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

I've never worked with you, but I think these are completely reasonable guidelines.
As a primary, I would expect similar behavior from a second.
As a second, this seems like common sense.

If you're ever in need of a #2 in AZ, give me a shout.

I find it funny that so many people have come to the author's defense, when his character was never attacked in most of the critical responses. It's just that the way the article itself reads to some of us is simply off-putting (yes, I understand the intentions were good). A lot of these things just seem way above and beyond the $200 pay for the second shooter. Some things like preventing your second shooter from sharing the right photo at the right time from the back of their camera or accepting a friend request just seem to be defeating what should be the ultimate goal of both photographers working as a team - to provide a great customer experience. And some other things - like grabbing water, etc. could get in the way of what seems to me to be the second most important goal for the second shooter - to capture timeless images for the couple and ensure coverage from multiple vantage points. Here's a tip for the primary photographer: bring a water bottle you can easily access without the help of your second-shooter - this helps you avoid sounding like a primadonna and allows you to utilize your second-shooter more effectively by having them concentrate on images. I think a lot of this demanded helpful behavior would arise naturally out of a mutually-nurturing relationship that takes respect, practice and good communication to develop. If you treat your second-shooters like human beings instead of presenting them with a long list of demands (aka helpful tips), I'm sure they'll volunteer to do these things themselves. I bet giving this list of helpful tips was not the first move the author makes when starting a conversation with a potential second shooter - so, why start the conversation with the general public that way? It sounds like you're very nice to your second-shooters - there's just nothing about this two-sided aspect of the relationship in your article, sadly.

I was am impromptu second shooter last Sunday. I loved it. It felt very freeing not to be the one in charge and to be able to keep my eyes open to things going on away from and between the official shots. I think I really added to the wedding story without upstaging the posed and traditional shots. It was great.

I loved your article. I read it before I had my first second shooter experience, and hope you don't mind I left a link to this in my blog. http://www.notquitewonderwoman.com/june-wedding-a-second-shooters-story/

I disagree with most of the comments...I found this very helpful & your tone was NOT negative or belittling at all! Thanks again for taking the time to post this.

I thought this was a great article on TIPS. I really want to pursue wedding photography & plan to do a lot of second shooting to build my experience, and I thought these tips would be great on how to act professionally & impress a lead photographer. It's a chance to network too so why wouldn't you want to impress? I can't see anything negative about this article.

Scott Wilson's picture

Great tips, and good information for me. I have a question. I do not have a lot of wedding experience, (second shot one, and have a excellent recommendation from the main, and main shot a destination wedding, with good recommendations from the couple and mom of bride). So my question is this: I've narrowed down what I would like to do, and wedding photography is a great fit for me. Although I don't have a lot of wedding experience, I do have event photography experience (covering events, places, and lifestyle shots for a regional woman's magazine and the local chamber of commerce) and I am fairly comfortable shooting flash, bounce or OCF. I have all my own equipment and backup equipment, lighting, etc... 2.8 lenses with IS, and a portfolio at least good enough to let people know I'm competent in various lighting setups in a wide range of situations.

That was a long explanation, but here's my dilemma. I know I will probably need to second shoot in order to build my portfolio. and to get experience. I do not want to advertise on Craigslist but I would like to get on the radar of people looking for second shooters. I'd like to second shoot all this summer, and I don't mind lower pay if I can use the photos in a reasonable period of time (like within 6 months--which was my deal with the photographer I second shot for). Of course I am a professional, insured, etc... Is there a place to advertise for this that is location specific? Where do I "apply". :) Thanks in advance for any help.

Thanks to Trevor for this article. I'm about to second shoot my first wedding, and the primary sent me this article. Very helpful tips for a first timer :)

Thanks for sharing. Checked out your website - absolutely stunning images. I mean, wow!!

Rick Dalton's picture

Great post. Sounds like, "Do for others what you'd want them do for you", for photographers.
Could we add, "You are not a guest. Refrain from dancing."
And, "You are there as a second photographer, this isn't the time for protracted conversations between you and guests of the opposite sex."
Most of us primary photographers don't "expect" our 2nd shooter to bring us water, etc, but it is appreciated. And it is far more likely that if you are a great shooter, plus someone who goes above and beyond what is expected (bringing water at an opportune time) you may get a tip, or get high on our list for the next wedding.

wow! so harsh, so demanding, so unfair! you need a slave not a second. can't believe you want to take all the credit, and treat your second as your slave who deserves nothing. such a shame

don't add guests on social media? don't talk or be friendly? keep Master hydrated?

This is the most self-centered article I've read in a long time. It's not a master-servant relationship, it's two people working as a team. Second shooters are often as talented as primaries, and it's a shame to treat them like a clueless child.