Second Shooter Rates: A Behind the Scenes Discussion

As a second shooter, should you expect to be paid?  If so, how much do you expect to be paid?  Ahh, a genuinely frustrating question to answer because there are so many variables!  I tagged this article about second shooter rates as both ‘for photographers’ and ‘for brides’ because I genuinely believe that brides should know what goes in behind the scenes when they ask for a second shooter.

In an effort to be open and blow away the “smoke and mirrors” of the wedding industry as well as all the “politically correct chit chat” I’m just going to go for it and discuss what some of the variables are when it comes to second shooting and what you should or shouldn’t expect out of the gig:

When you’re just starting out and being introduced to weddings (never solo shot for paying clients / been second shooter for less than 3-5 full day weddings)

  • Whether you’re a seasoned landscape photographer, or a newbie, you cannot expect to get paid as a second shooter when you are just starting out as a wedding photographer.  If you’re offered a small amount in compensation for you time, that’s great, but don’t expect it.
  • Learning the ins and outs of a wedding day cannot be mastered in just 1 or 2 weddings; sure you might know how to work the gear but can you actually get the shot during a fast paced wedding day?
  • Gaining the experience a seasoned professional can teach you on a wedding day is more valuable than any monetary amount
  • The experience you’re getting is more valuable than any amount you could be paid.  Many now-famous photographers started second shooting for free.
  • Brides: If you’re promised a package with a second shooter, you’re allowed to ask not only who they are but how experienced they are. It’s totally up to you to decide on what level of experience you deem satisfactory for a second shooter.  There absolutely are photographers out there who shoot with professional second shooters – find them!

When you’re transitioning from amateur to pro (solo shooting <1 year for paying clients)

  • You’re starting to get the hang of things but still have a list of things to learn and fine-tune
  • Your shots are starting to become reliable but the main photographer still ensures that they get all of the “must have” shots.
  • If you are expecting to also have use of the photos for your portfolio, it is more than reasonable to either be compensated either a very small amount for your time or noting at all.
  • If you are not expecting to use any of the photos for your portfolio, you should expect to be compensated a conservative amount.
  • Brides: As I mentioned above, you are justified in expecting a certain level of experience from your second shooter.  You’ll see, as you read this article, that the experience level of the second shooter dictates how much they get paid for their work.  This also means that your wedding photography package will cost more if you’re choosing to work with someone who hires experienced, talented and reliable second shooters (can’t expect someone who is experienced, talented and reliable to still be working for free, can you?)

When you’re a new professional (solo shooting 2-5  years for paying clients)

  • There is no reason that you should not receive some compensation for your time; the exact amount of compensation can depend on many factors including:
    • The amount of time you are there
    • Whether you’re bringing your own gear or it is supplied by the photographer
    • Whether you need to rent gear to complete the job
    • Whether you have a specific to-do list or are capturing candids only
    • Whether you are post processing any photos
    • Whether you’re allowed to use the photos in your own portfolio
  • The amount of compensation you receive should reflect not only your level of experience but also your investment into the primary photographer:
    • Did you contribute to the advertising that got this gig?
    • Did you meet with the clients pre-wedding for consults?
    • Were you present for gear prep & testing prior to the event?
  • Brides: These are the types of second shooters you should be looking for!  Your investment into your wedding day photos is the only wedding day investment you’ll make whose value will increase over time; don’t forget to ensure your second photographer is as wise of an investment as your primary photographer has been!

When you’re a seasoned professional (solo shooting for 6+ years)

  • This is probably where you think I’m going to say “you should get tonnes of money for this because you’re awesome and super experienced” but guess what… I’m NOT going to say that!
  • When you’re second shooting with this level of experience under your belt, chances are you’re a partner with the main photographer and heavily invested in their business – if not, why are you still second shooting?
  • If you’re second shooting with this level of experience without being an invested partner to the primary, you’re probably doing it because:
    • You need the extra money beyond what your regular clients can provide for you
    • You want to try some new techniques
    • You want to expand your portfolio
    • There’s a unique experience at this wedding that you simply want to be present for
  • If you’re second shooting with this level of experience for any of the reasons above, the primary photographer is actually doing you a favour by allowing you the opportunity to shoot; therefore, the amount of compensation you’ll receive will more than likely be simply equivalent to that of a new professional.
  • Brides: If you luck out and end up with a season professional as your second shooter you must be carrying a horse-shoe in your bouquet because this is a very rare occurrence.  Consider yourself extra lucky and don’t forget to thank your primary appropriately for having such an amazing second shooter with them!

So to all second shooters who are reading this article and pondering what a second shooter rate really is, the answer is simple: it depends on your experience and how invested you are in the day.  I’ve written about tips for being a great second shooter as well as given advice on getting started as a second shooter and I encourage you to read those, too.  Furthermore, keep in mind that every photographer pays their second shooter differently; if you don’t agree with the amount that they will pay you for the gig then it is your responsibility to decline the opportunity.  Remember, you always have the right to say no.

And how does this related to me tagging this as “for brides” as I mentioned earlier?  Brides, I say to you: Please, please, please be aware of the caliber of the second shooter that you are receiving!  If you are expecting a professional second shooter with significant experience you can expect there to be a fee associated with their presence.  If your photographer is offering you a “free” second shooter, well, let’s just say you’ll be getting what you’re paying for.

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