Need to build your portfolio? Want to gain more wedding experience and learn from other photographers while you're at it? Need to sharpen your skills? Second shooting is a great way to do all of these things. Having a second shooter is really a win for everyone involved!
The main photographer gets assistance and a second set of eyes to see things from another perspective, the couple gets a lot more photos from their day they wouldn't have otherwise gotten, and the second shooter gets experience (and usually a paycheck). It's a great gig for those looking to get their foot in the door of the wedding industry and to build relationships with other local wedding photographers. But that relationship-building part -- the part that's necessary for there to be a level of trust and the reason certain wedding photographers only work with certain second shooters -- is tricky to navigate.
As a newbie wedding photographer and someone wanting desperately to second shoot as often as possible, it can be really discouraging to put yourself out there to no avail. Been there, my friend! You're in the right place. This post covers tips for:
Establishing relationships with people who will want to hire you.
Being helpful, not a burden, to the main photographer.
Ways to go above and beyond + make the most out of your job as a second shooter.
First things first.
How to get hired as a second shooter
The worst they can say is No, right? I had to remind myself of that a whole lot when I first set out to get a few second shooting jobs under my belt. It's intimidating. But they'll never know you want to work with them if you don't reach out. Identify a few photographers...
Whose work you admire.
Who you think you'd jive with. // Watch their stories! Read their About page. See what they're about in real life! What are their passions and what's their personality like? Second shooting is an all-day gig. You need to be able to be friends with this person.
Whose style is similar to yours. // Sometimes Canon people only like to work with other Canon people, and Nikon with Nikon. If you're more light and airy, it may not work out with someone who's really dark and moody. If you're more into traditional poses, someone who's all about the adventurous candid shots may not be the best fit. It could happen, but most of the time, people are looking to hire someone whose shots will blend seamlessly with theirs in an edited gallery, so be mindful of that.
Also keep in mind that photographers looking to hire a second shooter, especially if they are paying, do not want to have to teach. Yes, second shooting is a learning opportunity, but you should know the basics. Manual mode. On-camera and off-camera flash. Macro and details. What to do in different lighting situations - full sun outside, harsh fluorescents inside. That's step one.
Step two? Send an email! Heck, a direct message can work, too. Be complimentary, but not over-the-top. I DM'd Jordan Mobley back in the day and just said "Hey, just wanted to tell you I really, really like your work. If you ever need a second shooter, I would love to be considered!" She responded, "Actually, I need someone for a wedding in a few months. Are you available on XYZ date?" She was able to quickly scroll through my Instagram, see that our styles meshed, and boom. We've now shot several weddings together. Same with Taylor of Taylor N. Photo. Even though she's based in New Mexico and I was in Oklahoma at the time, I knew she traveled for work pretty often, so I DM'd her to tell her I loved her work - because I genuinely do! - and that if she ever needed someone in Oklahoma or Texas, I'd love to help and I'm always down for a road trip. She asked if I could meet her in Lubbock, and now she's got a go-to girl.
Attending workshops is another great way to build relationships with people you may want to shoot with in the future. I'd admired Sarah Libby's work since I first started, so when she offered a workshop, I jumped at the chance to learn from her. Because it was a fairly small class, we got to chat a little bit and I kept in touch with her afterward via Instagram, of course. A year later, she needed someone to fill in last-minute because her main second shooter had gotten sick, and she reached out to me. Such an honor! The friendships I made at that workshop were valuable, too.
Believe me, I've had my fair share of unanswered emails as well. I think part of that is knowing who's out of your league. That sounds harsh, but someone who's been in the industry for a decade probably isn't looking to hire someone who's just getting their feet wet. They have too much at stake and their time is too valuable. Identify people who are just a few steps ahead of you, experience-wise, and go from there. In the case of me working with Sarah (who's way more than several steps ahead of me), by the time she asked me to work with her, we weren't strangers, and she'd seen enough of my work at that point to be able to trust I could do a good job.
