I fully believe that one of the most challenging parts of being in the wedding industry without having a business partner is finding reliable, trustworthy, skilled, and AMAZING second shooters. I take the responsibility of capturing a bride and groom’s wedding day very seriously. When I pick a second shooter, I am trusting them to capture incredible images without me being by their side. There are only a few parts of the wedding day that the second shooter is alone – the groom’s getting ready photos, the groomsmen portraits if I do not have time to shoot them, and the cocktail hour. For everything else, I am trusting the second shooter to capture images that will supplement my images from the same wedding day moment. The final result is a seamless gallery with consistent, quality images and essentially, benefiting from the ability of being “two places at once” – that’s the point of a second shooter.
So how do you show up on a wedding day as a second shooter and blow your primary photographer away with your images? How do you knock their socks off and maybe even get a tip or a raise… or even better, form a mutually beneficial, lasting relationship?! Speaking from personal experience, hard work really pays off when it comes to hustling as a second shooter on a wedding day. It’s just as much about your images as it is how you SERVE the photographer you are working for. There are several practical second shooting tips that I’ve come to learn over the years from my own second shooting experience that I believe are so important to share. If second photographers are going to be an industry standard (let’s face it, they have been for years and it’s probably not changing anytime soon), us photographers who don’t work with a business partner or spouse need to step up and serve each other WELL with integrity, grit, and initiative throughout the wedding day. Here’s how we can do that!
Second Shooting Tips: How To Be A Great Second Shooter
1) Communicate & show up EARLY!! Nothing eases the photographer’s mind more at the start of a wedding day than knowing that the second shooter is on his or her way and is set to arrive ahead of schedule. That is a weight off of my shoulders as I’m shooting bridal details because we all know that as wedding photographers, we have to constantly battle the voice of fear in our heads telling us what could go wrong all day long. Knowing that my second shooter is en route and will be there with time to spare is relieving and so helpful. It’s the worst having to text your second to make sure they didn’t wake up late, forget about the wedding day (even though we’ve touched base at least twice in the week prior), or have car troubles. So, if you’re a second shooter: Text your photographer the morning of the wedding letting you know how excited you are to work with them that day. Shoot them another text when you’re on your way with your estimated arrival time, and confirm where they’d like you to meet. These little touch points are invaluable and make all the difference. Bonus: Share your location for the day with the photographer using your iPhone. That way they know where you are at all times, when you’ve set the groom up for the First Look, whether you’ve arrived at cocktail hour yet, etc.! It’s so helpful and eliminates the need for numerous “where are you?” texts throughout the day!!
2) Shoot how the photographer shoots. This means a little extra communication beforehand but it’s fairly simple. It also means you won’t have to interrupt during the wedding day with these questions! So before the wedding day arrives, ask the photographer a series of questions that will help you understand their technical style of shooting. For example, what aperture they like to hang out at for portraits or group shots, what lens they tend to use the most (or want you to use the most), what white balance setting they use, whether they use external or on-camera flash for a reception, etc. These questions will set you up for success on the wedding day and they help both of you in the end! So, if you’re a second shooter: Email your photographer with 4-5 questions about their technical shooting style at least one week before your first wedding with them. I promise you, your photographer will be BEYOND impressed with your desire to serve them (and their couple!) so well, and will be more than happy to provide you with the answers that will lead you in the right direction! Of course, when the wedding day arrives, be sure to actually use these technical aspects while you’re shooting, or if you can’t, be sure to let the photographer know before the wedding day what to expect. There is nothing worse than not meeting expectations as a second shooter on a wedding day.
3) Capture the day as if you’re the primary photographer. When you show up on a wedding day as a second shooter, you are no longer a subordinate of the photographer. You are their PARTNER. Their teammate. Their equal. I mean this not in a way of shoving the photographer out of the way while they’re trying to direct portraits. What I mean is that you are there to try your best to take shots JUST as amazing as the primary photographer is capturing. You are not there to maybe get a good portrait shot here or there or slide under the radar doing the bare minimum. I understand you aren’t the main photographer hired to capture that wedding day, but if you want to be a great second shooter, what is the harm in mentally treating the day like you are the primary photographer? As long as you don’t step on the main photographer’s toes, there is no reason to not try your absolute best to take the most incredible images you ever have on that wedding day. When you choose to not try as hard just because it’s not your own wedding day, you are doing the photographer, their sweet couple, and YOURSELF a monstrous disservice. So, if you’re a second shooter: Be a good person and actually try your best when second shooting on a wedding day. Please, please give 110% effort. Act as if these photos are going in a wedding gallery for one of your very own beloved couples. The fact of the matter is, this is someone’s wedding day. It’s one of the most special, precious, and beautiful days of their life that is only happening this once, and I promise you any image you capture is a valuable moment preserved. So take that extra shot of grandma flirting with grandpa, mom reaching for the tissues, or dad smiling at his daughter as she dances with her husband for the first time. Believe in the power and absolutely immeasurable value of the CANDID MOMENTS! It is a shame to let those opportunities pass without trying our best to capture them. As a second shooter, your candid moments will compliment the primary photographer’s posed moments so, so well. Therefore, try your best to capture as many candids as you can, too. Even if that means covering cocktail hour instead of shooting sunset portraits. As you shoot the wedding day, keep in mind how much the bride & groom will love those candid moments you’ve captured for them, especially the moments they didn’t get to be a part of themselves!
