Tips for Being a Great Second Shooter

As a Toronto wedding photographer, I get to meet a diverse group of brides!  Brides of all budgets and all needs come to visit me and I do my absolute best to accommodate to their unique needs.  Many brides request having a second shooter at their wedding which is why I have a vast array of other professional photographers who work with me as a second shooter.  Not all second shooters are created equal.  Second shooters come in a wide range of both experience and talent; however, one that learn how to become a better second shooter.

Being a second shooter isn’t easy but you can get there through dedication and hard work.  Many people think that you learn to become a photographer through second shooting; however, that’s only half the story.  As I mentioned above, there are different skill levels of second shooters and those who are a second shooter under the guise of a mentor/student relationship will have an entirely different skill set than someone who has experience photographing weddings as a primary photographer.  Regardless of your skill set, there are many ways in which you can improve your performance as a second shooter.
Know your Gear!
Whether you’re in a mentor/student relationship or a paid second shooter, you absolutely need to know your gear.  Being a second shooter at a wedding is not the time to learn how to shoot in manual!  If you’re shooting with your mentor, their job is to guide you with the skills you already have – it’s not to host a live workshop to teach you how to work your camera.  Although many people use the phrase “you’ve gotta start somewhere”, that “somewhere” is not at someones wedding.

Pay Attention
Shooting weddings is hard.  It’s hard at the beginning of the day, during the middle of the day and especially at the end of the day.  Whether you’re shooting a quick 3 hours elopement-style wedding package or an elaborate 12+ hours of coverage, you need to be on the ball the entire time, even as the second shooter.

There are two general (yet crucial) things you must pay attention to and they are pretty obvious when you think about it:

  1. The wedding day itself
  2. The primary photographer

When you’re in-tune with the wedding day and really observing everything that’s going on, you’ll be able to then anticipate what’s coming next.  There’s nothing worse than seeing a second shooter day-dreaming in the corner when there are laughs, kisses, hugs and smiles to be captured!

Paying attention to the primary photographer is also a key to being a great second shooter.  You need to know where they are at all times so you don’t accidentally end up in their shot.  For example, if the primary photographer is standing at the front of the church to capture photos of the bride and groom exchanging their vows, and then suddenly moves away to the back of the church, don’t assume that the primary photographer is moving to “give you a chance at getting the shot”, they’re moving because they also want a big, wide, sweeping ceremony shot that you’ll be in the way of if you go and stand at the front of the church.

Get the Client Comfortable with You
Wedding days are beautiful but also very stressful for couples and tensions can run high at times (or very high if the day isn’t running smoothly!).  You want the clients to be comfortable with you as you’ll be photographing some of their most intimate moments! On the day of the wedding, introduce yourself to the client as an associate to your primary photographer.  Be kind and polite to the wedding party, family members and guests and don’t forget to congratulate the happy couple before you leave at the end of the day.  With that in mind; however, you do not want to over-engage the couple either.  Having an assistant have full-blown conversations with the clients while you’re trying to take their portraits is nothing but distracting.

Distribute the Positive Vibes!
As a photographer, you’re the vendor whom the  bride and groom will spend most of the day with, that’s why it’s key for you to help keep the day calm or, at least, not add to the stresses.  Does the bride have you outside in 40-degree-celsius heat taking portraits?  No problem!  Keep that energy up and talk about how the bride is lucky to have picked such a gorgeous day for a wedding instead of complaining about the heat (like all her bridesmaids are probably doing).  Bride come back late from the hairdresser and starts freaking out about not having time for photos?  Don’t let her anxiety make you feel rushed!  Reassure her it’ll all be fine and we’ll do our best (even if you truly are freaking out about the delay, too!).  As a photographer, I’ve even gone beyond distributing positive vibes and have actually put down the camera for a minute and helped out where no one else could.  Oh yes, I’ve had to help grooms tie up their ties, I’ve had to help fathers pin on their boutoniers and I’ve even helps brides get their corset-back-dress tied up because none of her bridesmaids new how.  Was I hired to do these little things?  No.  But I had a choice.  I could sit there and take candid shots of people getting angry and upset or I could ask, at an appropriate time, “Hey (bride), I’ve done this a few times, is there any way in which you would like me to help?”  Sometimes even just the offer of an extra hand from a wedding-pro makes a world of difference in calming everyone down.  Those are the people who will praise you in reviews and tell all their friends about you.

Don’t be a Shadow
As a second shooter, you cannot simply be a shadow nor can you photograph “whatever”.  Photographing over the primary photographers shoulder will teach you absolutely nothing.  You’ll simply be piggybacking off their hard work.  Choose creative angles for your shots that compliment what the primary photographer is doing.

Choose the Right Gear
A 70-200 2.8f lens is a spectacular investment for any second shooter.  If you don’t own it, rent it!  Second shooters are usually a little farther away from the main action than the primary is so you’ll need the extra focal length to accommodate.  That brings me to my next point…

People Watching & Reaction Shots
When you’re paying attention, taking initiative and have the right gear, you’re setting yourself up to get absolutely fantastic reaction shots!  Weddings are so emotional – everyone feels it, even moms, dads, aunts and uncles!  Snap a brilliant photo of a genuine belly laugh by Uncle Paul or catch Aunt Sue wiping away a tear.  These can be truly unique and stunning images that become a very important part of the bride and grooms wedding memories.

The Tony Danza Rule: Know ‘Who’s the Boss’
Even though you may be a pretty snazzy second shooter and have great gear and spectacular skills, don’t forget that you are the second shooter.  You are there as a compliment to the primary photographer.  The clients spent many hours interviewing photographers and chose the primary photographer because they found them to be their perfect fit.

The primary photographer will run the show; they will direct poses, they will hand out their business cards and they will interact with the other vendors.  Being a second shooter is not an opportunity to network nor is it an opportunity for you to sell yourself.  The wedding industry, as large as it may appear from the outside, is a very tightly knit community.  Burn one bride and sooner or later you’ll start to realize you can’t cross any rivers.

Reflect on your Goals
Although sometimes seasoned pros will act as a second shooter for a colleague, more often than not, second shooters are photographers who are looking at gaining experience as they make the transition to owning their own successful photography company or are in the early stages of their solo careers.  Second shooting allows you countless opportunities for practice!  Photography is part art and part skill and nothing can improve your skills like practice!  Set goals for yourself for every wedding and take the time to reflect upon them and help yourself grow as a professional.

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  1. Great tip, i know i doesnt hurt to ask but if you need some help ill be happy to be your assistant at free charge.

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