As a wedding photographer, I’ve photographed over 500 weddings and I’ve worked with lots of second photographers. Most of them have been awesome to work with…others, not so much.
Finding a great second shooter is a wonderful experience, and I try to work with those that I’ve gelled with as much as possible. I have some second shooters that I’ve been working with for nearly a decade.
While the majority of the second photographers I’ve worked with have been stellar, there are certainly some bad apples out there. And if you want to keep getting hired as a second shooter, you’ll want to make a good impression.
So, here are thirty three helpful tips to make you the best second shooter around so that everyone will want to hire you…Be on time.
1. Be on time
No, as a matter of fact, show up early. Not crazy early, but plan to be wherever you need to be half an hour early. Check out the space beforehand, maybe grab a few detail shots. Just don’t do anything that would hurt the main photographer’s reputation.
Being punctual is professional.
2. Be prepared to take over
Hey, shit happens, right? If the main photographer is running late or is in an accident, you might need to take over as the primary photographer. I know that might sound really stressful, but you need to be prepared. That means having plenty of memory cards and batteries and having the timeline/portrait list from the main photographer.
This also means having a back-up camera. Even if it’s not one you take pictures with all day, having a back-up is SUPER important. If your camera stops working in the middle of the day, you’re going to make the lead photographer look really bad.
3. Don’t pretend to be the primary photographer
Be clear to anyone who asks who you are that you’re the second shooter/assistant to whoever you are working for…
This goes for AFTER the wedding as well. Don’t post photos from the wedding on your blog, social media, etc. giving the impression that you were the main photographer for the wedding. More on this topic a little later.
4. Turn off the self promotion machine
Don’t post to social media. Don’t talk up the guests. DO NOT hand out your business card. You have been hired for a job. You’re an employee of the main photographer for this day and a representative of their business.
You’re not there to network. Don’t add guests or the wedding couple to your Facebook friends or give them you’re Instagram handle. It’s unprofessional.
5. Stay off your phone
Your social media, texts, emails, whatever is on your phone that you think is important…it can wait until you step away from where guests are. There’s no need to be constantly checking your phone. It looks like you’re not paying attention to your job, because, well, you’re not
If there’s something going on in your life (family emergency, etc.) that you need to check in on, be sure to let the main photographer know.
6. Don’t take breaks in front of the guests
Need a break? Going out for a smoke break? Want to sit down for a few minutes because you’ve been on your feet for the last 5 hours? Don’t do it around the guests.
7. Don’t disappear
One of the worst feelings I have as a wedding photographer is when something big is about to happen and looking around and my second shooter is nowhere to be seen.
If you’re going to take a break or leave the area where the main photographer is, check the timeline to make sure there’s nothing big coming up and tell the main photographer!
8. Make sure the main photographer drinks enough water!
There’s so much going on throughout the wedding day. I know, as a lead photographer, I’ve been so wrapped up in the timeline and taking photos, that I forget that I need to hydrate.
One of the nicest things a second shooter can do is offer you a cool glass of water, especially on a hot day!
9. Stay out of the frame
Be aware of what lens the main photographer is shooting with and where they are pointing their camera so that you can stay out of the frame of their photo. The couple is not paying to have you photo bomb them.
So, do your best to stay out of the background.
10. Don’t post any photos ANYWHERE without talking to the main photographer first
Photographers have different rules about when/where and even if second shooters can post photos from a wedding. Most will want you to wait at least until images have been delivered to the couple, but some will have different rules.
These should all be spelled out in the agreement/contract you have with the main photographer, but it’s even more important to check if there isn’t a written agreement that spells that out.
Why is it important? Well, I’ve had some clients who had it in their contracts that photos were not to be posted online (for a variety of reasons, some including personal safety). If you go and post pictures from the event, you could even be opening yourself, and the main photographer, up to legal problems.
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11. Don’t pose people the lead photographer is taking pictures of without saying something first
You might have a great idea, but it is best to quickly mention it to the main photographer. Otherwise, people might feel like you’re wasting their time.
I always go to great lengths to get to know the couples I am working with beforehand, and I will know whether an idea fits their style. If it’s a great idea, I will give you credit and let you run with it
12. Ask questions BEFORE the wedding day
If you have questions that the main wedding photographer has not discussed prior to the wedding, be sure to ask them BEFORE the day of the wedding.
It will be much easier to work out then as opposed to on the wedding day when there are a hundred other things going on.
This doesn’t mean not to ask a question on the wedding day if you have one. I, personally, would rather have you ask then proceed not knowing something. But, if it can be handled before the wedding day, all the better
13. Sync the time on your camera(s) with the lead photographer
Before you get started shooting, be sure to sync the time on your camera(s) with those of the lead photographer. It makes it so much easier in post production to sort the images if all the cameras are set to the same time.
You can even use a website like time.gov to sync before you get to the wedding, especially if you’re not going to see the lead photographer before you start taking pictures.
14. Shoot with a different lens than me.
If you have a limited number of lenses, don’t let that discourage you. But talk to the main photographer beforehand and let them know what equipment you do have.
