’t get me wrong, networking is not a bad thing, but it’s just not the right time and place.

8. Have fun! In summary, take the opportunity to learn, be professional and reliable, but also just enjoy yourself! You are not in charge here. There’s really no pressure. And weddings are just a good time. Everyone is happy crying, you feel like you are in a fairy-tale, and you’re getting to do what you love. Plus, you may even get a free meal out of it!


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