Do I Need a 2nd Photographer? | The Truth About Hiring a 2nd Photographer

Here’s a typical conversation that I have been having with an increasing amount of brides these days.

Bride:  “Hi!  I love your work – you’d be perfect for our wedding but we need a 2nd shooter.  Do you have anyone you work with?”

Me:  “Thanks!  And yes, I have several student photographers who generally accompany me to about 80% of the weddings I do.  They work for free, which is great for your budget, but as they are all working on starting their own businesses, they generally won’t confirm their availability until about 3-months before hand.”

Bride:  “Oh.  Well, my wedding is about 2 years away.  Besides, I don’t want a student.  I want a pro.  Do you have anyone else?”

Me:  “I have several pro photographer friends who are available as 2nd shooters, but their fee can run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500, depending on which one you choose and how much work you expect of them.”

Bride:  “Oh my God!  That’s so expensive!  I can’t pay $3,500 for a 2nd shooter.  You don’t have anyone cheaper?”

Me:  “Yes, the students – they are free!”

Bride:  “Yeah, but I want someone who is pro and I want someone who will confirm their availability today  – not 3 months before my wedding.”

Me:  “I’m sorry I don’t have any other options for you.  I’m a perfectly competent and talented photographer who can tackle any wedding day on my own; I don’t have a partner that is kept on staff. I’ve given you all the options I have.”

Bride:  “Well, I’ve talked to other pros and they offer 2nd shooters for between $500 and $1,000 and the 2nd shooter is a pro.”

Me:  “I understand how that can be confusing.  Photographers are like fingerprints; we’re all unique!  No two photographers will offer you the exact same thing.  I don’t know the specifics about the other packages you’re referring to, but I’ve never heard of a truly professional photographer willing to confirm their availability that far in advance in order to work for only $500 as a 2nd shooter when they can book their own clients and make 3, 4, 5, 6-times that much.”

Bride:  “Oh…. I never thought it is that way.”

Second shooter.  Second shooter.  Second shooter. I’m starting to feel like Jan Brady with the ol’ “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” ordeal… but hey, I guess that’s the price you pay as a solo photographer.

So what’s  the deal with the 2nd shooters?  A large amount of clients these days want a 2nd shooter but are floored to find out that there will be an additional fee.  I wanted to put a few of my thoughts about 2nd shooters down in writing to hopefully enlighted some people on whether or not they truly need to spend the dough on a 2nd shooter instead of their honeymoon!  Oh, and yes, I do acknowledge that you will find just as many articles out there on the web that say the exact OPPOSITE of everything I will say today – so please, if you are planning a $60,000 wedding with 450 guests and are determined to have 2 photographers, I’m not here to change your mind… just trying to make sure you have all the information you need to make the best decision for yourself and your budget.


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How many pictures do you really need?

Think about it.  Let’s say you have a solo photographer for 10 hours (which is the average “full  day coverage” for most couples) and you get 1,300 pictures, edited, on DVD after.  That works out to 1 photo every 28 seconds.  That’s a lot of photos.  If you had a 2nd shooter who shot at about the same rate, you would end up with the equivalent of 1 photo every 14 seconds.  Where does photography end and videography start?  I mean, a photo every 14 seconds… that may as well be video!  Besides, what would you do with 2,600 photos?  Would you put them all in an album?  Would you print them all?  No! You’d put your fave 100-200 in an album and the rest would be an afterthought.  So why pay for such a vast service when you will just let the majority of those extra photos sit around on a DVD that collects dust?

Sum it Up in 1 Sentence: Seriously, how many pictures will you be printing and framing and looking at on a regular basis?


Why can some photographers offer “pro” 2nd shooters for such low rates?

If you frequently read my blog, you’ll learn that I have major issues with how the word ‘pro’ is just thrown around these days.  Owning a fancy shmancy camera does not make you a pro – although, it’s sad to say, some photographers truly do base your “professional skills” on the gear you’ve bought and not on your talent and dedication.  What I’m trying to say here is that just because you’re told the assistant is a “pro” doesn’t actually mean they are a pro!  It depends on what the main shooter decides the definition of “pro” is.

Think about it, would an experienced professional really book a gig 1-2 years in advance for only $500?  NO!  These “pro” assistants/2nd shooters are often new grads looking to get their feet wet and have minimal experience.  Wedding photography is not cheap and neither are experienced and professional 2nd shooters.  Basically, if you think a deal is too good to be true, there’s a chance that it probably is.

