How to be a better second shooter

This is going to be a two-part tips post. Coming up tomorrow will be tips on getting more second shooting work so make sure to check back at 11am EST

When I first started photographing weddings I second shot for anyone who would take me for about 3 months, it was a fascinating time seeing how other photographers interacted with clients and ran their businesses. I like to second shoot at least once or twice a year now as I still find it a valuable experience.

1. Be on the same page
It’s important to have clear expectations from the primary photographer about a bunch of things but especially:
a) Hours and pay
b) Image use – are you shooting on their cards? Are you responsible for post-processing (unusual but some photographers ask for this)? Can you use images in your portfolio? On your blog? On facebook? Everyone has different policies so find out in advance.
c) Is there any assisting work required (setting up lights/carrying bags) or is it purely second shooting?
d) Is the primary photographer good with you asking questions throughout the day (applies more to newer photographers) or do they prefer to keep this kind of chat to your dinner break
e) Is there is dress code?

2. Check your ego at the door
When you’re second shooting it’s a great time to see how someone else works. It’s awesome if a second shooter points out that the Father of the Bride’s boutonniere is upside down (helpful advice) but can be annoying if they’re questioning your lighting technique/suggesting alternate shots. Equally, the clients have likely hired the primary photographer for their specific style so unless requested by the primary it’s usually best not to try to set up shots, pose the couple, interfere with the job

3. They’re not your clients/it’s not your wedding
You are representing the primary photographer who has likely worked hard to book the wedding/build relationships with the clients and other vendors. Don’t bring or pass out your own business cards. Don’t encourage the couple to friend you on facebook. Don’t put together a sample album for the venue. Shocking but I’ve had second shooters do all of these (my bad for not setting clear expectations in the past). Most importantly be polite to the couple, their families and other guests.

4. Be a team player
If you’ve ever shot your own wedding you’ll know how crazy things can get. It’s awesome if you feel your second photographer who has your back – from grabbing you a glass of water to spotting that lens you left on the back pew of the church. Let’s say the primary photographer has asked you to take candids of guests at cocktail hour – of course you’d rather be out on the golf course taking killer pictures of the wedding party – but that’s not why you’re there.

5. Listen to requests/instructions
If the primary photographer asks you to do/not do something there’s usually a really good reason. Even if you would normally do this at your own wedding you’re not at your own wedding. The primary photographer may have information you don’t know about – photography restrictions in church, specific shot requests from the clients etc etc – it’s really helpful to listen and act accordingly

6. Sync your cameras with the primary!

7.  Anticipate
One of the things that truly makes a stellar second photographer in my opinion is when they’re paying attention to the primary photographer and acting accordingly. If the primary is on one side of the church during the vows and the second can see they’re shooting landscape with a 70-200mm, it’s awesome to get the same shot from the exact opposite side of the church. Conversely during the first dance, if the primary is shooting long with the 70-200mm it can be great for the second to get some wide shots. Pay attention to what the parents/grandparents/siblings of the couple look like during the ceremony – if the primary is shooting the couple and the speaker during toasts, try to get some great reaction shots of close family and friends

8. Stay out of the shot!!!
This seems obvious but if you’re usually a primary photographer it can be quite a challenge to remind yourself that you need to be conscious not to get in the shot. Be aware of their position/angle at all times and move quickly.

9. Alert the primary photographer if you have an issue.
Of course, use your common sense here but if you have an equipment problem or you’re really struggling with lighting something ask them if they have a second to help you. They’ll probably prefer to help for a few minutes vs. get unusable images

10. Make it count!
Unless the primary photographer has tasked you with getting the “safe” or must have shots eg. the kiss, the ring exchange, second shooting gives you a little more flexibility and time in composing your images and watching for the best expressions. I’d rather have 200 amazing images vs. 1000 “over my shoulder” duplicate images.


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