How to Get the Most out of Your Second Shooter

How to Get the Most out of Your Second Shooter

A bad second shooter can create many problems for a wedding photographer, so it is important go the extra mile to make sure the second shooter does exactly what you need. 

Right Person For The Job


The first step is picking your second shooter. This can be very difficult, especially when you are starting out and don't have a lot of contacts. The key is networking. 

I have found that Facebook groups that are specific to my area are fantastic for networking. My local group in Houston has get-togethers from time to time where we can talk about business and life and build relationships with other people that understand the wedding photographer lifestyle and what we go through with clients. 

Building relationships is important not only because you will meet potential second shooters, but also the people you meet can refer you to second shooters when you need one or be a reference for someone asking to be a second shooter. 

Wedding favors from a winter wedding with ingredients for s'mores

S'mores wedding favor at a winter wedding

Once you have a second shooter in mind, you need to do a little investigation. Ask them for contact information for other photographers they have shot for, so you can find out how they did and how they acted. One of the most important things for me is how professionally my second shooter acts in front of my clients. I would absolutely choose someone that says and does the right things while working with my clients but is a weaker shooter than someone who is a great shooter, but says or does something I dislike or find embarrassing around my clients. 

I also ask my second shooters for a gear list. Now I am sure this will ruffle some feathers because the photographer is more important than the gear, but I insist on the gear list for a couple reasons. 

The first reason is I insist on only using dual cards on each camera at a wedding so that I can have an instant backup every time every picture has been shot. I am tasked with protecting my client's images and only using dual card slots is an absolute no-brainer. 

The second reason is that I often rely on my second shooters to capture certain shots in certain ways. While you may be able to get fantastic landscape pictures with an 18-55mm lens, you can't get the same image that you might with an 85mm f/1.4 or a 70-200mm f/2.8.

A potential second shooter may be very talented, but if their equipment is not up to my standards, I won't hire them. 

Set Your Expectations

This is very important and something that many people just don't do. It is absolutely imperative that you set your expectations with your second shooter. There are many different things that need to be addressed here, and you may run them off based on your policies. 

I never drink alcohol at weddings and ask my second shooters to do the same. Drinking at a wedding is an invitation for something terrible to happen. If a client was unhappy for any reason (legitimate or not) and you were drinking at that wedding, they could have a really serious complaint and a review online would absolutely look terrible. Take your second shooter out for a drink after the wedding and relax a little if you want, but don't drink at the wedding. 

It is important to have a clear understanding in writing about the usage of the photos. My second shooters shoot on my memory cards, so they do not go home with any images and the expectation is that all photos are to be used by my studio only, and not by the second shooter. 

I do not allow second shooters any usage of the photos they take at my weddings for a few reasons. The first reason is to keep there from being any confusion in the marketplace. If I post a picture I took to my blog and Instagram and the second shooter posts a similar picture they took from obviously the same wedding with the same people, it may confuse potential brides as to who booked that wedding. If a bride sees pictures of another bride on multiple websites, they may question if either photographer actually took those pictures. 

Lights, place settings, center pieces, and candles at a wedding

Details, place settings, and center pieces at a wedding reception

Another reason is that the second photographer has not gotten permission from the bride and groom to post their pictures. That bride and groom may have talked to me in advance that they want to keep the images private for a later reveal or may have allowed a very specific number of photos to be used. Sometimes a bride and groom want to save the pictures so they can reveal their choice of photos to their friends and family. Other times, the bride or groom may have a security clearance or other personal issue where they do not want or cannot have images of them up on social media. I've also had some clients that are just very protective of what they want shared online about their life, and a sub-contracted photographer they have not made an agreement with should respect that. 

It is very important to set the expectations with your second shooter about what you actually want them to shoot. Depending on the location or locations of the wedding, I will often rely on them to shoot most or all of the details of a wedding, because I will be unable to due to the time required for portraits. 

