How to Become a Kickass Second Shooter
I LOVE second shooting for other wedding photographers when I get a chance. For me, it’s NOT about getting my calendar filled and having that extra bit of income. I mean, it doesn’t hurt. But what I value the most is, I get to be creative without all the stress and learn from other talents in the industry. I get to try unique perspectives that I normally wouldn’t because I’m too busy with “safe” shots. I get to capture beautiful moments that make up the story of the day but would have gone unnoticed if I weren’t there.
My personal favorites are usually the ones I took when I was second shooting. If one day a couple allows me to document their day the way Joe Buissink does (namely, hiring a first shooter and being a second shooter myself), I’ll be in heaven. One day!
Anyway, how do you become a better second shooter? This is actually a two-fold question. First of all, how does one go about finding second shooting opportunities? And secondly, which is what I’m going to focus on in this blog post here, tips, tricks, and etiquette of second-shooting.
Get Yourself Out There
The answer to the first question is actually pretty simple: Get yourself out there! Wedding photographers typically advertise second shooting gigs on Facebook groups, photography forums, and sometimes on craigslist. Find local or nation-wide Facebook groups for wedding photographers or second shooters, and keep an eye out for second shooting opportunities. Personally, I have better luck in local groups. Here are a few that I’m part of, just to give you some idea: St. Louis Area Photographers, STL Photographer Match Up, and Photographer Connection+Support STL. There is also a worldwide group for photographers looking to hire or become second shooters: Second Shooters created by SecondShooters.com.
Speaking of which, another good way to make yourself available is to get listed in directories that are geared toward second shooters and people who are looking for second shooters. Two that come to mind are SecondShooters.com and Second in Seconds. SecondShooters.com is in the process of revamping their website. It is subscription based. Second in Seconds is relatively new to the game, just came out last year, and is free (for the time being at least). (Here is what my page looks like.) I have never got any gigs out of either one and I doubt that people who need second shooters actually go there. But your experience might differ depending on where you’re located. Another website of interest is The Second Shooter Society. They are not yet launched, but should be soon.
A lot of photographers prefer to work with people in their “circles,” so they often advertise in groups that are created for a specific purpose. For instance, Pixieset Users, Shoot and Share, Mastin Labs – User Group, and so forth. On top of second shooting gigs, you get a lot of wedding referrals as well. (But good luck with that–because essentially you’re competing with thousands of other photographers!)
And of course, the prerequisite of getting hired this way is, you gotta have a portfolio to show, wedding related or otherwise. I booked my first wedding, $1800, without a wedding or engagement portfolio. But I was lucky, and having portrait and event work to show definitely helped. I got my first two second shooting gigs because of an engagement session that I did. It became a lot easier after that.
Yet another way to find second shooting gigs is simply to do some research about wedding photographers in your area, find people whose style you like, people who might be a good fit for you in terms of skill, experience, and personality, and then talk to them. I don’t mean emailing them. For me, emails are not very personal. Plus, those photographers probably get emails like that every day. And chances are, they already have a list of second shooters they work with on a regular basis! You need to stand out from the crowd, you need to be able to capture their attention. One important step toward doing this is establishing a personal connection: follow their work on social media, invite them for coffee, attend their workshops, and take it from there. Having decent portfolio that demonstrates your skill and potential will definitely differentiate you from the rest of the people who are just starting out and want to get some good education for free. That’s why it’s better to go this route AFTER you have had a few weddings under your belt. But, again, try to get to know them first. Give them a chance to know you and form a trusting relationship before you pop the question, “Can I second shoot for you?” Let them know what you can do for them first, not what you want from them. (The same goes for vendor networking, but that’s a topic for another time.)
Now, on to the good stuff!
How to Be a Kickass Second Shooter
There is a lot that goes into second shooting, more than simply snapping a few shots and handing them over at the end of the day. The following list of tips, tricks, and etiquette advice is based on my personal experience and inputs from other photographers. (I asked photographers what ONE tip they would give to a second shooter and some of their answers are quoted below.). So take them with a grain of salt.
