If you are reading this, chances are you have been hired to be a second shooter or maybe you’re just wondering how to be a good 2nd shooter! If you came across this post and are still figuring out how to get hired as a 2nd, be sure to read THIS POST to get started.
After being both a lead and second shooter over the last 15 years, I wanted to put my philosophy/advice on how to prepare, and expectations into writing to help not only MY seconds, but also to help others who find themselves wondering what it actually means to be a good second shooter.
Second shooting is a huge responsibility and should be taken on with the mentality of being an extension of your primary shooter…you know, the person who hired you. A lot of times, photographers new to the industry will shoot with their portfolio in mind. While there is a time and place for portfolio work, you need to understand that you are there to do a job for the primary photographer. You need to be there to document the moments that they can’t. For you seasoned photographers, you need to think of second shooting for the lead the same way you would want to second shoot for yourself. Let me repeat: Be the second shooter you wish you had for your own weddings. This not only creates a good working relationship, but also leads to a great experience for their couple.
I’m going to address portfolio work for my seconds really quick. As your primary, I will personally help you get the portfolio shots you need. I want to help you succeed in the wedding photography industry, but I also need you to be understanding that I have to serve my couples well, and you are part of that experience for them. What you do reflects on me, and it’s important that they come first. However, we will chat beforehand about what your goals are for portfolio shots to ensure you get something out of this too. #communityovercompetition
Before wedding day, a few things need to happen:
1.) Contract – Make sure you sign a 2nd shooter contract provided by the hiring photographer or offer to supply them with one. This not only lays out what you are and are not allowed to do, but also protects both of you should the need arise.
2.) Gallery – Ask to see a gallery of second shooter images so you can get a feel for their style along with some of the types of images they will be asking you to capture. Look for the way they pose, how details are styled, the background choices, etc. I have linked a gallery here for reference of what I expect out of my 2nds.*
*these images were second shot for Rae Marshall Photography and are being shared with permission.
3.) Settings – Ask for preferred settings. Consistency within a gallery is usually something that is important to your primary. For example, I expect my seconds to shoot in RAW and prefer apertures of 2.8 and below, even for group photos. If you aren’t comfortable using lower apertures, discuss this ahead of time.
4.) Timeline – Ask for a copy of the timeline if it has not already been provided to you 7 days out from the wedding. Then, schedule a phone call to go over any questions you may have, but more importantly, LISTEN to what the primary is asking of you during this time. They may have specific instructions for where they want you during the ceremony, reception, getting ready, etc., and what lenses to use.
5.) Attire- Ask what you should wear. As silly as it sounds, each photographer has their own preferences. I like dressing for the weather, in mostly darker clothes with an accent of color in my shoes or jewelry. I have also been asked to dress as a guest would so that I would blend in with the crowd. There is no right or wrong answer to how a lead asks you to dress. In other words, be professional and don’t show up wearing a clown suit, unless of course it’s a themed wedding…in that case, carry-on.
6.) Directions – A bonus tip is to get the directions for the venue/hotel ahead of time so that you can map it out to ensure you are on-time, better yet, 15-20 minutes early!
7.) Travel arrangements – The weddings I book usually allow us to ride together. If this is not the case, you will need your own transportation between locations. Please make sure you have a full tank of gas prior to the wedding day.
8.) Food – If you have allergies or dietary restrictions, please let me know ahead of time. I always have to bring my own dinners because I am too hard to accommodate. This is not optional – you must eat. In the car, on a train, in the snow or in the rain.
The requirements I have for my 2nds when shooting is that they must have 2 bodies, 1 of which is required to be a full frame with dual card slots. The 2nd can be a backup, you do not need to shoot two bodies, and prefer if you don’t.
For lenses, if you are shooting Canon and do not have a lens that meets the situation, you will be allowed to borrow mine. If you shoot any other brand, you must have at least a 50mm prime, and a wider lens such as a 35mm or 24-70.
Off camera flash is a nice bonus, though you must know how to use ON camera flash with proficiency. If you have flashes you’re looking to learn how to use off camera, check out THIS POST and I will train you on my best practices during our time together.
Disclaimer: These are my personal expectations and may not necessarily be same as your lead photographer you are working for.
1.) Be prepared. Please come with all equipment charged, back-up batteries, a charger, extra memory cards, water & snacks, and a spare pair of shoes. Changing your shoes after the ceremony will help keep your feet from being sore the next day. Be sure to have the timeline printed or easily accessible on a smartwatch or phone where having good service is not necessary. I personally use the Bear App for keeping track of the timeline and the family formals list.
2.) Do not be late. In fact, I will ask you to arrive about 15-20 minutes before we need to begin shooting so we can run through the game plan for the day again and just get settled in. I love gifting my couples an extra 30 mins at the beginning of the day. This time allows us to chat and clear the area(s) we’ll be using for details and getting dressed.
3.) Ask your lead shooter if you should sync camera times. If you want to be ahead of the game, you can use THIS LINK to look up your city’s time, down to the second.
