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.


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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Previous comments

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...

Sorry, that's the primary's responsibility. The second's job ends as soon as they hand over the files in the way the primary had asked them to do so. It's not the second's job to bring in redundant backups with them. What's next? Bringing in a RAID with them?

I always shoot on my first's memory cards. no issues and they'll give me my shots at a later date

i usually give the 2nd shooter my cards to shoot with and get the cards at the end of the night, no transferring to be done.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Hey G808- yeah I have done it that way for a photographer a few years ago. It definitely made it easy. I allow my shooters to use the photos from the wedding for their own portfolios hence the reason I let them shoot from their cards so they have the images. But yeah it would make it even easier if they just shot with my cards and left them with me at the end of the night.

For the past 6 years I've worked with few fairly recognized/ advanced photogs (different backgrounds) ... I agree with most of the rules because those are common sense/courtesy/professionalism...
However someone should write a Main Photog rules too:
These come to mind right now (as per personal experiences)
-We are Assistants/2nd Shooters not maids/butlers/chauffeurs I might be a nice person and see you need water and bring it to you but it's not an obligation... therefore don't clap your hands or fingers for it!... (same goes with food, lens, bags, etc)
-As you demand payment from your bride before the event, we also like to get paid (at least at the end of the event) don't give us the: "Sorry, forgot my wallet, my checkbook is with the CPA, Can I pay you half now and half later... or any other BS"
-If you want your images the same night allow at least 30 minutes for downloads... (You will not shoot/stay extra hour for free why expect us to do so)
-On the same token, if you want your images the same night, either have YOUR laptop + Hard Drive ready, take my cards and deliver them PROMPTLY back to me or wait until I send you the images... I WILL NOT pay for the shipping/handling or costs... Sorry unless you pay me $150+/hour I don't make enough to make YOUR life easier.
-If you have contracts or any other legality make sure to let me see it at the time of our agreement not at the time of the event... I might not like your terms but you have screwed my time/date.
-Just because I use same brand gear as you does not mean I'm obligated to let you use my light, flash, lens or any other gear... I'm sure you will not like me to touch yours either, right? ... ask politely and I might let you borrow...
-I will not tag/solicit your FB (or any other social networking) friends -unless they do it first- SAME GOES TO YOU! do not attack mine!
-I understand we are working for you therefore you have complete ownership of the images, however, be kind and give us some good words of referral (if you like our work)... at the same forum/blog or page you found us... That will help us to get other jobs...
-If you like my work, pay accordingly, believe me we can tell when you are trying to be sneaky and take advantage.

Believe me some photogs are class A as in A.H. that's why they have to change 2nd shooters so often...

Trevor Dayley's picture

Gabriel, sounds like this would be a good future article.

I was just waiting for something like this... Awesome post Gabriel... Thank you..

While I agree with most of the points made in the original article by Trevor - it should be fairly obvious unless you are a complete a** - I could not help by staring at #21... but by then it all made sense, the rest was plain sailing...
You made a good article, with relevant information, into a major ego ride where you rule the world and your assistant/2'nd shooter/slave must be indeed very careful not to cross his masters ways...
I would never work for a guy like you with this attitude... ever...
I mean - read your words again... This is sure class A as in AH...

Trevor Dayley's picture

Yeah Joe it sounds like we wouldn't make much of a good team. I'll be sure not to bother you with an email asking for help. Sorry that tip #21 some how derailed an otherwise "good article with relevant information."

I have 2nd shot for Trevor on many occasions and he is THE nicest and SWEETeSt guy EVER!!!!!!!! He actually brought ME water!!!!!! He is NOT a guy who bosses you around!!! He is merely just trying to help out others by giving tips. If you ever met him or worked along side him you would know. He took me under his wing when I first met him and continues to pass along weddings to me that he is already booked for and he constantly shares his knowledge with the community!!! Without looking for anything in return! He is always looking out for other photographers and helping any way possible.I'm grateful to call him a friend and an awesome mentor! If only there were more of him around the world would be a better place.

Sounds a lot like it was a list of "how to be a perfect tool and make sure you leave your personality at home", more like you wanted to make sure your sidekick is no competition to you but at the same time doesn't sound at all as if you would treat them as partners. Hope it just sounds like that.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Tom I'd invite you to ask anyone that has ever second shot for me how they are treated. I feel I am one of the nicest, easy to get along with photographers out there. I'd never treat a second shooter as anything but a partner and friend. This article is simply meant to give tips to all those out there that would love to show up on the job with an idea of how they can do a stellar job.

Can you please give a list of everybody you've shot with so we can verify this? Short of doing that, we're just going by your own writing here which sounds kind of preachy.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Feel free to shoot me your email and I would be happy to start sending you the names of those who have second shot with me.

@Mansgame:disqus I have 2nd shot for Trevor on many occassions and for many other photographers and I absolutely LOVE shooting for him!! He is amazing and the energy is so fun. I have never felt threatened or like I couldn't be myself. In fact, quite the opposite. He is so much fun and great to work with that I feel special being there too. I love all of this! In fact, I loved 2nd shooting with Trevor so much that I flew to his home state (out of my own pocket because I asked him if I could come shoot with him) just to shoot along side of him because I learn so much of what a great photographer should be like!

