I think that one of the best ways for a new photographer wanting to dip their foot into the wedding market is to be a second shooter for an experienced photographer.
For the first few years of my wedding photography business I second shot a lot more than I primary shot. I found that working while I was getting experience in this industry was a win win situation. It brings a steady income if you work with one or two photographers through an entire season. It is a lot easier and less stressful to second shoot over primary shooting, you get to be more creative. Second shooting allows you to get the wedding day experience you need as a new photographer starting out, without the stress of a couple with real wedding day expectations. With this I think there is an art to second shooting.
Although very early in your career you may take every gig that comes your way. As you get experience it’s important to get a little picky and not take every second shooting job you see posted in your local group – not every job is right for you. I learned this lesson the hard way, after my second son was born I wanted to increase my cash flow and took any second shooting job I could get. In my case I wasn’t necessarily looking for more experience (or portfolio photos) at this point, which is totally fine. However because I wasn’t really paying attention to who I was working with or where the wedding was, I ended up being the more experienced photographer on the wedding day. It was awkward, and frustrating.
Once you have second shot with a few different photographer, and have build a nice portfolio. I recommend scouting a few photographers that you’d like to work for. Offer your services to 1-2 photographers and work with them throughout the entire season, or even multiple years if it works out. Working with the same people over and over again will allow you to get into a rhythm of doing things, and that’s how it is when you’re a primary photographer. You get into a rhythm of what you shoot, how you shoot it and you replicate from one wedding to the next, just adding your flair and creativity.
I love having the same second shooter from one year to the next. After a few weddings my second shooter can start to anticipate what I need from them, where I need them to be when we are shooting. We understand each others non-verbal queues, which makes the day flow so much better. There is also a level of trust that gets built as time goes on and I am able to let the second shooter take on more responsibility without me having to worry if I am going to get the photos I need.
I think the best second shooters that I’ve had in the last decade are the ones that just want to be second shooters. They’re not just trying to build a portfolio so that they can start shooting weddings on their own. They have successful family portrait businesses, but they enjoy being there on the wedding day.
It’s important to have a conversation about expectations of both the primary photographer and second shooter before you start working together. If you’re second shooting because you want to upgrade your portfolio, make sure you’re clear with the primary photographer about this. In your contract put in usage rights of the images; when, where and how are you allowed to share the photos. Some photographers do not allow second shooters to use their photos for portfolios because clients may have requested privacy, or sometimes if both photographers have wedding businesses then having the same photos on two photographer sites can get confusing. Having a conversation of expectations, and putting it down in a contract will eliminate any issues in the future.
When you’re second shooting try and be attentive to the primary shooter. Be observant of what is going on, and try and help out wherever you can. If you see the primary setting up a shot with the bride and you notice a leaf on her dress, run over and get it. If you’ve been outside shooting for hours and you have an opportunity to go and grab waters for you both, do it! Try and take behind the scenes photos of the photographer working with the couple or bridal party when you can. The little things that you can do to help out, will go a long way.
In the next section I will go over the other side of the equation. Hiring a second shooter.
Do you have any questions about second shooting? Please leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer!