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Tips for a Second Shooter

In the last FAQ post, I talked about how to find your style as it relates to photography and the discussion was really centered around just getting out there and shooting a whole lot. One of the ways to do this and also refine your style is to second shoot for other photographers during weddings whenever possible, which means coming along as the assistant (or second) photographer for the wedding day. This is something that Erin and I actually do ourselves from time to time and we really enjoy it because it allows us to push ourselves creatively in a low-pressure environment. Since the primary photographer is taking responsibility for the must-have images, the second shooter gets a chance to experiment and try those risky shots that might not turn out. Its a wonderful environment to learn from a primary photographer as well as practice your technical skills inside the camera during an actual wedding scenario.

Since second shooting is such a valuable thing, it would be good to talk about the ins and outs about how to be an amazing second shooter. If you do a great job for one primary photographer, not only will they hire you again, but they will refer you to other photographers that need reliable, excellent assistants. So here’s my tips on how to be a GREAT second shooter.

Be a Team Player. When you’re second shooting, you are never representing yourself or your own personal business, you’re representing the photographer you’re working for. What this means is that your number one priority throughout the day is to make sure that the main photographer looks GOOD. If they don’t look amazing, you aren’t doing your job. This definitely means putting away your pride and grabbing images that aren’t always the most exciting. For example, you’ll probably want to capture the bride getting ready or the couple having their first look, but realize that you will most likely be needed somewhere else to grab images the primary photographer can’t get while they are taking care of the most important moments (ie ceremony site details before guests arrive, scene setting shots, candids of family and friends, etc). If you can just have the perspective of being selfless as a second shooter, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Take care of the primary photographer. During the wedding day the primary photographer will be shouldering a lot of responsibilities to make sure the day goes as perfect as possible, so help them out in any way that you can to make their day easier. Bring them water during the hottest parts of the day and make sure they get served food at the reception. Hand them lenses when they need a quick lens swap and carry their bag when they’re working with the couple. Be proactive and anticipate their needs before they ask. This is the most impressive thing you can do for another photographer, and will be highly noticed and recognized. You are there to serve them and their business, and that is the mentality you should always carry with you.

Different angles, Different lenses. Always be conscious of where the other photographer is standing while they’re shooting, along with what angles they’re grabbing and even what lens they’re using. You never want to duplicate shots – you’re there to provide a creative variety of images, not to duplicate the primary photographer’s images. If the primary puts on a telephoto lens, you might switch to something like a 50mm or even a wide angle lens. I think the point here is to not have the mentality that you’re a “back-up” shooter – you’re a secondary shooter and the angles and details you can grab are really important, especially for albums and slideshows. This also means that you need to stay out of the primary’s images as well, so just be careful with where you’re standing, especially during the ceremony.

Never pass out your business card. This goes back to being a team player and making the primary photographer as successful as possible – you aren’t representing your own business when you’re second shooting. In fact, nobody at the wedding should even be aware that you have a business other than working with the primary photographer. Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen second shooters of ours give a guest their own business card, which is completely and totally inappropriate. Doing something like this will pretty much guarantee you won’t be shooting with that photographer – or their friends – ever again.

Candids, candids, candids. Look for those fun, unique, natural moments that are constantly happening around you and photograph them. When the primary photographer is doing family formals, for example, spend some time with a telephoto lens and grab candids of family members that are waiting for their turn for formals. Weddings are delightfully fun events with great, candid moments going on all the time. Do your best to capture these when the primary photographer is otherwise occupied.

Don’t over shoot. When shooting, resist the temptation to hold down the shutter button and over-shoot the event. Remember that the primary photographer has to process your images along with their own, so the last thing they need is to go through 4,000 of your images to pick out the best ones. Instead, just be thoughtful with the shots you’re taking as you take them. Remember, you can afford to wait for the perfect moment as a second – the primary photographer will always be grabbing the safe, go-to shot, so don’t take 20 frames when only 3-4 are needed. Along the same lines as not over-shooting, be constantly aware of how many frames you have remaining on your card – this can be the biggest hurdle for folks just starting out. Imagine shooting a first look only to get about 15 seconds into it and run out of memory; just be aware of your shots, and you’ll be set.

Enjoy yourself & push yourself. This is a time for you to explore your craft creatively and try shots and angles that you wouldn’t normally attempt. This means you have a chance to get some incredible images that will push you further creatively AND make the primary photographer look like a rockstar.

Smile. Lastly, always remember to smile! Every guest in attendance is happy to be there, and straight-faces or frowns stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a wonderful time celebrating something incredibly significant and as wedding photographers we get the huge blessing of getting to tell the love story of our couples. So smile and be excited too!


Be sure to check out our other FAQ Posts:

Thanks to Jeff for letting us use one of his FAQ posts on the Pictage Blog. See the links at the bottom of this page for more of The Youngren’s FAQ Friday Posts.

Written by Jeff Youngren

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!