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

Great tips,thank u

hey trevor! thanks for always being willing to share ways/practice/things that work well for you. I always enjoy reading these articles and taking a few things to adapt to how I run my business. You rock!

sorry but time syncing on your camera's isn't the best way to go. You can rarely get it down to the exact second, and seconds matter during certain portions of the wedding. when i adjust time and date later, even half a second can throw off the correct order.

find a clock (most smart phones have them) that have seconds on them, even better if you can get to a 1/1oth of a second. both shooters take a picture of said clock during the wedding day and sync later in PM or LR. simple and best way.

and if you forget on the day, take a photo of a device displaying http://time.is with all cameras that had been used. Lightroom makes it very simple to make sure all photographs are then at the correct time, if you select them all while correcting time metadata.

Trevor Dayley's picture

If you check out the article I link to in the article I go over the process in Lightroom.

Trevor I think you are missing my point. What I am saying is that you're better off syncing your images using a photo of a clock rather then trying to set the time on your camera correctly. When you organize images to give a client seconds can matter. If I have a shot of the bride throwing the bouquet and my second shooter has a shot of them catching it, those to images are only about 1-2 seconds apart. If the times are off by 1 or 2 seconds, when you re-arrange you will have the catch first with the throw second. Looks rather unprofessional when handing that to a client IMHO.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Richard I totally get it. As I mentioned in the article I linked to I talk all about this. Here is the article I wrote along with a video I did showing people how to do it in Lightroom as it is my preferred method. http://fstoppers.com/how-to-easily-time-sync-your-files-in-lightroom That said, I have no problems doing it onsite as well if someone hits me up to do it real quick. Syncing to a second on the camera is really not too difficult. As far as shooting a clock, absolutely agree. At my last wedding this last weekend in Pasadena, CA I had two shooters there with me and we all did just that (we each shot a clock on an iPhone with a second hand.)

In short there really is no one way that is the absolute correct method. They all work.

In your original comment you mentioned syncing to 1/10th of a second. I would love for you to share how you do this though as I have seen no such option in Lightroom in all my years of using it. As far as I can tell it only allows you to match up the second hand, which actually is plenty enough for what I shoot. But just was curious if you know of an option I am not aware of.

At least with canon, the clock changing screen stops the clock.. you can then take all your camera bodies, set it to an arbitrary time (down to the second), and everyone hits the "set" button simultaneously. Or, take a pic of a clock like Rick says above :) Although, the one time I 2nd shot for Rick, we forgot to do that haha

Ale Vidal's picture

I work as commercial photographer and, to raise up some more money, as assistant for another wedding photographer. Honestly I consider, most of this points, obvious! I can't even think about doing stuff like written over here... it's so silly.

You tried more than 70 assistants, right? I'm shocked in hearing that you haven't found the right guy. I don't know if I am an exception, I don't think so. I'm 28 yo, and probably I'm mature enough to understand what is right or wrong to be professional.

Oh, anyway, 200$ for a day is not enough: I earn more than this, and in Italy, wedding photographers gain less than in the US. I started some years ago, earning 120 Euro, then step by step I progressively gained more. Why don't you give these instructions to a good guy and "teach" him a little more, before giving up?

Trevor Dayley's picture

Alessio, I travel quite a bit to shoot weddings. I always hire locally. When I am shooting local weddings I hire other wedding photographers to assist. It changes often because they all run their own businesses as well. In addition I love having lots of different people as it provides great opportunities to build great friendships. Rates for second shooting depend on many different situations. Location, time, responsibilities, experience. I didn't quote $200 as my going rate in the article. I used it as a hypothetical situation. In the past I have paid quite a bit more, and at times less. As I said each situation is different. Hope this makes sense. Typing this out from my phone so excuse any typos.

