Becoming a second shooter is not for the faint of heart. Being there to capture the love between two people at a wedding is so much more rewarding than you think. However, they aren’t for everyone. Some find the wedding days stressful and filled with lots of pressure. As they should. Weddings aren’t something you can just redo if you miss something. The best part of second shooting is you don’t have the added pressure to perform at the same level as the lead. Wondering if breaking into the wonderful world of wedding photography is for you? Then you are in the right place!
Become an Assistant/3rd Shooter
Attending weddings as a guest is completely different than going as a vendor. It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Depending on how the timeline is set-up, the day may be really fast-paced. You will need to know how to work quickly to make up time. This is especially important if there is no wedding planner or coordinator to help keep things on track. This can often lead to the photographer(s) taking on this role as well! Assisting will give you a much better idea of how weddings will flow without the added pressure of actually photographing the wedding.
Although first-hand experience is the best route, I highly recommend enrolling in The Second Shooter Course, or Katelyn James All Access. It’s $30/month and will give you the best idea of what real wedding days will look like as a vendor, rather than just a guest. This will not replace the experience gained by assisting a lead, but will give you much more insight than you previously had.
When looking into seeing if someone will allow you to assist, offer to do it for free in order to gain first-hand experience and see if they will allow you to shoot some throughout the course of the day. Get this permission in writing and find out what their guidelines and rules are when it comes to sharing those images.
Finding the 2nd Shooter Gig
This one can be a little tricky as a lot of established photographers are looking for 2nd shooters who already have wedding experience. So, in a world where it seems other photographers don’t want to give you a shot, how are you supposed to overcome this?? Start by developing relationships with other local photographers. Comment on their work, like their IG and Facebook pages, subscribe to their mailing lists, make your presence in their community known. Abby Waller actually has a great post on this topic and goes into more detail and words it better than I can. She even has a free email template to go along with it, so go check it out!
Join your local Rising Tide Tuesdays Together groups and let them know that you are an experienced portrait photographer looking to assist/second shoot weddings. I would absolutely offer to second shoot your first wedding for a reduced rate, or free if that’s something you are comfortable with.
The Honeybook community is also another wonderful resource! While this platform is often used for client management, this community is designed to seek out opportunities, or hire them out. You can have the app notify you anytime an opportunity is posted within X amount of miles within your area. I personally have mine set to 100 miles within my zip code. This covers a lot of ground, especially in the Northern California area.
Putting your name in the hat
If you see posts of photographers in your area looking for a 2nd shooter, put your name in the hat! You may get passed over 50 times, but it only takes one person saying “yes” to get your foot in the door. If you serve the photographer well, they very well may hire you again!
But first, there are a few things you need to know:
1.) Make sure your style of photography matches the photographer’s. If they aren’t similar, then don’t throw your name into the mix. Wedding photographers will edit your images to fit their brand. If your shooting styles aren’t even close to being similar, this will not make for a cohesive gallery for their client.
2.) Follow the instructions the poster has given. If they say to send an email, do not comment on their post with the answers to all of their questions. This shows that you can’t follow simple instructions and can cause concern for how well you will follow instructions on the day of the wedding. Now, I will add in this extra tip as it’s something that I’ve recently learned works really well…2 points of contact showing interest in the posted 2nd shooting gig has been really helpful. I usually will follow the instructions in the post and follow up with either a text message or email. Below is an example of exactly what I say:
“Hi Sara! My name is Kristen. I saw your opportunity posted on Honeybook and just wanted to see if you’ve found someone already. If not, I’d love to be considered. Everything you need to know is here: www.kristencampbellphoto.com/photographers Thank you & I look forward to hearing from you soon!!”
Sooooo easy! Okay, moving on!
3.) Some photographers will not allow portfolio usage. This is not abnormal! Something to keep in mind is that when you are second shooting, you are a contractor for the photographer who booked you and they legally own the images, not you. If they do allow you to use the images for your portfolio, make sure to follow their requests to a “T!” This shows respect and they will appreciate you for it. Either way, make sure you know what you are agreeing to, before moving forward. This is also why you should have a signed contract in place!
4.) Follow up with the photographer if you do not hear back from them within a couple of days. It’s okay to send a quick email to see if they have found someone to help them shoot. This shows that you are more than interested and can help make you stand out from the rest. If they respond back that they did find someone, it’s okay to ask why they decided to move forward with someone else. This allows for growth and again, shows that you’re not the typical photographer just looking for a job, but you’re looking to build a relationship.
5.) Understand that your current list of equipment may limit your opportunities. Some photographers will require full frame cameras and off camera flash experience. Do not let this discourage you! To this day, I will rent additional equipment if I feel that I will need it for my own weddings, and do not hesitate to do the same if I’m second shooting.
6.) Create a hidden page on your website that will showcase your personality, style, equipment, experience as well as any education and steps you’re taking to become a better photographer. Here is mine!
7.) When it comes to the going rate for a 2nd shooter job, you’ll find that most areas are between $25-$75 per hour, depending on experience. First starting out, I would ask the photographer what they typically pay their second shooters, and go from there. Only you and that photographer can decide what the appropriate rate would be.
Being a 2nd Shooter:
If you are booked for a 2nd shooter position, make sure you do your research on the venue, and stay in contact with the photographer leading up to the wedding. You’ll want to know what the timeline looks like, and run over the game-plan for the day. I usually recommend a phone call before the wedding. By the end of that call, make sure to know the following:
- What time should you arrive to the venue? Do not arrive late. In fact, plan on arriving 30 minutes early. Personally, I show up between 30-60 minutes early and do not ask to be paid for that time.
- Ask about memory cards and how they will get the images from you after the wedding. Some photographers will supply the cards for you to shoot on, others will ask you to hand them over and will either have you pick them up, or will mail them back.
- Make sure to sync camera times for editing later (this will be done on wedding day most likely, but there is also a website where you can sync)
- What apertures do you need to use for each part of the day? Write these down, laminate them to keep in your bag, memorize them or something so you KNOW what your settings will be without having to ask. I give my 2nds a range to shoot and expect them to shoot where they’re comfortable within that range. For example, 1.4-2.8 is standard for my style.
- Study their work ahead of time, especially the parts of the wedding that you will be photographing. I promise you’ll feel more prepared than if you don’t.
- Where does the lead photographer want you to stand during the precessional, ceremony, and recessional, as well as what lenses they want you using during these times?
- Ask how you can best help during family formals.
- Grab some of the lead’s business cards so you have them to hand out to guests if asked. You are there to represent their business…DO NOT promote your business in any way! In fact, grab BTS photos of the lead working during Wedding Party portraits and even during the bride and groom portraits.
- Be there for the photographer in every way you can! Remind them to stay hydrated and to eat a snack. Offer to carry their bags and help them change lenses, etc. Fluff the bride’s wedding dress, keep an eye out for stray hairs, and notice the details.
This is just a handful of things to know, but all great information. Let me know in the comments section if you have more questions about becoming a second shooter.
PS: Sorry there aren’t any pretty pictures to go along with this blog! This is something that I’m often asked about, especially since I only photograph weddings, so I decided it was time to blog about it!