1. Get a contract.
Even if you’re shooting with your best friend, it is always good to have a solid contract in place with all the terms clearly laid out. Short of that, email exchanges (vs. merely verbal agreements) are better than nothing. Make sure you’re clear on: 1) what your responsibilities will be on the day of wedding; 2) how to hand over the images that you take; 3) whether, how, and when you’re getting paid; and 4) copyright ownership and whether, how, and when you can use the images that you take. This way, you’re less likely to have to deal with misunderstandings, disappointments, and hurt feelings later on.
A note about copyright and usage of images. A lot of us starts second shooting because we want to build portfolio and get into the wedding photography business. The most useful advice I can give is, don’t make assumptions. Talk to the primary photographer, find out how they do things, let them know what your expectations are, and see if you can work out something that is mutually beneficial. As a rule, the primary photographer would like to keep the copyright to the images you take. They may or may not allow you to use those images. This is where things tend to get tricky because different photographers might do things differently. For instance, they might allow you to use the images only in a printed portfolio or a private gallery, or on your blog but not in your online portfolio, or on your website but not on any kind of social media, on social media but no tagging clients or vendors, or for whatever non-commercial purpose insofar as you wait until after a certain period of time (e.g., three months after the wedding day, or after they have delivered the images to the clients). You get the idea. Again, when in doubt, ask.
On a similar note, Pol Sena says it nicely, “We photographers get the most of our marketing thru word of mouth by the clients that we give our service to, we worked hard on booking it by arranging meetings, forming bonds with our clients, giving them discounts and freebies hoping we can get more clients by tapping into their network, don’t take that away from the main photographer, let them reap the benefits of their hard work.”
In rare cases where your primary shooter doesn’t have a contract, create a free account with Jotform or one of the many other online form builders and you will have access to second shooter (or independent contractor) contract templates that you can use for free. Invest in one if you think you’ll need one for your second shooters down the road. Get a lawyer to take a look at it when possible; always ask for professional help.
Other scenarios that you might want to consider and cover in the contract are: What if you can’t show up? What if you camera fails? What if your memory card is corrupted and the images lost? What if you cause damage to persons or properties when you’re doing your job? What if you get paid late? What if the wedding is cancelled at the last minute? and so forth.
2. Get the timeline beforehand.
Jasmine Hovsepyan says, nothing is worse than arriving at the wedding and not knowing where to be and what to do. Ask for the wedding day timeline before the wedding, go over it, and make sure you understand what your responsibilities are.
Having the timeline printed out is even better, says Matt Schmachtenberg. “It looks more professional than checking your phone, and it’s great to have on hand when you or the lead need to confirm times throughout the day.”
3. Familiarize yourself with the lead photographer’s style.
Check out their portfolio and familiarize yourself with their style. Do they tend to shoot wide? Do they shoot at f1.4 most of the time? Are they a big sucker for light and airy or dramatic and moody? Do they use flash only when they can’t help it? Are they more photojournalistic than editorial? The list goes on.
“Study the style of the person you’re second shooting for and have general knowledge of whether the lead wants you to match that style or get a different perspective (I’ve been told both): natural shooting/fill flash, flash/no flash during the ceremony, posed vs. candid, above vs. ground level? Make sure you are consistent with what is being asked of you,” says Kathryn Cooper.
Find out what lens they love to shoot with on what occasion. And ask if they would like you to shoot more or less in line with their style, or to complement it. Either way, don’t shoot over their shoulders. See Tip 7 below.
4. Be prepared.
Make sure you have everything you need AND MORE: backup camera body, lenses, extra batteries for camera and flash, lots of memory cards, water, snacks, etc. And, of course, you also want to travel light. Find the right balance for yourself.
5. Be professional.
Dress the part. Find out if the couple has attire requirements. If not, find out if the primary photographer prefers to dress more formally or causally and follow suit.
