I Thought I Would Always Use a Second Shooter, but Maybe I Was Wrong

I Thought I Would Always Use a Second Shooter, but Maybe I Was Wrong

I've always assumed I would continue shooting weddings with a second shooter for as long as I could, but maybe I have been wrong all along. Perhaps, I won't always need to.

Ever since I started out in wedding photography, I have always shot weddings with a second shooter alongside me. I always thought that this was the right way of working to firstly ensure that both partners have their morning preparations documented and secondly, to maximize the variety of angles, compositions, and moments in each gallery. As a sole shooter, I always assumed that it is not quite possible to obtain a well-rounded visual story of someone's wedding day, because I can't be everywhere at once. 

This line of thought has also entered in some of my previous articles, such as my advice on encouraging more photographers to second-shoot before jumping into weddings, discussing the idea of training your partner to become your second shooter, and more importantly, an article about why I don't like to shoot weddings alone. Clearly, there is a pattern in my way of doing wedding photography, but I am also now ready to admit that maybe I have been too quick to dismiss the idea of being a sole shooter. Let me explain.

A bride, groom and their daughter in a park

I recently got booked to photograph a very last-minute wedding that was also very low key, and the coverage itself wasn't very long either. I rarely photograph such short weddings, but seeing as I was free on the date and the location was not far away, I agreed. With the couple's budget, there was no viable way of me hiring a second shooter to come and shoot with me, and my partner was not available to assist either, so I agreed to cover the wedding by myself. 

It may seem that shorter wedding coverage is easier to do as a sole shooter, but with only a few hours at your disposal, that needs to be split between three different locations. I realized this would be a good test to see how I do covering weddings by myself. Turns out, although everything I said in my previous articles still stand true, it was not actually as bad as I imagined. 

Being able to freely move in a house that has limited space worked in my favor as a sole shooter. I felt the freedom of not having to consider anybody else apart from my subjects when I composed my shots or when choosing which part of the room I wanted to stand in. Furthermore, there was no confusion whatsoever when I conducted more traditional group shots for my couple as they focused only on me. Them knowing that I could not be in two places at once meant that they reduced their group shots to a minimum to ensure I had time to document the day in my signature documentary style.

A bridesmaid arranging bride's dress

It may come across as selfish, but knowing that you are only responsible for yourself was something that came as a surprising thought on the day. As much as you trust someone to be your second shooter, they still represent you, your values, and your brand, so it can feel liberating knowing that you do not need to even think about it while you are working. Additionally, you have to evaluate whether having a second shooter does not unnecessarily increase your workload. Communication, preparation, payments, and inevitably, culling and editing hundreds if not thousands of additional images from potentially different camera systems can add unneeded hours of work. Perhaps, what you produce on your own is already good enough and does not need anything extra to take your work from already good to perfection, when it may not actually make a difference big enough to be recognized as such by your clients. 

Undoubtedly, you do still make compromises in that you lose out on having that additional pair of eyes. They don't just add another dimension to your gallery, but also can make the whole working experience more positive and enjoyable, especially if you have a good rapport and they understand your needs. However, I have come to realize that I may not always need that, and each booking needs to be evaluated individually. Turns out, stepping back and scrutinizing what we do or what we have always done in our business can actually be a good opportunity to notice the changes we need to implement. And these changes are not always as daunting as they may seem at first. Who knew?

Do you prefer to shoot weddings by yourself? Do you use a second shooter as an additional service or include it?

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15 Comments

Les Sucettes's picture

I never do weddings but have observed photographers many times out of keen interest (duh). I find that personally I would prefer just one shooter at my wedding it would make it a more casual affair and I also wouldn’t require to have every detail covered professionally. So does it not, as always, go back to the needs of a client and their expectations ?

Jon The Baptist's picture

One of the biggest weddings I shot had 500 guests and spanned 3 days. I had 4 photogs on rotating shifts. Extreme example, but you get it.

Sometimes you just need more team members in the field to cover ground..

Jon The Baptist's picture

When I was deep in the wedding game (40ish of them per year), I much preferred flying solo. I had two good 2nds for two years, but the rest of them were just lessons in frustration.

Having a 2nd shooter meant more overhead. My time in LR jumped 30-50%, I usually had to coach a relatively inexperienced photographer on how I wanted stuff shot. Also, most of the time their shots just weren't good. Too far away, not in focus, poor exposure, too timid of personality, overshooting 3k-4k photos per 6-hours, not understanding how to use their tools, renting cameras and forgetting to set them to RAW, renting speed lights and not buying batteries for them, renting lenses and not testing them till wedding day and realizing it's broken, I mean the list goes on.

