Being a Second Photographer for Weddings

Like most other professional wedding photographers, I got my start as a second shooter for other experienced wedding photographers. The hands-on education I received from the generous photographers over the years has been invaluable to making me a better wedding photographer.

Wedding photography is not something to be taken lightly or approached as a hobby, it should be a genre that is given great reverence before agreeing to ever photograph a person's wedding.

Even today, I still take on second shooter positions, because I LOVE it. Here's my approach to being a second photographer for another professional:

First and foremost, my job is to communicate fully with the lead, taking their direction and requests 100%. The wedding couple is NOT my client, my client in these scenarios is the main photographer. The couple chose this photographer specifically, and it's my job to make that photographer's job easier.

Communication means getting a full picture of what the lead wants me to cover, and the timeline for those requests. I confirm the details day before, and always show up to the location early, ready to shoot. The hours I'm needed and the pay are always confirmed and accepted prior to committing. Questions about copyright, delivery, who controls and/or edits the images, and how the ones I shoot can be used are always discussed and agreed upon before I'm hired.

Examples of different usage opportunities are:

I shoot on their cards, handing cards over at the end of my time, and I never see nor touch the images I took.

I photograph the wedding on my cards, and send the raw files electronically at a later agreed upon time.

I may edit and use the images I took for my own portfolio, after the main has completed and delivered the finals images to the client.

I may not edit nor use the images for my own portfolio.

Every wedding photographer is going to have a different budget for a second, and the amount paid needs to make sense for both parties, or a job shouldn't be accepted.

If I commit to second shooting on a specific date, I absolutely show up, regardless of other work that may come up. I am trustworthy, honest, say what I do and do what I say. There is little worse for a lead photographer than to have their intended second shooter cancel last minute.

I choose to be a 'seen, not heard' second, allowing the lead to dictate and control the flow of the day. I don't talk over the lead, I don't interrupt, I don't take a conversation over. I am polite, engaging when appropriate, and there to allow the lead photographer to maintain proper rapport with their clients. I defer all detailed questions, such as delivery date, options, etc, to the main photographer.

My goal is to assist the lead photographer and make their job easier. I pay attention to what they're doing, offer help when needed, and anticipate what's needed next. If I'm helping cover the ceremony, I'm always aware of their position, and continually pivot out of their way. I work to cover a different perspective, and always defer the shooting priority to the lead. Again, the wedding isn't about what *I* want to shoot, but rather how I can help my main photographer get their job completed. If we're working on family portraits before or after the ceremony, I help with people wrangling, small adjustments that are needed for clothing and posing, allowing the lead to maintain communication with the subjects and stay on task.

Being a second photographer is about learning the process, the hiccups on a given wedding day and how to adapt to any issue thrown at you. It IS NOT (and I cannot stress this enough) about me getting images I may want for my portfolio.

Every second shooting I do for another wedding photographer, I aim to be the best Santa's Elf, Watson to their Holmes, R2-D2 to their Luke. I believe because of the positive, supportive approach I take to being a second, I have never had a bad experience with a lead photographer, often being hired repeatedly by the same photographer. They understand the quality of my work, my actual work ethic, and my ability to be their 'right-hand-assistant' in a high paced, flexible environment.


When I'm looking for a second photographer, guess what I am looking for as the lead. You got it, everything you read above!

Here are a few reasons I won't hire someone as a second whether the first time or as a repeat.

---only being concerned with getting images for their portfolio

--- refusing, ignoring or missing requested shots

--- arriving late, dressed inappropriately, or otherwise unsuitable for shooting

--- poor quality of images (out of focus, poor composition, improperly lit, etc)

--- behaving around clients as if they're the lead

--- interrupting me, arguing with me, or dismissing a request

--- any kind of drinking or drug use during hired time

--- refusing to provide me with the images as agreed

This is only a partial list, but I think the best way to approach second shooting is to BE the type os second you would want on your team. :)