26.5 Tips On Becoming The Perfect Second Shooter

26.5 Tips On Becoming The Perfect Second Shooter

As a wedding photographer I am always on the hunt for that perfect second shooter. Over the last 4 years I have shot 120+ weddings and worked with over 70 different second shooters. Most of them have been fantastic but I have always thought it would be nice to have a list of second shooter tips I could send them before the wedding day. I'd love to hear what you think of the tips in the comments section below. Let me know what I left out and feel free to share stories (good or bad) about working with second shooters in the past.

So without further ado, here is my list of "26.5 Tips on Becoming A Perfect Second Shooter."

1. Plan to show up early. In other words don't be late. You never know what kind of traffic you will encounter on the way to the shoot location, so just plan on getting there 30 minutes early. Once you arrive on location, you are welcome to hangout in your car or even walk the grounds to scout out interesting locations. But don't embarrass the lead photographer by arriving late.

2. Leave your business cards at home. You have absolutely no need for them at the wedding. Instead of having your own cards with you, you should ask the primary shooter for 4 or 5 cards of theirs you can have on hand in case anyone asks for one. I often travel for weddings and hire local second shooters to assist me. On those occasions, if I really like the person I am working with I will introduce them to the local wedding planners with the hope they will be able to do some work together in the future, but don't ever walk up to the planner and introduce yourself and hand them your card.

3. Don't check your phone, update Facebook, or Instagram photos. If you really need to check your phone for whatever reason, it should only be when you are completely out of sight. Bathroom stalls make great hiding spots. If you are checking your phone in public where people can see you, you're giving off the perception you are not working.

4. Think like a dental assistant. One of my most pleasant second shooter experiences was with Ryan Reed. Ryan observed that in the first couple hours of shooting I had a pattern of switching between certain lenses. When I would grab one from my bag, she would grab the other and have it on her ready to hand me. All the while she was still shooting and making great shots. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to everyone - as I would hate for someone to drop a lens for example - but Ryan pulled it off effortlessly and it really was quite helpful.

5. Don't add the Bride and Groom or anyone in their Bridal Party as Facebook friends. It's great to have good relationships with these people and of course as lead shooters we want our assistants to be friendly throughout the day. But leave it at that. There really is no need to add them as Facebook friends. If they hunt you down and try to add you, consider ignoring the request or consulting with the lead shooter if it's ok to accept them.

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6. Speaking of Facebook, do not post any photos to your page before getting prior approval from the lead shooter. My personal rule is that my second shooters can post to Facebook only after I have delivered all the images to my clients. If they post to Facebook before I do that and someone recognizes the bride and groom and tags them in the image then now all the friends and family will believe that photographer was the lead photographer. Some lead shooters will even have rules against ever posting to Facebook. Make sure to ask them ahead of time so you know their rules.

7. Help the lead photographer stay hydrated. On the wedding day there are times when things are a bit hectic. Especially when I am working with families or large bridal parties I am constantly talking and directing people with no rest in between. It is always refreshing to have a second shooter that is aware of the situation and will grab some water for me to stay hydrated.

8. Don't be afraid to shoot lots of photos. Occasionally I will get a second shooter that seems to be afraid of giving me too many images at the end of the night. Don't be. Of course this doesn't mean to have your camera on high speed machine gun mode. But be always on the look out around you. During family formals capture some of the candid moments of people standing around, kids chasing each other and people enjoying their cocktails.

9. Don't delete images from your cards. No matter how bad or embarrassed you are because of an image, don't delete it. It might actually be something I could use and with the dynamic range in our cameras these days an overexposed or underexposed image can often be saved. But even more important is that when you delete images on your card and keep shooting on that card you are doing something called back-filling. I will write an article about the process in the next few weeks. In short though it makes it much harder to recover images from your memory card if for some reason it goes corrupt.

10. Don't drink alcohol. Yes most weddings will have free booze. But don't touch it. Practically every job out there does not allow you to drink while working, the same should apply to wedding photographers.

Trevor Dayley Photography  (http://www.trevordayley.com)

11. Don't cross shoot your lead photographer. Basically what this means is don't be in the background of my shot. If you have a great shot of the bride walking down the aisle as I shoot from the front of the church that is totally fine. But make yourself small and duck behind the bride so I cannot see you. If you can see me, I can see you. Stay out of the background.

12. Shoot a different lens than me. If I am shooting a wide angle, then shoot telephoto. Be aware of what I have on my camera and try to do something different.

13. Don't shoot over my shoulder unless I ask you to. I always prefer the second shooter to get shots from different angles than mine. Every so often though rather than popping on a different lens I might just ask my second shooter to fire off a shot using a different lens from mine in the same spot. By doing that we can get a few different variations of the photo and move on quickly.

14. Refrain from asking questions about how to use your camera in front of anyone. I love to help and have no issues if a second shooter asks me tips on how to use their camera, or what white balance I am dialed into etc. But do it quietly and do it when no one else is around. It looks highly unprofessional if you ask where others can hear you.

