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Making the Move from Second Photographer to Primary Photographer

I am an earnest beginner. Just starting out. A weekend warrior. A never-been-to-art-or-journalism-school-photographer. A business owner who never imagined owning a business. As I wade more deeply into the wedding photography world, I am making the switch from second shooting to shooting weddings as a primary photographer. Along the way, I’ve focused on three things: craft, confidence, and clients.

1) Craft

I don’t know about you, but I got into this business because I wanted to make beautiful, meaningful images for couples in love. If I can’t consistently deliver those, then I have no basis for being in business. Given this belief, my first step was to build a technical and artistic foundation for my business honing the craft of photography.

  • Read. There are so many amazing websites and blogs (like this one) that provide considerable information for free! You can learn about lighting, posing, composition, how to make people feel comfortable in front of your camera. It’s all out there, you just need to find it.
  • Make pictures. All that reading won’t do you any good if you don’t test those ideas for yourself, and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Try a new technique. Try to replicate something you saw, then innovate and make it your own. Challenge yourself to take a picture every day. Go to an inspiring place and make photos. Go to a completely un-inspiring place and make photos. Just make photos.
  • Look at art that inspires you. Sure, this includes the work wedding photographers you admire, but also seek out other artists whose work makes you stop in your tracks in amazement and wonder. Maybe that means looking through high-end fashion magazines, flipping through an art coffee table book, or heading to a local gallery or museum to see the newest exhibit. Is there anything in that work that you can apply to your own?
  • Take a workshop or class. Workshops are an awesome way to learn new skills, get out of your comfort zone, and can help you improve in leaps and bounds.
  • Get a critique. It is impossible to impartially assess your own images. While all those likes, awesomes, and amazings on Facebook will make you feel pretty good, they won’t help you improve your artistry. Hearing from an experienced photographer what they perceive your strengths and weaknesses to be? That is priceless.

2) Confidence

Being a wedding photographer is stressful! It is doubly so if you aren’t confident in what you are doing. At some point, and only you will know when, you just have to make the leap and shoot a wedding as the primary photographer. It can be scary, but with some solid experience and preparation behind you, you’ll be ready.

  • Experience – The single greatest thing you can do to gain confidence shooting weddings is to shoot weddings. The more experience you have, the more challenges you’ve faced down, the more confident you will be. I can’t think of a better way to gain experience than by second shooting. Shooting with different photographers and getting to observe how they approach different situations and interact with clients will teach you a lot about how you want (and don’t want) to approach weddings.
  • Preparation – This part is just the nuts and bolts. Talk with the wedding couple and make sure you have addresses, phone numbers, lists for group photos. Find out if there are any restrictions at the venues, review the timeline, and learn if there are any surprises planned for the guests. The more you know ahead of time, the better you’ll be able to plan for success during the day.
  • Equipment – While I’m no gear-hound, you need to have adequate equipment and back-up equipment, and know how to use it. Bad stuff happens, it’s just a fact. Having the back-ups will give you peace of mind, and ensure that you are living up to your title of professional photographer and delivering for your clients.

3) Clients

When it comes down to it, the only thing that really separates a primary photographer from a second photographer is if the clients are yours or not. And having clients means having a business.

  • Getting clients – This can sometimes feel like the most mystifying part starting out (well, this and setting your prices). There’s no secret formula. Referrals from your personal network, referrals from other wedding professionals, and advertising are the three sources available to you. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – try to work with each source.
  • Building relationships – Once you have clients, make them happy. This is one of the things I love most about being the primary photographer versus second shooting. I get to know the couples, I get to collaborate with the couples, and I get to make them and their families happy by creating images they love. If I’m taking care of my clients and making them love me, then I’m hoping they will take care of me and send more clients my way.

About Kelly Benvenuto

Kelly BenvenutoI grew up in the middle of nowhere NY, went to college in the middle of nowhere Maine, took my first job at a non-profit in DC, traveled all over the Middle East, and now call the Boston area home. I love: yoga, cooking, lazy days reading with a cup of tea, date nights with my husband, peanut butter, chocolate, fruit so ripe it stains your fingers and drips down your arms, pretty dresses, surprises, nerds and do-gooders, floating under blue skies, laughing til my stomach hurts, going to museums, listening to NPR, dinner with friends, time with family, getting the shot. I want: to document the intimate, joyful, silly and important moments that make up wedding days.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!