How to be a Second Shooter
By Hunter McRae Published: July 14, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2016
A great way to become a wedding photographer is to start as a “second shooter.” By taking photos as an assistant to the main photographer, you can earn money and get experience.
As the sole owner of a photography business, I am often in the position of needing a second shooter for the high-end weddings I take on. It can be a difficult task, but over the years, I have found a handful of very talented photographers who not only complement my style, but have become people that I trust and rely on.
At this point in my career, I only choose photographers who are skilled, well-versed in the realm of lavish weddings, and have their own business. I need photographers who are fully capable on their own, as they will need to fluidly maneuver through all of the chaotic moments a wedding entails.
However, this post isn’t about me; it’s about you. All photographers need to start somewhere! From exploring photography as a career to trying to build a portfolio for your website (or just hoping to earn some extra money on the weekends doing what you love), I’m here to lend insight.
1. Photograph the Guys
One of the most common tasks for a second photographer is to capture images of the men getting ready before the ceremony. The main photographer is usually busy photographing the girls in another location. It’s important to capture candid moments: laughter as they reminisce, tears as they hug, excitement as guests start to arrive. It’s also vital that the second photographer pays attention to the minute details: the sheen on the groomsmen’s shoes, the groom putting on his tie, the array of perfectly prepared boutonnières.
The groom may read a note from the bride in private. Ask to photograph this special moment so that you can capture his reactions as he reads. Grab a detail shot of the letter itself. It will become a special keepsake for the couple to look back on.
If you have time to spare before the ceremony, go ahead and capture portraits of the groom by himself. Grab some formal and fun shots with his groomsmen, as well as the groom with any family members who may be present. If you still have some time on your hands, ask the groom if he wants pictures with each groomsman, individually. Be sure to capture the formal shots first, before going for the fun ones.
2. Capture the Venue
If the timeline allows you to arrive at the ceremony site before the main photographer, grab as many shots as you can of the ceremony site, decorations, brochures, flowers, and guests arriving. Be sure to capture wide, medium, and close-up shots of everything you see. This will help give the main photographer a lot of options when selecting images for the bride and groom’s album.
Often, the main photographer will arrive with the bride just before the ceremony starts, so the responsibility will be yours alone to grab the above-mentioned images.
3. Tag Team the Ceremony
Before the wedding day (or at least before the ceremony starts), come up with a game plan on how to shoot the ceremony with the main photographer. Most of the time, the main photographer will want you positioned in a different location so that multiple angles and perspectives of the ceremony will be captured.
Be conscious of which lenses the main photographer is using. For example, if she is capturing the ’first kiss’ with her wide angle lens from the back of a church, use your instinct: capture a vastly different angle, and shoot the kiss up in a balcony with a telephoto lens. Your job is not to mimic the main photographer, but rather, to contribute your own unique perspective to the wedding day. Your images will complement and add depth to the main photographer’s final collection of images.
4. Shoot the Details at the Reception and Cocktail Hour
After the ceremony, the main photographer will either have you stay with them for help with family and wedding party portraits, or they will have you rush to the reception site to grab pictures of the décor and cocktail hour. If you are sent to the reception site, you need to arrive before the guests. It is always best to snap décor pictures before the guests start to chaotically occupy the venue.
Again, be sure to take as many pictures as you can of everything you see. You’ll need to capture wide shots of the reception scene, plus medium and tight shots of décor details like cake, custom napkins, straws, appetizers, signature cocktail drinks, favors, plate settings, and flower arrangements.
At the cocktail hour, pay attention to candid moments between guests; these can account for some really fun photos. Make sure to also go around and stop couples, and groups of people mingling, and ask to take their “posed” picture. Be assertive but kind. You may think these photos are boring and uncreative, but the bride and groom will want to see who was a part of their special day. Most guests are excited to have their picture taken and will ask you where they can view the images. It’s vital that you hand them the main photographer’s business card, and not your own. Remember, you are hired to work for the main photographer. This is not the time or place for self-promotion.
5. Capture Different Angles of Key Moments
During all of the customary moments that take place at a reception (cake cutting, first dance, mother/father dances, toasts, garter and bouquet toss, etc.) the main photographer will want you to stand in a different spot than her. This allows for a greater number of unique moments via different angles, lenses, and lighting.
Just like you did during the ceremony, pay attention to which lenses the main photographer is using and try to use the opposite. For example, if she is capturing the first dance with a wide-angle lens, you should use your telephoto to capture facial expressions and a tighter composition.
Pay attention to the main action but also look around you to document the soft moments on the sidelines. During the first dance, look for the parents of the bride and groom. This is a sentimental time for them, too, and they may be shedding tears or laughing with joy. It’s a moment the bride and groom probably won’t catch with their own eyes, but will forever cherish.
6. Remember to Eat!
At some point during the reception, you and the main photographer will need to take a quick break to recharge with food and water. Usually, the best time for a break is while the bride and groom, and guests, are also sitting down to eat. Generally, people do not want pictures of themselves shoveling food into their mouths. That is never flattering!
However, if your main photographer is a perfectionist and workaholic, she may be so wrapped up in shooting that she forgets to take a break or simply feels like she doesn’t have a good chance to slip away. You will blow the main photographer away if you take it upon yourself to ask the planner or caterer for the designated vendor meals. Set the plates in a spot where they won’t be seen by wedding guests, and tell the photographer that the food is ready and waiting. This is not expected of a second photographer, but will be greatly appreciated.
7. Help Make the Departure a Magic Moment
After many amazing party pictures, it’s time for the exit. At this point, you’ve been on your feet all day long and have been pushed physically and mentally for hours. It’s important to end on a positive note.
The exit photos can be some of the most magical pictures of the entire event. The main photographer will most-likely talk over a game plan with you, so you will know what to do and where to be. There are endless creative ways that couples choose to leave their wedding reception at the end of the night: sparklers, flower petals, bubbles, Thai lanterns, fireworks, boats, bicycles, or vintage cars. The list goes on and on.
I aim to have my second photographer capture a different image than what I would be documenting. For example, if the bride and groom are running through sparklers, I may stay ahead of them and run backwards to capture the expression on their face. My second photographer may stay back and grab an image of their feet as they run through a burst of soft, green grass. Moments like these go by quickly and you will want to make sure you’re in the right position at the right time to capture what the main photographer needs.
8. Be Prepared to Learn and Work Hard
Second shooting can provide wonderful work experience and great supplemental income for a photographer who is trying to build their portfolio and resume. Participating at this level will help show you if you are ready to take on the pressure, time, and responsibility of running a wedding photography business.
Even if you have your own business, it’s always nice to help out a fellow photographer. If someone you admire ends up needing a sidekick for the day, don’t pass up the opportunity. Some of the best tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years have come from working alongside other industry experts. You never stop learning!
Just remember that you are representing the photographer you are working for. Dress professionally, bring the proper gear, show up early, stay late, familiarize yourself with the timeline, work hard, listen to directions, be helpful, act friendly, have a good attitude, and don’t forget to smile!
Photos and text © 2014 Hunter McRae. Written for PhotoSecrets. Please do not reproduce.