Sum it Up in 1 Sentence: You might not be getting the whole truth about just how ‘professional’ this 2nd person is – maybe they are just a new graduate with a fancy camera.


Is there a difference between a 2nd shooter and an assistant?

My goodness, YES!  Unless your contract specifies that the 2nd person will, infact, be shooting the entire length of the wedding, odds are your “2nd shooter” will be more of an “assistant”.

Don’t be fooled into thinking your photographer NEEDS an assistant, either! When a photographer has efficient equipment, they can set up shots like this in a matter of seconds – without the need of a second person.

An assistant’s job may include some light shooting; however, they are primarily there to assist the photographer with gear and lighting.  You don’t need to be a photographer to be a photographer’s assistant as the skills can be taught to a lay-person in a short amount of time.  Yes, having an assistant will benefit the photographer (it’s always nice not to have to carry your 60-pound camera bag) but it really won’t benefit the bride and groom at all.

Beware of photographer packages that include “two photographers” when the company seems sketchy on the details about just how much shooting that 2nd photographer will do.  Technically, an assistant who is helping with gear for most of the day and then snaps a few reception photos is still a 2nd photographer.

It’s understandable that an assistant would have merely a $500 fee associated with them as they would have few, if any, photos to edit afterwards so their workload is considerably lighter than that of the actual photographers.  When you notice a company offering a 2nd photographer so such an unreasonably low price, make you sure get the following information from them in your contract:

  1. The length of time the 2nd photographer/assistant will actually be photographing
  2. The expected amount of photos produced by the 2nd shooter

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you get to see a vast, vast portfolio for the 2nd shooter and you have more than enough right to ask them how much experience they have (how many weddings they’ve done, etc.)  If the company you are considering cannot answer these questions for you, your so-called “professional 2nd photographer” may be but a mere assistant.

Sum it Up in 1 Sentence:  An assistant can spend most of the day setting up lighting and dealing with gear but snap a few photos at the reception and technically be called a 2nd shooter – beware of cheap/inexpensive 2nd shooters lest you be let down on your wedding day!


So what should a truly professional 2nd shooter charge?

It’s  hard to say if there is an exact number; but I would estimate it to be roughly the same price you paid for your first (primary) photographer or maybe slightly cheaper (since only the first shooter will be doing the engagement shoot with you).  That’s right folks, you want to hire a pro 2nd shooter?  You better double your budget.

Sum it Up in 1 Sentence: If you wanted 2 dresses, the dress shop would make you pay for both of them so don’t expect a 2nd professional photographer for unreasonably low prices.



Wow, that’s expensive!  Why the heck do pro 2nd shooters cost so much?

When you hire a solo photographer (like myself) and you want a 2nd shooter, you can be provided with a  list of a few colleagues of mine whom I not only enjoy working with (our styles and work ethic are similar) but also have an outstanding business relationship with.  You will be given the option to hire them at their current rates.  That’s right… you will not get a discount on their rates just because they are a 2nd shooter!  When they accept the job as your 2nd shooter they will then be turning away any of their own potential clients so it makes no sense to offer a discount.

Sum it Up in 1 Sentence:  Talent, dedication and experience come with a pricetag that reflects the quality of work you will receive.

I don’t know what’s causing couples to feel like they need a 2nd shooter.  Perhaps it’s the immense amount of tv shows, websites and magazines dedicated to luxurious weddings that are making your every-day couple feel like they should be planning an event ten-times beyond what their budget will allow for.  Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that there are times when a wedding is so large and so intricate that a 2nd shooter is justified; however, these are large (300+ guests), luxurious, over-the-top weddings that generally have budgets of $40,000 or more.  Discussions about 2nd shooters can be summed up with the old saying of “Beggars can’t be choosers”.  Are you on a budget but you want a professional 2nd shooter for your wedding day?  Sorry to say, but your budget won’t allow you to be that picky and any company offering you 2 “pros” for the price of 1 very well may have something to hide.

But before I finish this article, I feel that it’s important that I share a secret with you.  Do you want to know the sure-fire way to make sure you don’t lose out by not having the 2nd  photographer?  Hire an amazing, reputable and reliable photographer!

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