4) Don’t let your own personal ambition take over. The previous point has to be taken with a grain of salt in this respect: You can’t let your own personal goals trump the goals of the primary photographer. You cannot let “building your portfolio” be your primary mindset the entire day. I know… “What do you mean, Megan? If I’m shooting as if I’m shooting my own wedding day, shouldn’t capturing images for my own portfolio be the driving force behind that?” No, and this is why: You have got to remember that you are there to serve the PRIMARY photographer on a wedding day, not yourself. So yea, you might be asked to shoot cocktail hour for 45 minutes instead of the incredible reception details in the ballroom downstairs. The trees of garden roses lining the tables? You might miss out on that. And that’s okay, because that’s not why you’re there. This is the primary photographer’s wedding with a couple they worked HARD to book by growing a business they’ve branded through curated images, blog posts, stories, Instagrams, and countless other facets over the years. You are not there to capitalize on their brand. Sorry if this disappoints you, makes you angry, or sounds immature. It’s not. I have had the amazing privilege to second shoot for one of Washington DC’s most talented and successful wedding photographers for over two years now. The weddings I shoot with her are simply jaw-dropping. The details are always out of this world, and every wedding looks like it belongs in a magazine. But you know what? I have showed, used, or even edited a single image from any of her beautiful wedding days. Why? Because I don’t want couples who contact me about shooting their wedding to falsely believe I am something I’m not. Yes, I took that image of the bride and groom kissing under the stunning floral arch. However… they weren’t my couple, I didn’t have a relationship with them, I didn’t book them, I didn’t set up that shot, I didn’t pose the couple… and therefore, a lot of what is in that image can’t be credited to me. I’ve built my entire business on using only images from my own wedding days (except for one wedding four years ago before I had shot or even second shot any weddings at all) and I am grateful for that. It’s made me a better photographer, better business owner, and better second shooter because I’m not distracted by my own desire to “get that shot for my portfolio!!” while I’m serving another photographer on their own wedding day. I’m there solely to do what the primary photographer needs me to do. So, if you’re a second shooter: Eliminate the “portfolio building mentality” from your mind when you show up on a wedding day and replace it with a “serving the primary photographer” mentality. This means giving them your absolute best images you can capture, wherever they have you shooting. If that looks like covering cocktail hour for 45 minutes instead of glowing field at sunset bride & groom portraits, then you go shoot that cocktail hour like it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen. You can do it. I believe in you. And someday, you’ll appreciate your own second shooter’s willingness and good attitude to cover cocktail hour for you when you need them to, too.
5) Go the extra mile and anticipate the photographer’s needs. This is where the service part comes into second shooting… that goes beyond the images you are capturing. How much more enjoyable will the day be if you can really build a relationship with this photographer? What could happen if they truly knew and believed that you are on their team and not just there to make money or build your own portfolio? How can we show the photographer that we genuinely care about their business and want to serve and love them well? By taking the initiative to think about what the photographer might need from you beyond capturing wedding day moments they might miss. It might look like stopping at Starbucks a few minutes away from the venue and asking if you can bring them coffee or a sandwich. It might look like packing a few extra snacks to share later in the day when you’re both starving and just want a little break. It might look like keeping ibuprofen, cold & flu medicine, or cough drops in your camera bag just in case the primary isn’t feeling so well. It might look like running five blocks to the parking garage and back to go grab all of the photographer’s lighting equipment. Whatever it looks like, it’s always the extra mile… sometimes literally, always figuratively :) The best thing you can do for the photographer is serve them well in every possible way you can. It’s worth it. You might not get an extra tip, and you might not get an hourly pay raise, but you will gain respect… and that alone is absolutely invaluable when it comes to building relationships, in and outside of your industry. So, if you’re a second shooter: Anticipate what the photographer might want or need and do it. Learn their Starbucks coffee order and show up with it on a wedding day. Pack an extra snack. Run and get them water when there’s a break. Maybe even take some flattering behind the scenes photos for the photographer!! Ask if there’s anything they need or anything else you can do for them. They will melt with joy and gratitude, and you’ll feel amazing for being so helpful and valuable to them. I promise you, it is always worth it to go above and beyond and serve people well. You’ll thank yourself for it someday.
BONUS: Ask for feedback/critique. After the first wedding you shoot with a photographer, let them know at the end of the night how much fun you had, how much you’d love to work with them again, and how because of that, you’d love to seriously know how you did when it comes to your images. Assure them that you are open to any and all feedback and want to serve them even better next time, so “please let me know if there’s anything I should change or need to work on, or if there’s anything you really loved and want to see more of.” Talk about knocking a primary photographer’s socks off and making their heart SWELL with appreciation and pride. Yes, they’ll be PROUD they chose you as a second shooter!! How amazing would that feel?! Speaking from experience here, it’s what keeps me second shooting for just ONE photographer years later, when my business really doesn’t need me to second shoot anymore… I actually enjoy working with her and will continue to for as long as I can because she makes me feel valued, appreciated, trusted, respected, and loved. The feeling is mutual because of the relationship we’ve been able to build over the years of me hustling hard on wedding days and her compensating me fairly for that… through words, hugs, and monetary means.
If you are someone’s second shooter on a wedding day, realize the potential that exists for building a life-changing relationship. Because it’s there. What a photographer is seeking most from their second shooter on a wedding day is someone who is on their team. Who supports them as best as they can. They don’t just want to pay you and be done with it… and if that’s all they want, they probably aren’t the greatest photographer or business owner! In this field there are countless opportunities to genuinely connect with people on a deep level. Whether that’s our clients, our couple’s families, or peers within the industry… weddings bring people together in a really beautiful way, and as a second shooter, you have a front row seat to that opportunity. So go for it. Strive to do your absolute best, even if it’s just for the sake of knowing you did. You will never regret walking away from a wedding day with having that level of respect for yourself. As an industry, let’s come together and try our best to eliminate the stigma and risk associated with second shooters. Let’s all try our absolute best, whether we are serving our very own clients or another photographer. It will be the best decision you ever make.