Book Preview – Tips for Second Shooters

In my soon-to-be-released book entitled Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography, I discuss some of the qualities new photographers should have if they want to get experience as a second shooter.

About the book: Due to be released by March 15th, Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is your guide to efficient and effective of your wedding photography business. Whether you’re just getting started or want to improve your current approach, this reference guide will be an invaluable asset for making your business great.

Many people get excited at the prospect of wedding photography as a career. Why shouldn’t they? It’s exciting and fun. You get to meet and celebrate with hundreds of interesting people throughout the year, and you can get paid to do it. You get the pleasure of making art out of someone’s love story. You can have a profound impact on a couple’s happiness, just by capturing photographs of their wedding day. It is even possible to make a decent living at it if you have the right skills, opportunities, motivation, and persistence. Many eager would-be wedding photographers get excited and jump into the deep end, head-first, without a solid understanding of what is entailed in being a successful wedding photographer. For every experienced and successful wedding photographer out there, you will likely find two or three dozen who did not last more than a year or two. Why? Few people can successfully balance art with business. Over the years I have spent as a full time professional wedding photographer, a significant number of people have asked me to host seminars or give private lessons on the business side of this exciting, challenging, and highly rewarding industry. There are innumerable books available on the techniques of wedding photography as an art form, but few which tell you what to do outside of the camera itself. Many artists are not adept at business. Balancing the Art and Business of Wedding Photography is my attempt to help those artists strike a balance between the performance of wedding photography as an art, and the production of wedding photography as a successful and efficient business.

Second Shooting

  1. Be Professional. This includes being on time, which means early, not the second you are supposed to start shooting. It also includes acting and dressing appropriately. It includes knowing the information you are asked to know going into the shoot. You are there as a representative of the professional’s studio. Do not hand out your own business cards or talk yourself up to wedding guests. Such poor choices can get you blacklisted quickly.
  2. Know Your Equipment. Nothing tells a photographer you’re not ready for this job like not understanding how to properly use your equipment. Some professional photographers are happy to answer specific questions, but they will not have much (if any) time during the wedding day to explain to you how to change your camera’s aperture settings.
  3. Sync Your Camera. Sync your camer clocks with the primary photographer. This has to do with post-wedding workflow. If the primary photographer is culling images chronologically, your images will not line up if your clocks are not in sync, meaning a lot of extra work for the primary. It is not their job, but yours, to ensure all camera clocks are in sync as soon as you are shooting together.
  4. Do Not Be Redundant. You are working to build your portfolio, but your primary purpose there is as a second photographer. You are there to capture things the primary isn’t getting, not the same portrait shots. Redundancy is useless, and isn’t why the client hired two photographers. There is some good news, though. The primary must focus on storytelling, which sometimes restricts how much time they can spend on creative and artistic shots. You have the luxury of time to be creative. You can think of a moment being taken by the primary, and get a different and perhaps unusual version. This is an asset for the primary photographer. Giving them a bunch of images they already have, is not.
  5. Cover for the Primary Photographer. If the primary photographer is shooting portraits during cocktail hour, you might be asked to take photographs of the cocktail hour details and guest interactions. You might be assigned to photograph one member of the couple getting ready while the primary photographer covers the other member of the couple. These are very common situations, and you should be ready to come off the bench and put on your primary photographer hat. In these moments, you need to think like a primary photographer and get the important detail and portrait shots the primary would get if they were there. The reason people often hire a second photographer is to get coverage of two different things happening at the same time.
  6. Cull Your Images and Self-Criticize. You are second shooting in order to learn and improve. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through self-critique of the images you have taken. Looking through them and seeing how you might improve an image by using different settings, angles, or other techniques is tremendously helpful. Just turning your images over to the primary photographer at the end of the shoot robs you of this invaluable opportunity. It is much better for you to go home, look through the images, remove anything which you know the primary photographer would not be able to use for technical reasons, and learn from your mistakes. Look at the images and think about how you might improve them the next time you are in a similar environment and/or situation. Look at the opportunities for creative ideas you missed in the hurried pace of a particular moment.
  7. Accept Constructive Criticism. Most primary photographers are more than happy to provide constructive criticism to help their second photographers improve. Constructive criticism is helpful for technical tips and learning how to avoid mistakes before they happen. Accept that criticism and use it to get better. If your response to being given constructive advice is to stiffen your neck and act disrespectfully to the professional, you will not likely be granted more opportunities with that professional. Don’t forget, they are doing you a favor, not vice-versa. Destructive criticism, on the other hand, benefits no one. If you have a professional who is treating you in an abusive way, you should find someone else.