10 Tips Every Second Shooter Should Know

headshot of Vivian ChenToday I'd like to introduce Vivian Chen, who will be guest posting on PhotoMint from time to time. Vivian is a long-time studio assistant for several well known San Francisco photographers. Her roles include second shooting, editing and color correcting, album design, customer service and studio operations. Because she is familiar with the inner workings of some of the best studios in town, she knows how to streamline day to day operations to keep everything working smoothly. In her free time, she works at building her own photo business. PhotoMint readers, please give Vivian a warm welcome by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

As a second shooter, your job is to be back up to the main photographer. An effective 2nd shooter is one who can balance understanding what the main photographer is expecting while also having enough initiative to capture moments on your own.

What it boils down to is clear communication with the main photographer. It's obvious to me when I edit other photographer's weddings when there was clearly little communication between the main photographer and the second shooter. What results is repetitive images (both photographers shooting the same things which slows down the editing process), bad angles, less than ideal lens choices or missed moments.

Communicating expectations benefits both photographers. The main photographer should be able to trust their second shooter to get the shots they need without feeling the need to manage their second on top of managing wedding coverage.  <–Click to Tweet

Here are 10 things to keep in mind before you second shoot for another photographer:

This image by lead photographer Michelle Walker is the "safe" shot. The leads photographer is responsible for capturing the expected, safe shots of the day.

1. Learn the other photographer's style

Try to view a full wedding they've shot beforehand and study the images. If you can't, study what images you can find of their work. Every photographer is different and having a feel for how they shoot is crucial to having your images seamlessly integrate with theirs.

2. Ask what the other photographer is expecting of you

This is probably one of the most important aspects to second shooting. Have a talk with the main photographer before the wedding. Some photographers may want you to mostly handle their equipment and shoot when you can, whereas others will want you to be more autonomous. If they want you to shoot more on your own, ask them what they want you to concentrate on. Close-up details? Lots of wide shots? Candids of the guests? Also, find out how much of a directorial role they want you to play. For the most part, the main photographer should be calling the shots with posing, but some may be open to your ideas.

3. Review the wedding day timeline

Go over the timeline of the wedding day with the main photographer before each wedding. This will help set a game plan of where you need to be and when. Sometimes you will be asked to cover the groom getting ready while the main is shooting the bride, or you will be asked to shoot cocktail hour while the main gets portraits of the couple. As stated before, when you are sent off on your own, ask the main what type of coverage they are looking for.

4. Take care of the equipment

Find out if your main photographer has an organizational system to their bags and whether or not you are expected to maintain order. Keep an eye on everyone's equipment or stow it away in a secure location. Make sure to grab the main photographer's camera bags too if everyone's moved to a new location quickly.

This image, taken by Vivian, gives the client a second perspective, capturing the bride's emotions perfectly. Second shooters should always try to get something "different" from the main by choosing different angles, perspective and lens to create enhanced coverage.

5. Figure out where you need to be during the ceremony

The ceremony is one of the more important parts of the day. There are no redos, so being in position for the crucial moments (walking down the aisle, the ring exchange, the kiss) is key. Some photographers will prefer you stay in one place and while others may give you free reign to move around (venue permitting, of course). But for the most part, try to get a different view or angle of the ceremony than the main photographer.

6. Deal with group portraits

Group portraits can be an unruly part of the day. Ask the photographer how you can help facilitate these portraits. If the client provides a portrait list ahead of time, the main may want you do have the groups lined up prior to each shot or need you to gather the people involved. Some may want you to shoot the portraits at a different angle while others may want you to capture the behind the scenes of the guests interacting and mingling.

7. Don't get in the way

Shooting a wedding can feel like a choreographed dance. You are working together as a team. Always check in visually to see where the main photographer is. This will help you get a different angle on your subject while also being mindful to stay out of the other photographer's shot. My general rule of thumb is that if you can see them in your camera, they (and their camera) are seeing you. If you don't have much flexibility with movement at the time, try to obscure yourself behind another person or object.