Nice post, myself, would love to be a second shooter. I am semi retired and do not want the stress of being lead, etc etc. Where I live not much of 2nd shooter market, Ken

Tip for some primary shooters: Don't cheat your customers by charging them for a second shooter and then go advertise on photography sites looking for a free tag-along. And no, it's not a great "opportunity" - it's cheating both your customer and the guy who's helping you with that $4000 wedding gig. Not all second shooters are created equal of course, but I've noticed many photographers wanting "experienced" tag-alongs with pro gear, etc. but don't want to pay them. A tag-along by definition doesn't have experience and is a burden - not one who brings you an extra $1000 and works hard all night.

Sorry but this sounds more like 'how not to upset the photographer's fragile ego'.

The people commenting on this are crazy. I would legit send this to my future second shooters, because while not all of these awesome tips are required, they are exactly what you titled the article, ways of becoming the PERFECT second shooter.

Even though your advice says dress nice (which I agree) you should add comfortably as well. Especially ladies. If you know you're going to be on your feet for the next 4 hours don't come dressed in stilletos! You can dress nice AND comfortable at the same time.

These are great tips - and since they are tips - i can use those that apply - and modify any that dont to my style.... these actually look alot like my 2nd shooter contract ;)

Richard Johnson's picture

Or you could skip being a second shooter and just buy the $299.99 "How to become a professional wedding photographer" video advertised at the top of this page.

Great and helpful tips! I've only shot a wedding as second one time. Now the lead photographer has asked me to second for five more this year! I want to be the best second shooter I can be!

Hey Trevor,

some nice tips, but I must say you are mistaking the second shoot for the assistant. I have my own brand on wedding photography, but now and then take the job as second shooter for a couple of friends, and they do it for me. The job of the second shooter is to be the second shooter, find nice images, grab them, and even produce if necessary, not get water of fix lenses, neither keep an eye on the watch. Consider yourself having a photo assistant with you, and you'll see your productivity - and your second shooter's - rising up.
Best to ya!

Jorge Pastrana's picture

i disagree with most of these tips

Trevor Dayley's picture

Jorge si no estas de acuerdo esta muy bien. Me encantaria escuchar cuales son algunas "tips" que das a los que sacan fotos contigo en los casamientos. Tus fotos estan bastante lindos.

Jorge Pastrana's picture

i just think that's been a second shooter is has important has the first shooter, by the way i have been second and first shooter :)

Trevor Dayley's picture

I agree that both roles are important. But that doesn't mean they can't have different roles. I also have been both a first shooter as well as a second shooter. I look forward to doing even more second shooting in the future and will try to follow as many of these tips as possible and do the best job I can for the primary shooter. I guess I was just surprised by your initial reaction that you "disagree with most of these tips." I am down in Mexico shooting at least a couple times a year. Maybe one of these times we can get together over coffee and discuss or go out and do a shoot together.

White balance? Aren't we shooting RAW?

Even when shooting RAW, it's nice to get it right in camera. :)

yes...and saving your time later by getting right in camera..

I would add to this list of tips: the 2nd should have in mind to "make the primary look good" through compliments when you're talking to guests or the B&G. Deflect praise and attention to the primary, as though you were an employee of a company, and what makes the experience awesome is the company, not the 2nd shooter.

This is an interesting opinion. I would think that accepting the praise and saying something like "Thank you, WE love this work and it shows thru our images" or something to that matter would be more appropriate and help to bolster the two of you working as a team. To say that you need to deflect the praise to the primary doesnt make a lot of sense. Are you saying that if you get a positive comment to reply with "thanks, im not that good but the primary photog is amazing...im not sure what im doing here, i hope these images turn out well"? Obviously theres a little sarcasm here but I'd like to hear how you would deflect praise.

How you worded it is what I meant-- its more about the "company" or
the primary's business than it is about you the 2nd shooter. Also, one
can make the primary "look good" by being supportive (holding
reflectors, carrying bags, fixing little details like crooked ties etc),
feeding off their jokes etc.

I don't mean slathering lavish praise upon the almighty primary, either ;)

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