It's an exciting time of the year for wedding photographers and a time of plenty of chaos. Having a great second shooter is paramount among the necessities of any wedding photographer. If you're new to the genre, second shooting can be a fantastic way to get your feet wet and learn the ropes from a seasoned professional. I've put together a list, pulled from my own experiences and with talking to other wedding photographers, of the qualities we like to see in a second shooter. The better you are as a second shooter, the happier the clients and the lead photographer are, and ultimately, that leads to you being hired again and being recommended to others.
If you've never shot a wedding, let me be the first to tell you that they can be some of the most rewarding shoots you will have the privilege of working. Love is in the air! People are normally super excited and happy about the day. It can provide a lot of challenges, which are fun to tackle. You're constantly meeting new people and working with individuals you just met, so you should be very good with people, and shooting a wedding, of course, is only for those who are masters of their camera equipment in all lighting situations. You have to be very flexible and adapt to whatever the day throws at you, because it will undoubtedly throw some curveballs.
Before we begin with tips on how to be a great second shooter, let's discuss exactly why a good second shooter is so important. Personally, all of my packages come with second shooters. I strongly prefer to shoot with a second. Without a second angle or another lighting strategy to fall back on, I'm forced to take the "safe" shot for every big moment. So not only is that client missing out on the variety, it's the creativity that suffers as well.
Why Are Second Shooters So Important?
Having a dependable second shooter allows for so much freedom in the schedule, responsibilities, and client morale. Without a quality second, I'm tied down. I feel I have to stay with the client, or near the client, for the entire day. Sure, it's entirely possible to miss some great candids while taking time to get a great detail shot. But it's a little more than that. It's having someone who adapts to the situation and can take on an unexpected challenge with ease and grace. I want to provide outstanding coverage and have my brides ask, "How did he get that shot?" A great second is a big part of that. With confidence in my assistant's ability, I feel I can leave the bride/groom and go get that stunning detail shot. Yeah, it may be a little bit of a hike to walk to that pier or it may take a little more time to set up that shot with the off-camera flash, but in the end it'll be worth it.
I think all wedding photographers struggle with staying creative. We shoot wedding after wedding after wedding. Sometimes two, three, or four in a single weekend. It's a natural tendency to fall into a routine with the same poses, same lighting, and same strategy. It's a weekly battle to keep everything fresh. One of the ways I stay creative is by bouncing ideas off of my second shooter and by asking him/her if they have another idea of how to shoot something. Even excluding getting direct advice, when I get back the digital files, seeing through their creative eye the same situation is a great way to add some freshness in your overall images.
Angles and Locations
Along the same vein as creativity, a second photographer allows a lead to achieve multiple angles that a primary can't do alone. This is especially important for parts of the day that can't be coordinated, like the first kiss. I like to have a good wide-angle shot of the whole venue and one tight shot of just the couple. Even with the two bodies I have, this would be tough to manage to excellence without a second.
Another strategy I like to employ is to have the second shooter take a safer photo while I concentrate on getting something more creative, dramatic, and stunning. Not only does this give a great variety of shots for the client, but it's also great for the portfolio. Often a client will focus in on one image, fall in love with it, and book you simply for that image. Second, it creates a great variety in your portfolio and gives you a reputation for getting both excellent and unique shots.
And last, sometimes the second angle is another location. I often split up with my second to cover both the bride and groom who are in different locations getting ready, or sometimes I'll have my second cover cocktail hour while I shoot family or the bride and groom.
How to Be a Great Second Shooter
1.) Be Professional
Always arrive early. This gives us time to give you a quality run through of the day and the venue. It also allows for some unseen problem, like traffic, and to still be on time. Be prepared. If you're given a schedule beforehand, memorize it. Most weddings are generally the same, so memorizing things like "Is there a first look?" or, "Is the groom getting ready in the same location?" These are an absolute must. Sync your camera with the lead when you arrive (nothing's worse than having photos that are out of order). These are the essential must-dos to start every wedding day off the right way.
Moving to the middle of the day, if you have a question about camera settings, lighting, posing, or the schedule, please ask away from any client. As leads, we don't mind answering those questions at all but we do mind answering them in front of clients. It makes us, as a group, look less professional. The same goes for using your phone while at a wedding. This should go without saying, but just like any other job, your Facebook, Instagram, and personal texts are not important when you're on the job. This extends to sending friend requests to the wedding party or bride and groom as well (it's just simply not professional to befriend another photographer's clients while on the job). When you're on your phone, instead of being on the ready to capture a moment, it reflects poorly on the lead photographer and their company.
2.) Be Selfless
When you're a second shooter, you're a hired gun for another photographer's company. The lead is hiring you to help further his/her company. While some photographers don't mind you using the images you took as a second photographer in your portfolio, you should refrain from "getting shots" for your portfolio if it means going out of your way to do so. Your main concern should always be in capturing the wedding at hand.
It's a huge pet peeve of mine when a second shooter questions the shot given to them. When this couple booked me, they were also booking my style. There's more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. Let it be the lead photographers way. Always be flexible and adapt to what the lead photographer is looking for and what they ask you to do. Remember, when you do your job with excellence, you allow them more freedom and ultimately make them a better photographer.
3.) Be Creative
As leads, we're normally responsible for getting all the safe shots and this often allows the second to get more creative. As mentioned above, if you can get solid creative shots that complement the leads shots, you'll go a long way in getting hired again. You, of course, have to be creative while staying consistent. In the end, wedding photography gets its roots from documentary photography. There is such a thing as overdoing it, in my personal opinion, from a creative standpoint.
Never use the same setup as the lead. If your lead is shooting tight, grab something a little wider. If your lead is going with backlit off-camera flash lighting, get side lit. Try to get a different angle while staying out of the lead's frame and giving them plenty of space to operate. Don't hover over their shoulder, unless they ask you to.
4.) Be a Strong Communicator
And that leads right into communication. Great communication allows for capturing events in the moment with the best possible efficiency. You only get one chance at the garter toss, for example. Communicating with your lead beforehand can ensure that you two, as a team, fully capture the moment. Be sure to know when and where the lead wants you to be. This extends into letting them know where you will be. At a wedding a couple of weeks ago, we had a videographer leave to eat his vendor meal right before the first dance. He missed it. Thankfully, we had a backup, but if he had let us know what he was doing, we would have asked him to stay close and stay ready for the first dance.
5.) Be a Team Player
Want to really impress a photographer? Help them carry their gear. Help them setup a shot. Help them make sure no groomsmen have cell phones in the front pockets during the formal photos. Grab them a water during a busy time. Go ahead and coordinate the vendor meals. Think ahead and be prepared with what might be next. It might be a lens or it could be a strobe. Lead photographers double as coordinators and it's really mentally exhausting to coordinate a large group of people all day, while at the same time having the responsibility of a wedding photographer, while also trying to be creative. Little things like this that help the lead during the day stand out to us.
And last, but not least: smile! Everyone loves to work with someone who's happy and fun. The same principle goes with photographers and certainly wedding parties. Follow these guidelines and become an excellent second shooter who gets hired again and again. Be awesome. Good luck this wedding season.