15. Don't pose the bride and groom unless given permission ahead of time. While you might have an amazing idea, others, including the bride and groom will often feel like you are just wasting everyone's time. It's better to let the lead shooter run the day. If you have a great idea mention it to them on the side. If it's an idea that I think will work I'll either run with it or even say something like, "My assistant here has a great idea that will look really cute. She is going to tell you guys all about it."

16. When you arrive, first thing, ask your lead if you would like to time sync your cameras. While this is something that is quite easy to do using Lightroom (I showed how in this article) it is always nice when a second shooter arrives on site and remembers to ask to do this. Also no matter how accurate your camera time is, sync it to whatever the lead shooter already has. Often they have already started shooting and if they change their time it will mess things up for later. Even if their camera time is entirely incorrect. The only time I would ask the lead about changing their camera time is if they have not started shooting any photos yet.

17. Pay attention to the small details that will make the photo better. Is the groom's tie crooked? Feel free to help fix it. Does the bride's dress need to be fluffed out? Go fluff it. Both the couple as well as the lead photographer will appreciate you when you see and fix those small details that will later show up in the photos.

Photo by: www.trevordayley.com

18. Dress nicely. It's a wedding. Unless it's Honey Boo Boo's family getting married, don't show up in jeans and tennis shoes. Shoot your lead an email ahead of time and ask what they plan on wearing. That will give you an idea as to what you should wear as well.

19. Be ready to shoot the wedding as if you were the primary shooter. This means have a backup camera ready, have plenty of memory cards and batteries. Just because you are the second shooter doesn't mean you should take the responsibility any less seriously. If something were to happen to the lead shooter you will need to step up to the plate and take over. If your camera stops working in the middle of the wedding, you need to have a back up ready to go. If not, you make the lead shooter look terrible in front of their clients.

20. Make sure you are shooting RAW. This should be an obvious one, but I didn't want to fail to mention it. If you shoot JPEG images than the post processing has to be done entirely different. By shooting RAW files I can adjust all the white balances equally and have more dynamic range to work with.

21. Download your RAW files at the end of the night. Before my second shooters leave I have them download their memory cards of RAW files directly onto my laptop. That then gets backed up to my external hard drive before I travel home. If the lead shooter doesn't have a laptop with them, I would have the following available. Pull out your laptop from you car and download the photos onto a small external hard-drive. You should be able to find one for about $50. Then give the hard-drive along with a self-addressed pre-paid shipping envelope. Just wait till you see the smile on your lead shooter's face when they realize how easy you made the process for them.

22. Don't chit chat too much. You might be a bubbly full of personality kind of person ready to hand out hugs to everyone you see. Well don't. Keep chit chat to a minimum with others in the bridal party. Of course always be smiling and working hard, but don't spend your minutes in small talk. The relationship should be between those there and the primary shooter. You are there simply to assist.

23. Don't share images from the back of your camera. Even though you might have nailed the most epic photo in the history of weddings, don't share it. Remember you are working for someone. If you step up and share the photo with the bride and groom or even other people at the wedding you are basically saying, "Look at this shot that I got. Not the other photographer. I got this one." It is quite a slap in the face to your primary shooter.

24. Don't complain about the terms of second shooting later to others. If you worked your butt off on the wedding day and walked away with a $200 check but feel you deserve more, don't complain about it. Whatever the terms are that you decided on before accepting the job, be happy with it. Don't bad mouth the lead photographer before, during or after the wedding. You might get a few amens from those listening to you, but honestly it does nothing more than make you look bad.

25. Do give the lead photographer updates on time. While shooting I love when the second shooter chimes in quietly every so often, "Hey Trevor, it's 6:40pm." By knowing the time I can plan the shoot accordingly and know if we need to speed up a little to get all the shots in.

26. Don't leave early. Unless you arranged for someone to take your place, you need to absolutely be in for the long haul. If the lead photographer asked you to be there till 8pm and you cut out at 7pm it can put them in an ugly situation. They can even lose money over the situation if the client finds out about it and realizes they didn't get all the hours they paid for.

26.5 Grab a few photos of the lead photographer working. This is just a half tip. Definitely not required but always nice to have. As you are shooting, grab just a handful of shots of the primary working. They will appreciate the shots and be able to use them on their website or social media pages.

Alright, so what did I leave out? Let me know in the comments below some tips for second shooters. I would also love to hear your stories, good or bad, about working with second shooters in the past. Lastly, if you enjoyed the tips be sure to like the story, tweet and share it with others.

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126 Comments

I Agree with many of these but 12 "donts" and 1 "do" is a little preachy.

Trevor Dayley's picture

These aren't meant to be read as rules. They are just tips or suggestions.

You're missing the point.

Just because he didn't explicitly say "do" doesn't mean there weren't many other do's. For example: 1, 4, 7, 12, 18, 20, 21, and 26.5 could all easily have been prefaced with "do." And for that matter, aren't almost all #-of-blah-that-you-should-do blog post going to sound a little preachy? Whatever happened to looking for the positives rather than try to nitpick at small stuff? K I'm done ranting.

