Second shooting is a great way to gain experience and fill out unbooked weekends, but there are a lot of things you can do to maximize your returns.
I have shot hundreds of my own weddings, but I still love to second shoot for a variety of reasons. It often allows me to shoot in new venues and shooting with another photographer can help you change or sharpen your perspective. Also, it can be great experience to shoot a wedding of a culture you have never before photographed before you book a similar cultural wedding.
To be a great second shooter, first you need to become a second shooter. How to become a second shooter is often a concern of new photographers.
Landing a Second Shooter Gig
If you are an inexperienced photographer, you should be prepared to work as an assistant before becoming a second shooter. Many photographers will use an assistant to help with directing people, holding lights, and hauling equipment around. Most photographers worth working for will pay you to assist, though there are some that are just looking for free help. I would never suggest working for free, even if you are just carrying bags around and helping set up lights. And shame on the photographers asking people to work for free. If you are receiving a benefit, you should pay them.
The more experience you have second shooting, the easier it will be to land a gig second shooting, but all hope is not lost for newer photographers.
Find a local photography group through Facebook or MeetUp and try to meet other photographers face to face.When I was first starting with weddings about a decade ago. I searched for photographers in my area who created work I admired, then I followed them on social media platforms. I regularly interacted with them and when the opportunity to second shoot came up, I replied that I was interested.
Doing this created a great long-term friendship with a well-established photographer in my area that also created regular opportunities for mentorship and second shooting gigs. Even now after booking and shooting hundreds of weddings, I still jump at the opportunity to second shoot with him.
Preparing to Second Shoot
It is absolutely crazy that I even have to say this, but if a primary photographer asks what gear you shoot a wedding with, bring that gear to a wedding to second shoot for them. I had a photographer second shoot for me once that detailed their f/2.8 zooms, fast primes and full frame cameras. Then on the wedding day, they showed up with a crop body with a 18-200mm variable aperture zoom and said "what I love about second shooting is that I don't have to carry all that heavy equipment." Never do that.
You should ask your primary photographer for a schedule for the wedding. However, sometimes they won't have this until very close to the wedding date.
Ask the main photographer what they would like you to photograph and get a list if possible. Different photographers have their seconds do different things, so to do the best job, you often need a detailed list so that you are both on the same page. Some photographers I shoot for are very specific about what types of shots and what angles they get in those shots for their albums, so I want to make sure I am clear about those types of pictures.
Ask the photographer if they prefer you to use certain focal length or lenses. While I will often use my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 at 14mm to get wide shots, but some photographers prefer you never go wider than 24mm or even 35mm to avoid distortion.
I've also had photographers that prefer their reception and dancing pictures be taken at 50mm or longer. I love using the 35mm focal length for receptions, but when I am hired by another photographer, I am happy to shoot the way they prefer.
If a photographer asks you to shoot certain things, ask them to clarify. I like to shoot my table centerpieces with longer lenses such as an 85mm, 105mm, or 70-200mm. At one wedding, my second shooter was tasked for all the details due to the separate venues of the wedding and reception and lack of a cocktail hour and he shot everything at 24mm. Shooting all details that wide is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.
A photographer also may not want you to use certain lenses. You may love to shoot tilt-shift lenses, but they are not for everyone, so before hauling it to the wedding, ask first. If your task is detail photos, ask to see a gallery of details from a similar wedding or venue. Most experienced photographers take a lot of pride in creating consistent imagery from wedding to wedding, so it is important that you help them create that. They may do some shots you have not thought about, but you may also have time to try out new shots that you have not done before. But before you try out something new, make sure you get all the shots you are tasked with creating.
Portraits are also something many photographers including myself are very particular about. I see things horizontally, so the vast majority of my images will be horizontal including portraits. If I was supposed to take vertical pictures, I would have been born with one eye above the other. As my eyes are side by side, so are my images, with very few exceptions. Your primary photographer may have similar particularities.
Do What You Are Asked
Not all of second shooting is taking pictures of beautiful details, getting to try new angles, or learning about new cultures. There are often things that aren't that fun.Not many photographers enjoy grip-and-grins. "Excuse me, can I get a picture of you two?" gets very old, very quick. However, if you are tasked with this, don't view it as a punishment. Find a way to enjoy it and do a great job at it. As a primary photographer that regularly hires second photographers, I get that you don't want to do these mundane, boring photos, and I don't want to do them either. But it is part of the job. Very few things will make me angrier than tasking a second shooter with capturing something and they don't do it, or do a half-assed job of it. You certainly won't get an offer to shoot for me again and if another photographer asks how you did, I'll let them know.
The most important thing will probably be to treat their clients as though they are your own. Be kind and thoughtful and remember that what you are providing is a service.
Don't Advertise Yourself
Remember that you are an extension of the primary photographer's business. That means you are not there to advertise your own work or business, unless the primary photography gives you explicit permission to do so.
That means do not go follow the clients or guests on social media, don't friend them on Facebook or anything like that unless it is allowed by the primary photographer.
In advance, you should have an agreement with the photographer that hired you as to usage. I do not allow my second shooters to use images from weddings they shot with me, and they shoot everything on my memory cards, so they never have access to the images. This prevents marketplace confusion, as a potential client may see similar images from the same wedding on two different websites and assume one photographer stole the images, which is sadly what often happens.
Also remember that some clients are particular about their privacy, so you shouldn't post images without permission from them.
Second shooting can be a rewarding way to gain experience, to learn the art of wedding photography and to build relationships. Meeting and exceeding the expectations of the main photographer will ensure you get plenty more opportunities to second shoot.