How to be a helpful second shooter
I once heard Sarah say, "I don't want to have to babysit my second shooters." GULP. She wasn't referring to me - just in general - but still, it convicted me to show up and be as helpful as possible, the whole day long. As a second shooter, you're there to serve the couple and serve the main photographer, period. This is not about what YOU can get out of the day. Make it your goal to make their day easier and alleviate stress wherever possible. It's never, "What can I get out of this?" but always "How can I help?"
With that in mind, always be looking for opportunities either to shoot or to serve. Unless the main photographer is taking a break, you shouldn't be taking a break. Walk around and shoot details around the venue. Get candid shots of guests. Offer to grab someone a drink of water.
Another Sarah Libby-ism: "If my second shooter and I get essentially the same shot, I'll use my own shot for the gallery, 100 percent of the time." This is just a good reminder that they don't need you to get an exact copy of the same thing they're already shooting. They need different perspectives. If they're shooting wide, you shoot tight. If they're shooting straight on, you shoot from an angle. If they're in the center aisle, walk around (quietly and discreetly) to catch another look.
Think of your shots not as backups, but as additions. What can you add to this couple's gallery?
Ways to be a better second shooter (and get asked to shoot again)
Ask the important questions before you start. Do you need to sign a contract with the main photographer? Always good to have your legal bases covered. What's the payment situation? Will you be able to share the photos you take and use them for your portfolio? Make sure this is all laid out clearly. Does the main photographer have any settings they prefer? If you're used to shooting super under-exposed but they shoot only slightly under-exposed, adjust your settings so things match for ease of editing. Ask if you should stay under a certain ISO, if they'd prefer you to use a certain size memory card, and which lenses they'd like you to use.
Sync your camera clock. Before you take a single photo, ask the main photographer to compare settings and make sure your camera clock matches theirs. That way, when they go to download and edit everything later, they can sort by capture time and all of the images - yours and theirs - will be in the right order. HUGE time-saver.
Be ready to hang out with the guys. Nine times out of ten, the main photographer will have the second shooter go off separately to capture the groom and groomsmen hanging out and getting ready while they stay with the bride and bridesmaids. Double-check if there's anything specific you need to capture while you're with them.
Be assertive during family portraits. The main photographer doesn't need side-angle shots of the family, but she does need Uncle Bob to quit stalling and get up to the front. Help politely wrangle Uncle Bob. Ask for a copy of the family shot list ahead of time and start calling out names - be loud and confident but calm, and help make sure the correct family members are close by when it's their turn. I like to call out who's on deck, too, just so people know not to stray.
Be aware of the timeline and help stay on schedule. Communicate with the main photographer if things are falling behind. Better to speak up and adjust the timeline than to be scrambling.
Look for the in-between moments. Constantly be watching for good moments to catch!
Watch for things the main photographer might miss. Stray hairs, a leaf caught on the dress, wrinkled collars, someone hidden in the back of a family portrait - if they'll have to edit it out later or if it could ruin the shot, it's better to speak up now and help fix the issue before the photo is taken.
Don't take credit. This goes for during and after the wedding. You may get referred to as "the photographer" throughout the day, but remember this is not a wedding you booked and you're not doing the bulk of the work. This should go without saying, but never solicit business for yourself at a wedding where you are working for someone else. Post-wedding, if the main photographer does allow you to edit and share the photos you took (some don't), wait until after you are positive they've delivered the gallery to the couple (double-check to confirm) and always, always, always give the main photographer credit when you post. Including a line in the caption along the lines of "Taken while second shooting for @____" or "Shooting for @___ at XYZ Venue" will usually suffice.
Delete as you go. When I second shoot, I like to delete definite throw-away shots as I go if I have a minute or two of downtime. Quality over quantity. If there's any potential for a shot to be used, I'll keep it, but if not, may as well make the main photographer's culling job easier.
Serve. If anything, remember this word. Alleviate stress. Bring extra batteries and extra snacks. Introduce yourself to the bride, groom, parents, and wedding planner. Offer to grab someone a bottle of water. The couple may not remember your name, but they'll remember how kindly you served them, and that will reflect well on the photographer they hired to capture the best day of their lives.
All photos in this post were taken while second shooting for Jordan Mobley Photography and Taylor N. Photography and have been shared with permission. Thanks for reading!