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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132 Comments

No matter what content gets posted on Fstoppers, there's always people hating on it somehow. I personally enjoyed the article. People are over thinking it too much and reading it with some skewed, negative attitude. For the hundredth time, as Trevor has himself stated in the comments below, these are merely TIPS not necessarily "rules" and we shouldn't assume that he's trying to be some kind of control freak or dictator. I feel like this article is geared at those who are looking to get into photo assisting gigs and don't have much (or any) experience yet, in which case this is a super helpful article. Thank you Trevor for taking the time to write this, even as an experienced photographer, I still enjoyed the read. It's something I would definitely bookmark and send to friends or people who ask me questions about starting out.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Thank you so much for posting this. It means a lot to know the article was helpful.

Great article and posted responses. I've enjoyed the perspectives shared from both sides of the two-photographer partnership. For nearly thirty five years I have enjoyed the craft, primarily as a hobbyist, but in recent years have had a few opportunities to brave the waters a as either a primary or backup photographer for some special events (sporting events, church galas and two family weddings).

In all cases I've always respected the role and responsibilities of the primary photographer, especially in the case of the two family weddings when I was merely shooting personal shots for my enjoyment and/or at the request of some family members. In both cases, perhaps due to the quality of my cameras and lenses I was using, I was perceived to be some level of "competition" to the primary photographer. I even made a point to introduce myself as merely a family member, while politely requesting the opportunity to shoot, provided I remained well out of the way of the primary's view and work area. The first photographer could not have been any ruder toward me. At one point it almost seemed like he'd evaluate my own vantage point, and then purposely move into position directly in front of me. When I would quietly retreat to an alternate position, he'd again relocate and repeat the process all over again. I later learned from the bride (my niece) that she and her husband were not happy with the photographer, his post wedding delays, and ultimately numerous photos that were never shot as promised. In fact, in the end, she loved my own photos so much that she had the primary use some of my own shots in the final photo album. This initial experience was intimidating to say the least, and left a sour taste regarding my own confidence to explore future opportunities to shoot weddings. Fortunately, a few months at my other niece's wedding, I had a totally opposite experience with a professional photographer who not only welcomed me, but went out of his way to offer valuable wedding day photography tips as well.

I'm sure anyone trying to break into the field of professional wedding photography is grateful for any opportunity to learn from the seasoned pros, but after that first experience, I can certainly appreciate the intimidation factor that can exist in the role of 2nd shooter. If I'm ever fortunate enough to more formally assist a professional in the future, or alternatively take on the role as a primary photography for a special event, I'll definitely keep this great advice in mind.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Hey Sean, that is a bummer to hear about that first experience you had. It is unfortunate he treated you that way. Thankfully you had the second experience though to be able to balance it out and realize that there are good guys out there that are more than willing to help out. Feel free to contact me via my website or Facebook page. If I ever happen to be in your area I will be sure to touch base and see if you would like to come out and we can shoot together. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

Keep the lead hydrated? How about a back rub? Maybe a nice warm foot bath? C'mon man. I've been shooting weddings for a decade and expect my second shooters to shoot - not be my personal slave while I am puking excellence.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Getting me a cup of water is not something I would ever require Scott, but man it is much appreciated, especially when shooting in the Arizona summer, hence the reason I mentioned it here. Anyone that has ever shot with me can attest to the fact that I treat my second shooters as friends never personal slaves. Also when I mention the tips, I am not assigning that responsibility to the second shooter, I am simply saying it is a great idea to have those things in mind.

I agree with you and apologize if my post came off as rude. It just shocked me some of your tips but in retrospect I see where you are going. I just always look at my seconds and I as a team. Equal players going for the same goal. I help them, they help me. Your blog just came across as a little one sided. Twenty bucks says that's where you are getting the brunt of the negativity from. :)

Trevor Dayley's picture

Thanks Scott for the apology. In the future I will definitely try to make things more flowery and nice. I think trying to keep it short and readable made it so the tone came off short and brunt. I probably could have reworded many of the sentences as well so they didn't start with "Don't." But yeah you are absolutely right about working as a team. That is definitely the way to go. Not only with your second shooters, but also with all the vendors on the day of a wedding (videographers, planners, florists, dj.) Thanks again Scott for your followup comment.

