Jumping straight into weddings as a lead photographer? Have you considered second shooting first? Find out the reasons why you should in this article!
I have seen numerous posts in Facebook photography community groups where photographers are asking the same old question of "will my current gear be good enough for my first ever wedding?" when all things considered, the real question should be "am I ready to handle a wedding on my own?". Far too many photographers are concerned whether their equipment is on par with other professional wedding photographers and yet they don't consider the most important thing which is the ability to handle every aspect of the day, even if the said wedding is relatively low-key. After all, it's someone's wedding nonetheless and nobody will come back to replicate it if the photographer messed up the job they have been hired for.
It can be very tempting to jump straight into photographing weddings as a lead photographer the moment you buy what you consider to be a pro camera set up, which means it's just as tempting to forego evaluating if you as a person are actually ready to handle documenting such an important event. Whether it is a few hundred dollars or it's already creeping into thousands, it's obvious that the earning potential is there, which is yet another temptation.
It is highly unlikely that on the day of the wedding you will suddenly forget how to use your camera or randomly lose your ability to compose compelling shots, but it is likely that as a first time photographer you may run into social situations that you are not prepared for, such as, handling guests, organizing and posing formal shots, dealing with fatigue or long hours of standing. You don't want these situations to compromise and affect your capabilities as a photographer, so my advice would be to attend a handful of weddings as a second shooter first.
While getting several weddings under your belt as a second shooter won't change the fact that weddings can and will be physically and mentally draining, it will prepare you to deal with a variety of situations that may occur and it will make you more aware of things to look out for in the future. This doesn't cover just technical issues, such as, dealing with low light situations, shooting in bright sunlight when every guest seems to be squinting, or understanding how your current equipment deals and responds to long hours of constant use. It also includes understanding how you, as a person and as a professional, will be able to respond to tricky social situations and what your body needs to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing before, during, and after a wedding. Furthermore, if you're not yet sure whether a more traditional and posed wedding coverage or a photo-journalistic one is your jam, second shooting for a variety of already established wedding photographers will give you an insight in different ways a wedding can be documented and handled.
Unlike a portrait or family shoot, that can generally be redone if something goes terribly wrong, weddings cannot be repeated. This is not to say that as an experienced primary shooter you won't come across issues, because you could still become so ill you can't shoot the wedding or, god forbid, you may get in a car crash en route. But, by spending that extra time to work as a second shooter first, you are starting to minimize the risks for yourself and your client. As a professional, it's your duty to assess whether you're capable to take the job, and if you aren't, just because your clients tell you it will be fine, it doesn't mean it will. For many, who aren't involved in photography, it may appear that anybody with a decent camera is good enough to shoot a wedding. But, as photographers, we know it's not the case at all. There have been, and probably will continue to occur, cases of unhappy couples whose wedding day memories have been ruined by photographers who threw themselves into shooting a wedding before they are ready to handle it. But, there is hope that more photographers will second shoot first and gain that invaluable experience of covering such a multi-faceted event, before they take on any clients of their own.
You don't have to spend months working as a second shooter, but I would certainly recommend doing at least a few weddings. Who knows, maybe being a wedding photographer isn't the right path for you and you could find that out quite fast through second shooting. Before you start spending a lot of money on gear that you think will make you a "good" wedding photographer, make sure that wedding photography as an industry is the right direction for you in the first place. Nobody knows what future holds, but if you have the chance to second shoot on a few occasions, it is at least likely to help you make the right decision for this moment and time, if not for your own then for your client's sake.
Have you found second shooting to be helpful for your photography business?