I am about to do the same Briana! SO much to learn as a second even you are a successful primary! Sounds like some of the folks above have a little 'chip on their shoulder' and perhaps should market/brand/advertise and find their own client base as a team approach (where they are not front-and-center) does not sound like their strong suit:-)

Obviously, those that are bashing Trevor have never met or worked with him. His article has been taken out of context to make stupid assumptions about his character.He is one of the most humble and patient people you will ever come across. He treats everyone with the upmost respect. Any photographer would be lucky to second shoot for him

Mansgame....I've shot with Trevor 4-5 times. I can't begin to tell you how professional yet fun he is to work with. I was nodding my head through most of the article knowing that many should be common sense, but you can't imagine the number of people who lack common sense. And for Tom who began this portion of the reply, I've worked with quite a few photographers and you will not find another that interacts and had such a great connection with their clients as Trevor. And to go even further, I am always amazed at the number of event and wedding coordinators who love working with him as well. The number one reason: he's personable, he remembers people, and he makes them feel important...rather than himself. I agree that whenever someone creates an article like this there will be folks who disagree with parts, what I never understand is why you have to go for the jugular. Its unprofessional. So count me as one who would work with him again:-)

I've shot for him!!! And I love him to pieces!!!! One of the very best people I could ever come across!!!!! Never treats me anything less than him. Actually makes me feel like I'm better than I feel I can ever be. Brags about me and introduces me to wedding coordinators to hire me if he isn't available!!!!! Never had a better experience in my life!!!! You should try it!!! You will enjoy it tremendously!!!!!!

That's why I've ended it with that I hope it just sounds like that, If you say so I trust you, Giovanna writes that you are fun to work with - maybe that's what the list was missing? Something along the line after all these remarks what not to do - to have fun and enjoy everything. Something to warm it up somehow :)

From the look of it your clients have plenty of reasons to be happy, and from what you and Giovanna says your "sidekicks" are happy as well so I'm really happy for that - as I'm saying all I've missed in this article was some warmth and love for the second shooters - should have used better wording to sound less a troll and send that message clear.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Makes sense. Looking back on it I agree with you. I think the tone was misinterpreted but that is no one's fault but my own. Thanks Tom.

I could vouch that Trevor is one of the MOST amazing people out there. And I'm not talking about as a photographer. He is an amazing artist but an even better friend, confidant, mentor and full of so much love and support!!! I'm lucky our paths have crossed!!! He has helped in so many ways and never expects anything in return!

These tips make it sound like you have a very hard time distinguishing between a second shooter and an assistant. There is a distinct difference. Second shooters SHOULD interact with clients, SHOULD show photos on their camera especially if it's a great shot whoever they are showing will like and while they shouldn't go out of their way to add clients on facebook, etc. they SHOULD feel free to accept any social media contact. I disagree with the majority of this post and especially the way it sounds like you view second shooters on your weddings.

Trevor Dayley's picture

James I'd invite you to come second shoot anytime. I think you read into the tone entirely wrong. This is not me belittling the role of a second shooter. It's simply giving them tips and ideas on what many primary shooters look for.

To be fair, if so many read it wrong, then maybe you wrote it wrong in the first place. This article feels very negative to me.

Trevor Dayley's picture

In the title it says Tips. It is not meant to be a list of rules one must strictly abide by. Just a set of ideas, tips, suggestions that I felt would be helpful for second shooters.

@alexforey:disqus ...a few neighsayers do not a majority make:-) This article has been circulated in a positive manner more so than not. I have personally dealt with seconds that have done all of the above. As the person 'liable' for the business when primary, who marketed/branded/advertised/earned referrals/worked my backside off for both myself and the second to have the honor of being there..I could not agree more with Trevors tips. (and follow them myself when I second..)

Trevor Dayley's picture

Thanks Cassandra. Yeah it seems so strange to me that people feel that the article is somehow negative. It was definitely not the way I wrote it. But then again over 500 people have liked it here using the Facebook link and hundreds have shared it so while a few loud naysayers might speak up about it, it seems to me that many more feel it has been helpful. If it helps just one person, I am grateful.

This is the 3rd time when you've defended yourself with a generic "These are just some tips". Well, these are just some criticisms.

Aaron Mangiapane's picture

James I think you may be confused as to what a second shooter is. You
are not be paid by the bride and groom, your client is the primary
shooter. That is who is paying you. Yes you are right that there is a
distinction between a second shooter and an assistant. That distinction
is the camera. To be honest that is really where the distinction ends.
You are being paid to relieve stress from the primary, whatever that
stress may be. As a second shooter you are typically being paid more
than an assistant is, the reason again the camera. Second shooters are
really nothing more than assistants that can also make good images but,
if they are too important for such menial tasks such as getting water or
carrying gear, then they should have booked the job themselves and been
there own primary. The primaries role during a wedding is capture the
beauty and memories of the event, not to go get a glass of water or go
wrangle a wedding party for formal shots.

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