I have been working as an assistant photographer for the last few months. I feel like a lot of these are common sense points that are very easy to forget! Weddings are usually pretty busy and the simple stuff gets overlooked. I think this is a great list of tips!

I think some of these apply better to an assistant rather than a 2nd photographer like the water and lens thing. I think good communication between both photographers as professionals is key.

Overall I agree.

I feel like my #1 thing for 2nd shooters is BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. Always know where the lead is and where they are shooting from (if you can discuss it ahead of time, even better) as well as being aware of the videographers too. No one likes when anyone gets in their shots.

so basicaly the second shooter is something like a slave, like you are some kind of Leonardo Da Vinci and he is a pupil. My way of understanding is that the reason you had many second shooters is because you think of yourself too seriously. Hey you might be great at what you do but if i was a second i'd say my pictures are mine (not to post on the web) to brag about and if you want full ownership of my work than be ready to treat and pay me acordingly.

Trevor Dayley's picture

Codrut, I think it would be better for you to get to know me first before trying to judge me.

I don't judge, I am only saying that it sounds that you are more in need of an assistant than a second shooter. Most of your post is ok but there are some things that make me wonder, that's all, I did not meen to offend.

Keith Powell's picture

I've shot 3 weddings with Trevor and it was an amazing experience. I learned so much and felt like I had full freedom to be myself and shoot my style. Thanks for the opportunity to work along side of you man!

Trevor Dayley's picture

Thanks Keith. It has been a blast having you out at weddings. Hopefully we are able to do it again sometime soon.

I love this as suggestions! I can say that part of the joys of having a permanent second shooter is we have this totally worked out now! Great suggestions! ESPECIALLY when you are a traveling photog and having a permanent second isn't always possible. Will def be sharing! :D

Man, I am so surprised with how many people are taking this article so negatively. Trevor posted this as a nice tips and tricks. And while every photographer is different, with different needs and thoughts - these are HIS tips and tricks. You might not agree with it but there's no need to be so judge-y and rude. I personally have worked with Trevor twice - the 2nd time I offered to second shoot for FREE just to get the second shooting experience, and at the end of the night - he PAID me. PAID me even though our agreement was me shooting for free. That's just the kind of guy he is. He is free with his experience and knowledge and have helped us tremendously by hosting workshops and sharing what he knows. That's what this article it - helpful tips if it applies to you - if it doesn't apply to you or if you don't agree...then at least be nice about it. That's like having a client complain about your contract and payment schedule because they don't agree with it. You don't like it when they do that to you, so why do you do it to each other?

It's unfortunate that so many of these comments are rude and mean spirited. As someone who has shot with Trevor on many occasions, I can tell you that he does not treat or view his seconds as personal slaves whatsoever. If anything he is incredibly accommodating and nothing but friendly and willing to help in any way he can. I feel privileged to have been able to shoot beside him not only because of the fun I've had, but mostly for the friend I've gained in him.This post was written with the best of intentions, as some ideas of what someone who has never 2nd shot before might want to consider doing, and I know that within the past few months alone, he's 2nd shot for a couple photographers across the country, so his tips aren't only from the perspective of a lead, but as one who has actively been in the 2nd shooter role recently. It's disheartening to see that many feel that it's a better idea to criticize and cut down one another rather than support and encourage. Trevor is a never ending voice of positivity in our community, I wish there were more people like him.

As someone who started out in the world of Film and Television as an AC (assistant camera) where you pretty much are at the beck and call of the Director of Photography and making sure you anticipate their needs before they even ask, whether that is a lens or a cup of coffee. Anticipating their needs professionally (lenses, lights, etc) makes the day go faster and makes you stand out as someone they want to have around.

When I moved to the wedding world, I love second shooting. Unfortunately I am really busy with my own company and I do not get to second shoot as much as I would like but it is really a blast. And all of Trevor's "TIPS" are great and valid.

Everything he said from helping with lenses and time checks to grabbing the primary a water are all amazing things that get you noticed and called again. A second shooter is supposed to be a jack of all trades. They are someone who is the right hand of the primary and aids them in accomplishing the task of the day, whether that is capturing a second angle or helping with a reflector. Their job is to aid in photographing the wedding, with or without a camera.

As a second shooter I took my experience as an AC and always had myself prepared for the Primary shooter. If they looked tired I would check if they need a drink or something and if they appeared like they were not happy with lighting I would ask if they needed me to set something up before they could ask it of me. Being a good second is being a good support to the first. The couple has paid him to create the images of their day. ANY images you capture are at the direction of the primary. They tell you what they need from you, and sometimes they need you to help light or grab a water before they pass out so that the client will get all the shots they wanted and more.