I get the kids needed experience, but after a while I just grew too impatient, and it was a big reason for me leaving the wedding game. I would bring a 2nd along, but often I wouldn't use any of their images. I would give them the experience of being at the venue, working with real couples, real families, but the quality of deliverable just wasn't there.

The last wedding I shot with a 2nd, the only photos I used were where we needed to be in two places at the same time. The rest of them I just discarded because they overshot the job. It was great experience for them, but it was time after the fact I just didn't need to spend.

Also that one time I had to fire my 2nd for getting drunk during the reception was really rad too.

Anete Lusina's picture

Wow that's a crazy experience! I guess the good outcome out of this would be that you can offer experience for them and maybe charge for it because like you said you will need to be thinking about them on the day which takes your attention away even if momentarily, and they get to learn from someone who has bags of experience. I had a second shooter once show up wearing shorts and trainers. We don't do shorts in the UK, this is not Portugal.

Jon The Baptist's picture

It was crazy! I would die if my asst came in wearing shorts lol

I couldn’t imagine charging to be “under my wing” so to speak, I would feel like I was taking advantage of their inexperience. But because I had shot hundreds of weddings I did see the value in bringing such inexperienced people on, despite the frustration. Most aren’t doing weddings anymore, some went off on their own and are doing wonderfully.

Tim R's picture

Yes I see your perspective, but it comes down to finding second photographers that own their own wedding business and shoot primary often. Then you charge clients plenty so that you can pay your seconds enough to get the quality you need. I pay top dollar for seconds and have no issues with quality, professionalism, and I give them a little direction to do their creative captures. Really does make the day much better when there are two fully competent wedding photographers working.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Finding equals was tough in my experience because if they were that good, they were shooting 40+ weddings a year too and weren’t doing asst work anymore.

I agree it does make the day go better, and I have had great asst’s, but it didn’t last long because they had their own career advancement they needed to tend to.

In my mind, being an asst or 2nd shooter is a stepping stone, not a long-term career.

Paul Scharff's picture

I can't imagine not having a second if I were doing weddings just because it is such a huge deal if there is a failure. In my corporate world, it's certainly an issue if you have to do a do-over, but it's different than a wedding. But this provides a very helpful perspective on the reality of seconds, which actually mirrors my own attempt to find someone to apprentice and take over my own business. Thanks for the post.

Jon The Baptist's picture

At some point you’ve done enough, seen enough, where you have the confidence to know you’re doing to deliver the expected product under just about any circumstances.

It’s kind of like being a fighter pilot. When you hit the merge, you gotta commit or you die.

Devin Dozier's picture

I actually tend to enjoy when I shoot a wedding solo instead of having a second shooter. The timeline ends up working in my favor by allowing everything to be spread out enough that I can capture all the photos they required. I dont have to worry about coordinating with a second shooter, no editing them out in the backgrounds of my shots, and definitely a lot less images to cull and edit. I honestly tend to use about 80% my images anyway when I have a second shooter so flying solo works for me. I shoot with 2 bodies on me at all times so having a 70-200 or an 85 for one camera and then a 35 on the other gives me the versatility to get different viewpoints quickly. The best part of having a second shooter is when the ceremony is in a location that limits your movement so having two makes it much easier to get multiple angles.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Bingo.

Also when you need to get the “getting ready shots“ in two different locations

The Photographer's picture

Dinh ding ding. We have a winner

We can all do solo. Here's another thought. When im shooting solo, im focused on the must get shots. Because I must get all the must have shots it doesnt allow me time to get creative and move around to get those special shots. I shoot with very competent photogs who can also lead if need be. It will be either them or me who will do the must have basic shots and the other will move around and capture the special shots. I prefer a 2nd shooter just becaise of this. Theres shots the other photog can do that will bring the level of work up a few notches. Huge benefit.

Stoopy McPheenis's picture

It didn't take me very long in this industry to realize I needed to do everything myself.

CINDY M BROWN's picture

I shoot small weddings solo. If I have a full-day wedding, I hire a second. I only count on my second for specific photos when I shoot with my best photo friend who's been shooting weddings for 20 years. Any other second, I make sure I have needed shots from beginning to end. Do their photos flesh out the coverage? Yes. Would clients be happy with just my photos? Most likely.

Couples want a second, so I hire one.

Oli Aponte's picture

The few weddings I do.. I'll try to have an assistant. Mostly just to help me with hauling gear from one place to the other, or setting up lights.. Once they are done with the task I've asked, at any given time, they're free to shoot as many photos as they like.. I'll have THEM cull their own images, and only send me the ones they think are good.. I dont depend on any of their photos (unless for some very specific reason, like not being able to be at 2 places at the same time type of situation).

What I've mostly taken away from BEING an assistant is how to interact with the clients during the wedding, get them comfortable, make it all as less stressful as possible.