John White's picture

I agree with a lot of this but a few are iffy such as asking about settings. Most of the time when discussing settings with a photographer it's quick and to the point and we usually get the "I don't understand a word you guys just said" from whoever is around which just makes it look like us photogs speak some special language.

Ignoring the Bride and Groom on social media is rude if they go out of their way to add you. You are there to talk with them through the day and I truly think a small friendship is created. Ignoring them is not something I would agree with.

A few more points I was iffy about but I think 75% of this was spot on and the other 25% was a lot of personal opinion. Great article.

John White's picture

edit: wouldn't agree with**** for the second part of the above comment.

I agree with you, I dont think that would be nice to ignore the request if they add you..

Great post and I couldn't agree more! :)

This is awesome Trevor...So helpful. Thank you! And I especially love the lead photo at the top ;)

John White's picture

Definitely agree with not going out of your way to add them. That would make much more sense from that point of view :)

Wardrobe. Always ask the primary what to wear so you don't end up like this :)
http://whatshouldwecallweddingphoto.tumblr.com/post/54098644762/when-the...

Epic timing. Have a wedding Saturday and just forwarded this to my 2nd even though we did lunch today. But this was far more comprehensive of a list.

I love this list, thanks for sharing!!!

I agree with not going out of the way to add them but "If they hunt you down and try to add you, consider ignoring the request "? Nope, not going to ignore them and would NEVER ask my second to ignore them.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Charissa, if you are the primary shooter of course I would be friends with them. In fact I love to add my clients as friends long before their wedding. But what I am trying to say in the article is that it's best to consult with your primary before before starting those relationships on Facebook with their clients.

I agree with Trevor. If you follow all of these guidelines the point is that there's no reason why the wedding party would search for you online to add you anyways...i've had some seconds try this and they always come off as desperate...Trevor just put all my same feelings very nicely into words. I tend to believe that seconds should be grateful for the opportunity to work with the lead and leave it at that. There are special exceptions I'm sure. :) That's all.

If you haven't solicited the attention bridal party in anyway, and they still want to have contact with you, that tells me one thing: The primary dropped the ball and you picked it up to make their day special in some way.

You have to play it by ear. I would never try to "steal" or even solicit someone's client, but if they seek me out, they might actually be running away from the primary shooter.

Trevor Dayley's picture

I think you guys are thinking too much into this. :)

Noam Galai's picture

Great tips. I dont agree with tip #10 - I always drink alcohol on the job :) Dont go crazy of course, but i think there is nothing wrong with one glass of wine. It really depends on the kind of event and type of people you're working for. You can always drink white wine instead of red... less noticeable

Awesome Trevor!! I swear I've done about 5 don'ts in the past! Ha ha... always learning as a primary and a second shooter (when I do have time to do this). Great post! Thanks for sharing!

Uh.... well most of this is OK, I think you really don't have to ever consider any of this if you actually just find one or two people to work with consistently, your return from them is better, and in the end you have a better product because of it. Consistency is so important I don't understand how anyone can hire such a large amount of different 2nd shooters, I mean, maybe, but it just makes so much more sense for many reasons to just hire the same one or two people for the majority of every season.

Plus, this way you can both perform almost as primaries, except the other shooter knows they have other duties that they must do based off of the situation and what you ask of them. This works far better than just relying on them to be only this or that. I find this approach much better than staying to rigid in the lines of 1st and 2nd.

Trevor Dayley's picture

I travel quite a bit Sandy. I also hire other wedding photographers who run their own businesses so it's hard to always have the same one as they might be shooting primary for their own wedding. But yeah I agree it is nice to have someone out frequently so you have consistency.

Great post! Definitely have broken a few of these myself. ;) Some stuff on here I didn't even think about! Love it!

Great post! Definitely have broken a few of these myself. ;) Some stuff on here I didn't even think about! Love it!

True dat. Thinking back on our Orlando airplane shoot, you take your own rules seriously. If only I knew that a going rate for a second shooter was $200!

Trevor Dayley's picture

You lost me Jake. Not sure I understand. See ya at church! :)

good list, but some of them would seem as common sense, but i guess not if you have to list them and it happened. best practices, i usually only work with people i know or friends, so i don't have to worry about them making my business look bad. besides the 2nd angle and shot, i like having someone to talk to beside the peeps at the wedding. 10-12hrs wedding day can feel like a longer day when im shooting alone.

I agree with all except for the last part of 21."Then give the hard-drive along with a self-addressed pre-paid shipping envelope." ARE YOU CRAZY. Sorry but this should never happen. If anything just bring your own laptop and burn off a copy of the photos.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Tony I always have my laptop with me but I had mentioned that not because anyone has ever done it for me but as an idea on a way to be prepared to impress someone you are shooting for that might not have come prepared to download your photos. It was just an idea hence the reason I mentioned they'd be quite impressed. But yes I agree the primary shooter should come prepared with a way to download the images that night themselves.

My main problem is that you're asking someone you are hiring to spend their personal money to make up for something you forgot to do.

I'd be fine if they put that on expenses, but really it would be far more practical if the second shooter just brought a laptop...

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