The last thing I do have to say is that the title second shooter and assistant are both misleading because you are not doing either of those things the entire day. I wish there could be a better title because a good second shooter is more than an additional photographer, they are someone who make the day better. I love second shooting and think anyone can benefit from this Tip list. While it may not be right for everyone's business model, it is a great place to start.

And for more tips (including some of the same as Trevor's) Jasmine Star has done quite a few good posts on the topic:

http://www.jasminestarblog.com/index.cfm?postID=1067&changing-from-a...

http://www.jasminestarblog.com/index.cfm?postID=653&top-ten-tips-for...

Sam Wagner's picture

a bit preachy, yes, but you have to be explicit especially when you hire out to random assistants

my # 1 tip for any assistants, second shooters, whatever is to ALWAYS be asking "what can i get for you" or "what can i do next" or "can i get you some food" (I learned this as a PA, but it applies always no matter the position) - the eagerness goes a long way, and a glass of water is always appreciated

I think this is a great article Trevor, I don't think it sounds preachy. They are tips for crying out loud! This would be the ultimate scenario, something to strive for. If you don't agree move on :) Oh, and just looking at the fun photos I'd love to be one of your 2nd's!

I would have to disagree with "Make Sure You are Shooting RAW". While I understand shooting RAW has its benefits and may give you the most leeway in Post to fix things like exposure/wb etc...it shouldn't be a requirement by any means. The studio I work for shoots only in JPEG, except of course for special lighting conditions/challenges where we will switch to RAW + JPEG for that particular set. But ultimately, If you trust your ability to recognize a scene and expose a photo correctly and are comfortable enough with the camera that is in your hands and how to use it, you should have no issues whatsoever shooting a wedding 95% JPEG, especially with the amount of detail cameras like the Nikon D3S, D600 and D4 (among others of course) are able to record. If you are more of a beginner/amateur with an entry level camera, then maybe it makes more sense. In the end, there's really no right or wrong way. It's a style and workflow and if it works for you then go for it...but shooting only RAW will require larger capacity, faster memory cards and a lot more time and $$ spent on Storage and backup. Few other items on the list that I didn't necessarily agree with but most were pretty accurate. Thanks for the write-up.

absolutely perfect, spot on . Thank you so much Trevor x

It's easier to have everyone sync their cameras to an internet clock the day before as part of their pre shoot clean and pack routine. http://www.timeanddate.com/

I don't shoot weddings, but these are great tips for any assignment. The moral of the story is be prepared, be considerate and do your job.

This is a great tutorial and I learned a lot about the ethics of being a second shooter. Thank you for sharing the tips.

I would agree with 99% of 99% of this. Good stuff. I do feel that i should have business cards in my pocket. Not to give out but if for some reason some one liked the way I was blending in or interacting over the main I should be able to give someone that asked my contact info. For sure not hanging them out like candy at the end of October. What about using the 2nd shooters photos on the main shooters website or for advertising. I am new to weddings and will be 2nd shooting as well. What if for some reason I get that epic shot. Is there any thing i can/ should do or say before the shoot to clear the air about this? If we are working for free to help someone should we be able to have 15 mins with the B&G to take a few portraits? Thanks again

Hi.. Awesome post!! Really a huge list of tips for 2nd shooters. Great help for them. For wedding photography in Auckland please visit
http://www.aucklandweddingphotography.com/

I will be doing my first wedding in June as a second shooter and I thought this article was very informative. Isn't the purpose of the second shooter just that..A SECOND SHOOTER (this comment is for all those that are complaining about your article being negative, etc)? If you want to steal the show and not have someone direct you on what to do then do not become a second shooter. The lead photographer HIRED you and whenever you work for someone you are helping them and not taking over unless something happens and you have to step up. I doubt there is a lead photographer out there that wants a whiney, entitled feeling second shooter that can't handle being told what to do.

I really appreciate this article.

Thank you for writing it.

I don't think this article is negative, but I think it's asking second shooters to be legitimate humans and to highlight the photographer rather than themselves. After all, the photographer is the one who the second shooters are working for.

These tips are great and will be helpful this weekend as I am second shooting.