4.) Ask your lead about memory cards. I will personally provide memory cards and expect my seconds to shoot in RAW to my card as well as their backup card. Memory cards are cheap, so there is no excuse not to have your own.
5.) Now the fun begins! You get to meet the couple! The majority of the time, my couples are getting ready at the same hotel or within a very short drive between getting ready locations and the timeline has us starting with the groom (or the partner who is quicker to get ready) before heading onto the bride (or partner that will take longer to get ready).
- If we are together, this part of the day is mostly for behind the scenes photos of me styling details or capturing videos of me directing the getting ready portion of the day. You will also grab your own shots of my setup and take some additional candids of whomever is in the room while I’m otherwise occupied. I only need 20-30 different frames of this time, just to show we were there. This goes for both parties.
- If we are separated, there are several images that you will be responsible for, so please be sure to refer to the 2nd shooter gallery linked above. Use this as your guide for expectations for all parts of the day.
- Ensure the getting ready space is tidy and there are no distractions in the background that could have been avoided. Please also turn off ALL lights and rely solely on the natural lighting. If the area is too dark, do not be afraid to pull the partner and whomever is helping them get ready outside for the staged shots.
6.) If there is a first look, we will run through this and pick the location that will both allow us to work together to ensure the best angles are captured by both of us. My 2nd shooter’s job will be to focus on the partner who will be walking towards the partner, while I focus on the partner who will be turning around when prompted to see their future spouse for the first time. While I am photographing the couple, I may ask for your assistance with gathering the wedding party for the next set of images. If we are doing wedding party at another location, you are free to grab shots of the couple from multiple different angles after a few bts shots of me posing the couple (2-5 frames is sufficient).
7.) When it comes to the wedding party, I love when my seconds grab side angles and a couple of BTS images during this time. Whether we tag-team each side together or separately, for the group + individuals with wedding party, this is time-dependent. If we do this separately, I will provide you with a list of the “must-have shots” for the group and then expect a vertical waist up & full body of the partner with each person of their respective wedding party side.
8.) Ceremony & Ceremony Details – It is also at this time of the day we will coordinate where each person will be during the processional of the ceremony. I have a pattern, though the plan isn’t solid until we both see the space and know what we’re working with. I rotate throughout the ceremony and expect my 2nds to do the same, with a few exceptions:
- Vows – We will each cover a partner and their parents/respective sides of wedding party & switch sides for the next partner. While I may move around, I will signal to you when it’s about time to make the run for it…not literally, we still have to be professional.
- Ring exchange, I love having side and center angles of this, so I will usually ask for you to stand in the middle while i run around during this point.
- First kiss – we will BOTH be in the middle for this. I usually have my 50mm on at this point and will ask you to shoot wide during this point while I get the tight shot. If your equipment does not allow for this, your shot will become primary and mine secondary.
- Recessional – I will walk back with the couple and get the first moments after they say “I do” while you stay at the end of the aisle and capture the wedding party, parents + grandparents exiting. After this, I will begin the family formals and you will head to cocktail hour, location permitting.
9.) Cocktail Hour + Reception Details – If our ceremony location did not permit for the reception details, I may need to ask two things of you…Help set up my flashes & heavily rely on you for the reception details At a minimum I’ll need the whole room empty (vertical + horizontal) BEFORE guests are allowed inside, and a vertical shot of a single table. From here, you will move to place settings, centerpieces, and the little details. I always start wide and then get tighter and tighter.
If we have to choose between the details/cocktail hour coverage, the guests take priority. My couples want to know who was there and see they had a good time. Reception details should not take more than 5-10 minutes. For the guests, please make it a point to make the rounds and grab at least 2 different interactions between guests. This could be them mingling and then gathered for group shots. Emphasize older guests, babies, and who the couples’ parents may be talking to.
10.) Couples Portraits – Assuming family formals are wrapping up, it’s time for couples romantic portraits! I’d love to have you join me. This is an opportunity for the beautiful glowy light and time for more creativity as we’ve already accomplished the must-haves!
11.) Grand Entrance, Dances, & Toasts – I will ask you to focus on guests during these events of the reception as my focus will be on the couple and the speakers. I will also grab some of the guests reactions on the edges of the dance floor, but I will trust for you to walk around to grab guests at the tables that aren’t easily seen.
12.) Party Dancing – You are welcome to stay or go once party dancing begins, though your paid coverage ends at the party dancing, unless of course we rode together, then you’re kinda stuck and will be paid for your time.
At the end of the night you will hand over my card and back your images up for a minimum of 6 months. Once the 6 months are up, you are free to post the images to socials under the following circumstances.
- You credit with the following “2nd shot for @kristencampbellphoto “
- You do not follow the couple
- You do not post any images prior to the 6 month date, unless I give permission beforehand.
13.) Post-Processing – Once I have edited the gallery, I will provide gentle CC on what was done well and what may need additional training or practice. Most often times, this feedback pertains to shooting a groom in a getting ready space that was left with distractions in the background.
I am happy to provide on the job training and actually enjoy this part of being a lead shooter. If you’re shooting for me and have an area you’d like more practice in, please let me know and we will add to it our training!
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