This is why many photographers like to work with second shooters who have the same type of camera. They can interchange lenses if needed!
I don’t want all of the photos to be framed the same way. I want a variety of focal lengths. So, mix it up!
15. Don’t shoot over my shoulder unless I tell you to and you’re using a different lens
Unless I tell you to shoot from the same position…DON’T DO IT!!! It just makes me think you’re taking that picture for your own portfolio, because the couple certainly doesn’t want two copies of the same photo.
16. Be helpful
Look for moments when you can help out the main photographer. Do they need a light stand moved? Someone to carry a bag? Pitch in if you see an opportunity.
17. No booze!
The open bar is not for you. You’re there to work. You’re not a guest. And don’t tell me it was because someone in the wedding party offered you a drink.
I often have couples, parents, wedding party members, etc. offer me a drink. I politely decline. You are there to do a job, and if people see you drinking one beer, they’ll wonder if that was the only one you drank.
Again, it’s just unprofessional.
18. Shoot RAW
JPEGs don’t have the same potential for post production that RAW images do. I can get a lot more out of your RAW files, and it makes the post production process a lot faster.
19. Don’t delete or reformat while you’re shooting!
Reformat your cards in camera before you start shooting. Always ask the lead if you can reformat any cards they give you before you do.
Deleting photos can lead to accidentally removing a great photo, or even a picture I could edit later on in post. Just leave it.
I’ve seen people accidentally delete an entire memory card. Don’t run that risk.
20. You’re not there to hang out with the guests
I feel like I’ve said this a hundred times, but you’re at this wedding to work, not hang out. Be friendly, be courteous, but be professional!
21. If there’s a problem, take it to the lead photographer
Something has gone wrong? Piece of equipment broke? Guest accosting you or being rude? Take it to the lead photographer and they can figure out how to proceed.
NOTE: If someone is physically or verbally abusive, and the lead photographer doesn’t do anything, escalate the situation. Always keep yourself safe!
22. Update the lead photographer on how the timeline is going
“Hey, we’ve got a half an hour before speeches!”
Time can get away from you while you’re photographing a wedding, so it’s good to have a second shooter who helps keep you updated on where you’re at and what is coming up.
23. Don’t show people photos on the back of your camera
It’s disrespectful to the lead photographer. Also, then you will have everyone asking to see every photo you take. But, mostly, it’s disrespectful to the main photographer because you’re saying, “HEY! LOOK! I TOOK THIS PHOTO!” while you’re there working for someone else.
24. Look for little things that would improve the photo
See something out of place? Mention it, the seek to fix it. Groom has a phone in his pocket? Say something!
Empty bottle of water on a table in the background? Mention it then go in and remove it!
Bride’s dress needs to be floofed? Do you know how to floof? Say you’re going to step in and do the FLOOFING!!!
25. Stay until your time is up. And check with the main photographer before you go.
NEVER leave early unless there’s an extenuating circumstance (you’re feeling ill, there’s an emergency) and you’ve cleared it with the lead photographer.
Stay through the time you agreed on with the lead photographer and check in with them before you go. Drop off your cards or download your photos to an external hard drive before you leave (or whatever you’ve agreed upon). Don’t leave without checking with the main photographer.
26. Ask questions about camera settings away from guests and the wedding couple
Simple questions like “What ISO are you using?” or “What white balance are you set at?” may seem simple and harmless, but the impression other non photographers might get is that you don’t know what you’re doing.
I’m always happy to discuss techniques, settings, etc. with my second shooters but not while we can be overheard by the wedding couple/party/guests.
27. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of pictures
I’d rather have more pictures to sort through after the wedding than not enough. So feel free to take a bunch of photos.
28. At the same time, don’t take the same photo over and over again
One of the most frustrating things to experience, for me, when I’m going through a second shooter’s images, is seeing the same photo captured half a dozen times or more.
I’m talking about no change in settings or composition. Just the same photo over AND OVER AND OVER…change things up. Give me some variety!
29. Want to try something different? Talk to the main photographer first
Maybe you want to do some long exposure, light trail shots. Ask the main!!! It might be totally outside of their style and they would not deliver any of those images.
30. Dress for the occasion!
It’s a wedding. Dress appropriately. Ask the lead photographer what they’ll be wearing and if you have any questions after they tell you, figure it out before the day of the wedding.
31. Dress professionally!
Oh yea, I am going to mention it again, because even though I’ve specifically mentioned it to second photographers and videographers in my 20 years as a wedding photographer, they’ve still shown up wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
32. No, seriously…dress nicely!
Who thinks it’s appropriate to show up at a wedding in ratty sneakers and ripped jeans? You’d be surprised.
33. ONE MORE TIME FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK, DRESS APPROPRIATELY!
I’m not shitting you, I have had a shooter show up in an outfit that might be considered appropriate for hanging out in a dive bar, but not at a wedding
Get your shit together. Dress appropriately for the wedding.
I hope you found these tips helpful, please feel free to share them with anyone you know who is looking to be a second shooter at weddings!
Have other tips? Stories – good or bad? Leave them in the comments section below.