Here, the lead shooter captured the bride and groom's response to the ceremony reading.

8. Check in with the main photographer throughout the day

Shooting a wedding can be very tiresome and there is undoubtedly a lot more pressure when you're shooting as the main. When you have a few moments of downtime, check in with your main to see if they need anything. Often times they may be too busy to remember to drink water or may need a battery charged, but haven't had a chance to take care of those needs. Any way you can help out the team is beneficial to the overall coverage of the day.

9. Injecting your vision into the day's work

After you've made sure to get the shots that are expected of you, then have some fun. As a second shooter, you have the luxury to experiment with composition, lighting, etc. It's nice to see unexpected shots or angles that the main photographer wouldn't have been able to get to. Just remember to do this after you've taken care of what the main photographer asked you to do.

Meanwhile, Vivian captured the reader's expression. The two images compliment each other perfectly, and tell a more complete story of the moment.

10. Ask for feedback

When all is said and done, always ask for feedback. As a photographer, we should always be striving to grow and learn from our mistakes. Working with different photographers can help hone your skills and stretch your shooting muscles. Ask for feedback immediately after the shoot, as well as during the editing process. Seeing your work alongside of the main photographer's is a valuable way to improve as a photographer and as a second photographer.

Constant dialogue will help build your relationship with the main photographer and help you both on future weddings. What else do you think is important for a 2nd shooter to keep in mind?

For more tips, read shooting a wedding or a  wedding photography checklist to help you prep the night before the shoot.

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Facebook comments:

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Nizam Mohamed August 25, 2012 at 5:59 am

What great ideas from everyone, esp Vivian.
Isn’t it wonderful to have a forum like this? WE can all learn from each other.

Reply

Ian Hargraves May 10, 2012 at 3:26 am

Great Site, Sign me up PLEASE!

Reply

Theresa April 25, 2012 at 4:26 am

Fab article and very informative!
(I was all set to add the importance of a two-way radio or other means of communication during the event, but another commentor beat me to it!)

I WILL add this bit though:

Remember that EVERY position/job involved in an event like a wedding is IMPORTANT.
Even though it is called “second shooter” or “back-up photographer”… there is NOTHING second-rate about the importance of what you’re providing! You are as integral a part of the process as any other person there.
The service to the client and assistance to the head photographer which you provide is invaluable!

Being the second shooter, especially for the inexperienced, can be a harrowing thing. I’m certain these tips in writing will help alleviate some of the feelings of aloofness, floundering and confusion for the first-time back-up photographer. Many thanks for sharing this!

Reply

Lara White April 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

two-way radios make a huge difference, just knowing where each other is throughout the day, you know when things are covered and when you need to move to a new area.

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Nizam Mohamed April 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Regarding Robert Ash’s comment above, in my opinion, the bride will have had a contract with the main photographer/studio to have permission to use her wedding images for competition, promotion etc, NOT THE SECOND SHOOTER (as another studio). The contracted photographer may be a nice-guy and say YES to the second shooter, BUT probably should get the permission from the bride first, in writing. Just my two cents.
Great site. Thanks for the tips from every one.

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Marea April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I would also like to know the answer to Robert’s question. Great article.

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Brian Powell April 24, 2012 at 10:33 am

/\ What Robert said.

Good list though 🙂

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Robert Ash April 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

Excellent article. I’d add that it’s also crucially important to determine beforehand:
1) how the second shooter will be paid (flat fee, per image used, etc.) and
2) what rights does/doesn’t the 2nd shooter have to the images he/she captures (can the 2nd shooter use those images in his/her portfolio, enter them into competitions, publish them, etc.).

Reply

Lara White April 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Robert, these are both important points, particularly the second point. I think a follow up article is in order!

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Lara White April 24, 2012 at 7:41 am

What’s interesting is how different the role of second shooter is from lead photographer. Completely different job, different roles.

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