Due to time constraints when I am shooting portraits with the bride and groom and their families, I often cannot cover cocktail hour. Many brides and grooms want grip and grins — the mind numbing task of politely asking groups if you can take pictures of them for the bride and groom. I don't like doing this, and realize that most of my second shooters don't enjoy it either, but often, it is what the client wants. I've had many second shooters over the years that take a couple of the grip and grins, then wander off and don't get very many. I realize it isn't an exciting task, but it is a necessary one if the primary photographer asks you to do it. Bang it out and move on, but certainly don't do a few and then ignore the rest of the guests. That is a sure way to never be asked to second shoot again and to get really poor referrals when another photographer asks how you did. 

Prepare Your Second Shooter

After picking the right person and setting the expectations for what is needed, preparing the second shooter for what you want them to capture. 

Working with the planner to get a detailed timeline is extremely important, but getting that timeline to the second shooter is just as important. Taking the full schedule and cutting out the parts that aren't relevant to me helps keep me from searching through stuff I don't need to know on the wedding day. I also will split that timeline and have where the 1st and 2nd shooter will be and what their task is. 

I prefer to take all the bridal party pictures before the wedding, rather than having one shooter take the girls and the other take the guys. If one person does everyone, then the pictures are more likely to be very consistent from shot to shot. It isn't always possible, but this is a major goal of mine when planning. While I shoot the wedding party portraits before the ceremony, my second shooter will be tasked with shooting the details. 

If you have certain things you want the second shooter to do, outlining them in a schedule you give to them is imperative. There should be no question as to where they should be and what they should be doing at any time throughout the day. 

Many shooters find it great to create a document about how they want details or portraits executed that the second shooter may shoot. I know of photographers that will send a file with examples and even settings they like to use to capture certain things such as grip and grins or centerpieces. 

Other shooters will send a gallery of images that the primary shooter has shot at previous weddings so the second shooter can get an idea of the heights, depth of field, and lighting the primary shooter is looking to receive in their images. 

Make a list of images they are responsible to shoot throughout the night. I hate working off lists, but part of that is because I have a mental list of images I know I want to get at every wedding for the album or gallery. When I give the second shooter a list, often times some of the items will be things I will also shoot, but it can help to have a different perspective on a subject, as weddings often become repetitive, especially when you shoot regularly in the same location or the same style of wedding. 

Being absolutely clear with what you expect the second shooter to do, when you want them to do it, and what you want the images to look like is absolutely imperative if you want to get the most out of your money for a second shooter. It will also be a relief for a decently experienced second shooter because they will know exactly what you want of them rather than have them wonder all night if they did everything you needed. 

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4 Comments

All very valid concerns for a primary shooter but, and I hope I'm not alone on this, cant the second shooter simply tent the gear you demand and pass the cost off to you or the client? It's only one or perhaps two--days the gear will be needed. Why own a 2-3k piece of gear if it will be used sporadically? Now if your bread and butter us snapping nuptials well then of course it's only right to assume or even demand the person possess such equipment.

Thomas Campbell's picture

Most wedding photographers regularly shoot weddings, so these are items of gear that get used regularly.

I have never heard of a wedding photographer telling a bride that they don't own the proper equipment, so they need to rent the proper equipment and charging the bride for that, but I guess it has happened at some point.

When I decide to rent a piece of equipment to photograph as a primary or second shooter, that rental fee comes out of my profit.

Pat McEntee's picture

I'm confused. What equipment would a regular wedding photographer need to rent that they wouldn't pass off to the client? If they want a crane shot then they are paying for the crane. That is no different than if they want a certain hall, specific caterer, well known band, or fancy limo; the client is paying.

This is different from some standard equipment, such as a lens, out of commission and needing a temporary replacement.

How important is it to have the same camera brand as the lead shooter? I'm considering upgrading my entire kit, and am considering a Sony A7 iii. Somewhere down the line I'm hoping to have the skill to second shoot at weddings, but would Sony gear be considered a mark against me?