Be punctual. I usually arrive 30 minutes before my contracted start time in case there is anything the primary shooter needs to communicate with me. And I want to feel prepared, not rushed.
Do what you are told. Don’t shoot for your portfolio even though you might still be in the early stage of portfolio building. Do what your primary shooter needs you there for.
Don’t hand out your business cards to people. This is a big no-no, since you’re there representing the main shooter, not yourself.
In short, “be dependable,” to quote Paul Richard Wossidlo. “Be on time, be dressed appropriately, be where you’re supposed to be, shoot what you’re supposed to be shooting. Your primary doesn”t want to have to worry about you; don’t give them a reason to!”
6. Watch your primary shooter’s every move…
…not because you are there to learn (although this might be true), nor because you don’t want them to catch you slacking (although this might be true as well), BUT because you want to make sure you’re not in each other’s way or shots. AND because you want to make sure you’re where they need you to be. As Kathryn Cooper puts it nicely, “As one always needs to be looking at the conductor of an orchestra, always be looking at the lead shooter. She/he might want you in a different spot during a crucial time, and if you’re not looking up to see the motions, you’ll miss the shot.”
7. Be creative.
When you’re all set, when you know where you need to be and what you should be doing, keep your creative juice flowing. Find unique perspectives or angles, forget about your routines, and step out of comfort zone. Always be the lookout for precious moments that the primary is too busy to notice or capture.
In general, your responsibilities will include photographing the groom and the groomsmen when they are getting ready and shooting alongside the main photographer the rest of the day. One thing to avoid is
shooting over their shoulders. Don’t get the same shots they are already getting. Even when you are shooting over their shoulders, use a different lens or focal length.
A piece of wisdom from Kristy Marie: “Be brave to venture out and photograph the couple from different angles and viewpoints, as well as, using a variety of different lenses to add to the overall variety of images presented to the wedding couple. As a second shooter, you are being hired to present a different perspective to the couple so don’t be afraid to bring your best to the table and really shine in what you love to do artistically!”
The photo below is from the first wedding I second shot. It’s by no means the best shutter drag picture you have ever seen. And I don’t think a lot of people would even think it’s technically correct. But it was my first attempt. And it helped me see what worked, what didn’t.
8. Be considerate.
You’re working for someone. So it’s important to keep it professional. But you want to keep it personal as well and be ready to step in when your primary needs a helping hand. It’s not uncommon that they might need help with carrying their equipment, setting up lights at the reception, or holding the light stands when it’s windy. Sometimes they just need a bottle of water, but they forgot to pack one.
You might think this sort of tasks are more suitable for an assistant. But when there isn’t one, you are the second shooter slash assistant. Just be mindful, be considerate, be human. Use common sense and do the little things even when not asked. Your primary would LOVE you for it!
Adds Yasmin Roohi. Again, you’re representing a business, a personal brand. Help the primary photographer create the kind of client experience they want their couples to have.
10. And, last but not least, have fun!
So these are the ten tips to help you kick some ass next time you’re second shooting for another wedding photographer.
Notice that a lot of the tips that were mentioned above have to do with one thing, COMMUNICATION. Good communication is key. To recap some of the things we talked above, and to quote Jim Cryer, “My one tip would be to clearly understand the expectations of the primary shooter. There are so many issues that can be avoided if you are both on the same page (from time of arrival, to shot selections, to positioning, and even hand signals to use from across the church or reception). Any assumptions are going to lead to confusion or stress later. Just take a few minutes to go over the plan, and things will go much more smoothly.”
Oh, one last thing, when you second-shoot for me, please take behind-the-scene shots of me being all kinds of awesome (or crazy). Because I’m awesome AND I’m a narcissist. (Only one of the two is true.)
What’s your #1 tip for a second shooter that didn’t make the list?
Let me know in the comment box below. Feel free to share your experience with hiring second shooters as well.
Many thanks to all those who have contributed to this article. Check out the “sister article” here: Working with Second Shooters ( or how to make your second shooter love you even more).
All photos in this blog post are ones that I took when second shooting.