A Guide to Standards in Being the Second Shooter

A Guide to Standards in Being the Second Shooter

Surprisingly often, simple courtesy is overlooked by photographers when hired to perform work as a peer. These principles sure seem like common sense, so what could be the problem? Take a look at these basic standards of professionalism. 

First Standard: Be Punctual

It goes without saying right? Like any job you take, you want to be punctual. When you are being paid to contribute photography skills as a contractor, you will certainly be expected to uphold the same, or even better standard for yourself as the photographer who hired you to second shoot the job. Not only do you represent yourself, but also you represent the hiring studio's photography brand for however many hours you are hired for, best not to wedge your trusting peer in a tough spot by strolling in twenty minutes after the start of a shoot. It’s a fast way to tarnish your reputation, and will surely damage your odds of working along side the studio in a meaningful way again down the line.

Second Standard: Dress Appropriately for the Gig

Most studios have a dress code. If you are not sure on the appropriate attire for second shooting an afternoon wedding venue on the beach, then reach out to the primary photographer, a simple chat ahead of time will get everyone synced up and on the same page.

Third Standard: Camera Time Is Not Relative

Nothing worse than importing a large stack of memory cards, and beginning to cull through a daunting twelve hour collection of wedding images, only to realize the photographer you hired to shoot alongside for the day had their camera set to a completely different time, miles way off from your camera’s correct time. It just creates an additional task, steals precious time from the photographer who hired you, and again while a relatively small error, it is so easily avoidable. This is something that goes into consideration when it’s time for you to bid on shooting with that photography studio again. Don't be that person, ask to sync up right from the jump. This site is handy for doing just that. 

Take a moment and sync up those camera times!

Fourth Standard: Record to Multiple Cards

It takes only a couple seconds to physically place a second, redundant card into your camera. Memory cards sometimes fail; this is not an internet myth, it happens. Again you are representing someone's brand here, one that is not your own. This lazy, careless mistake can close the doors for good on someone who had hand-picked and entrusted you to be a professional. No one should want to have a finger, let alone a hand in creating such a disastrous situation for a peer, and no photographer I know wants any part of telling their client they lost any files from an important shoot. Just plan to utilize both card slots, overall a pretty simple and expected courtesy.

Fifth Standard: Carry a Backup Camera Body

Along the same lines as utilizing both cards, when you show up for a paid job, have a second camera body set up and ready to roll incase of a dreaded mechanical failure, or even a freak occurrence of accidental damage. It would seem kind of silly to tell the photographer that hired you to second their wedding gig “I’m so sorry but I'll need to leave early, my camera’s mirror seemed to have just locked up on me”. Again be professional, have a fail-safe in arm's reach.

Sixth Standard: Experiment on Your Own Time

A studio will vet, and ultimately hire second shooters based on their existing portfolio. Not only in the body of work's overall quality and consistency, but just as importantly to see if it plays nicely with their style of imagery. This is crucial for the sake of the job being delivered with a similar look throughout, no matter which one of you took the images. Be creative, you were hired for a reason, but also be responsible behind the camera. Handing over a memory card full of out of character, failed shooting experiments that you recently learned on YouTube is going to have little to no value to the studio that hired you. 

Golden Rules

Let rip in the comments with some more golden rules that all of you wish you could have from those you hire to second your jobs!

Derrick Ruf's picture

Derrick is a portrait photographer based out of Southeastern, Pa. All in on all things photography related, but his main passion being the photographic capture of us humans via ongoing portraiture work.

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Don't forestall the client from the photographer who hired you but be his ambassador.

I have a great "assistant" story that falls into this.

So i was on a corporate job when my contact there told me her son does photo/video. Hes a teenager still in school but wants to get into the field. I looked at his work, smiled, gave some compliment, and moved on.

A few months later, this contact (who I dont think worked there anymore) contacted me again. Her son had graduated and was looking to break into the field. Asked if I had anything he could do. Well i had an engagement shoot coming up and was considering starting to bring assistants to them. So (against my better judgement) i decided to tell him to come along....

So clients should be there by 4. I tell him to get there at 3:15 so I can go over gear. Clients tell me they will be late. When 3:15 comes, i text my assistant and Im told hes running late and will be there by 4.

Clients roll up at 4:20 at the same time as my assistant. Who is being dropped off by his dad... Not a problem but strange for an 18 year old. Then his dad proceeds to stay around, and kinda follow our shoot (staying off in the distance but def following us).

The entire time, the assistant is giving me suggestions. Not really good ones and ones that tend to go against my style. It wasnt bad but enough to get on my nerves. Mind you, this was his first professional gig.

Finally the shoot wraps up and I ask him about getting driven. Apparently he has a car and licence, but his parents were worried about sending him alone. And they only lived 30 mins away so showing up about 50 mins late makes no sense.

I paid him for his time, and never called again

nightmare. i for one would have chatted with his dad and told him he is not allowed to stay around. Other than that, looks like just an overall really bad experience with the kid. But hey, you gave him a chance! well done.

Good Post. I don’t take on big wedding. Way to much pressure. But would like to be a 2nd shooter most anytime. This article helps. From what I have read, I would quality for these “standards”

Shoot a clock app (down to the second) with all bodies before going in. Easy to batch align all times to within a split second.

Also, if possible, add different filename prefixes to each camera. For example, I have 2x A6300s, so cam 1 is 63A, and cam 2 is 63B. You can easily separate/isolate images from each camera, instead of everything starting with DSC.

Great suggestions!

Yes! Filename prefixes is a fantastic suggestion.

In my early days I shot a lot as 2nd shooter at weddings for a friend of mine. One thing that I learned early-on was to always be mindful of the 1st shooter (and the videographer if there is one). Be aware of what he's shooting so that you are not photobombing his frame and see if maybe he is trying to get your attention to fetch a battery or move the floral arrangement in the background that is sticking out of the groom's head like stag horns.

You can imagine my horror when I saw 5 (yes FIVE) photographers shooting my brother's wedding in Vietnam. When the photos came back, except for the extreme close-ups there was a photographer in evey shot. 😕