How to be an awesome second shooter

Apr 27, 2020 | For photographers

Having been a second shooter at 70+ weddings over the years and now photographed about 85 weddings at the lead photographer I wanted to share with you some tips I have picked up from being a second shooter and what my second shooters have taught me. I wish I had this list when I was starting out as I would have found it really helpful to reference. If you are new to second shooting or been doing it a little while I hope you find these tips/tricks/advice helpful!

My 35 tips on how to be an awesome second shooter

1. Be reliable 

This really goes without saying. When taking on a booking to be a second shooter the lead photographer is putting a lot of trust into you. It is one of the most important days of a couples life this is not a time to be flakey.

2. Dress smart

Not only are you representing yourself you are also representing the brand of the primary photographer.

3. Learn to do – buttonholes, pocket squares & cravats

As a second photographer, you may have to photograph morning preparations with the guys. With this in mind, it is always great to have this knowledge, as most guys don’t wear these items often/if at all. There is nothing worse than the buttonholes being done wrong in the morning and then they end up upside down during some of the photos. Here’s a quick video on how to attach flowers to a buttonhole. A quick tip is that the guy’s buttonholes got on the left and ladies go on the right (mothers, nans, etc.) and usually points down rather than up.

4. Be the problem solver 

On wedding days there can sometimes be small issues. If you can it’s great if you can solve any small issues to save stressing out the wedding couple.

5. Know your gear 

This might seem a really obvious one but so important especially if you’re new to photography. You need to know how your camera works to ensure you are getting the best images for the wedding couple. Ensuring that you know how to correctly expose images in different lighting situations. Lighting changes so quickly on wedding days as often you can be photographing in different rooms/locations, just going from inside the church to the church gardens it can be a dramatic change and you need to know how to do this quickly to not miss key moments. It is also really important that you have a least a basic know-how on, on/off-camera flash, there will be times where flash is needed, it’s not as scary as it might first seem.

6. If you can’t do something be honest

There were times when I started out where I had to ask for help on how to do certain things. If you can’t do something the lead photographer would prefer you to be honest. Just ask and they will show you the steps so you know how for next time.

7. Share ideas

Being a photographer is a really creative industry and we all have such different ideas and visions on how to do things. If you think of something really cool don’t be afraid to share it as the end result may benefit the wedding couple.

8. Location scout

There will be occasions where you may arrive at locations before the lead photographer, if time allows have a quick scout to see where might work well for photos, and where there could be some nice shady spots. The lead photographer will thank you for this.

9. Keep yourself and the lead photographer hydrated 

Wedding days are long days for wedding photographers and the majority of weddings in the UK take place during the summer. I recommend having a bottle of water in your bag to stay hydrated. There will be parts of the day where the lead photographer would be grateful for a cold drink for example during the summer whilst busy with group photos, it is always such a thoughtful and kind gesture.

10. Learn the couples names 

Even if you’re not the lead photographer I think it is so important to learn the wedding couples names. It gives a more personal touch throughout the day and makes a big difference to the couple.

11. Have an emergency kit in your bag

This isn’t vital but it is a great habit to get into. So in my photography bag I almost always have the following: a pen, lip balm, mini sewing kit, plasters, change (for parking), pads (not necessarily just for me), tissues, paracetamol, hair bands, bobby pins, peppermint tea (that’s usually just for me :-)!), I also usually have a small bit of gaffer tape (this has come in handy!).

12. Always have a different angle/lens

There will be times where you will be working alongside the lead photographer capturing the same moment, for example during some of the couple photos. It is so important that you are either shooting with a different lens length (to achieve a different look) or shooting from a completely different angle. If you shoot a very similar shot to the lead photographer they will almost always select their image for the final gallery.

13. When sharing photos credit the lead photographer

I know most second shooters work weddings so they can build their portfolios but it is so important the lead photographer is credited on any photos that are shared, for example, “photographed whilst second shooting for …”. More often than not if you are photographing during couple photos you are capturing the shot that the lead photographer directed and you were shooting under their brand so it is important that they get credit.

14. Never hand out your business cards

This is really unprofessional, as you are not shooting for your business you are working for someone else. When I used to regularly second shoot for the same photographer I would have some of their business cards in my bag, if anyone (suppliers/guests) were to ask for my card, I would pass on theirs. It is only fair as it is their wedding.

15. Experiment 

This is one of the best things about being a second shooter. I used to love experimenting on wedding days whilst second shooting, in particular, I loved playing with prisms.

16. Candids

One of the main selling points to couples for having a second photographer is that they will get more candid photos. I love candid photos within my style of photography but during certain parts of the day, it can be difficult for me to capture candids as I am doing other things, for example, group photos and reception details. Whilst I am capturing these moments I love my second photographer to capturing lots of beautiful candids.

17. Be a model for test shots 

Be prepared not only be behind the camera but also in front too. There are times when we need to take test shots to test our lighting, for example, the first dance/cake cut lighting set up.

18. Have umbrellas in your boot

Living in the UK the chances of rain is higher than other countries, why not have a couple of umbrellas in your boot for them just in case moments? I personally always have umbrellas in my boot, it’s good practice to get into for your own wedding days too. Primark do some big clears ones (I think they are only £5 each) and they photograph pretty well too.

19. Help organise confetti line 

Guests at weddings can be difficult to get moving sometimes because there are often many people for them to be catching up with, so I always find it super helpful if I can get some extra assistance organising the confetti line.

20. Shoot RAW

Most photographers ask for this (including me). Shooting RAW simply means the format in which the images are saved to the card. By them saved as a RAW image instead of a Jpeg it means that the lead photographer can edit the images the images more easily and be able to bring back highlights/shadows that may get lost when compressed into Jpeg.

21. Don’t delete photos off your camera

As easy as it might seem to just delete a bad photo here and there this is actually quite risky and I would never advise it. If you accidentally deleted the wrong image/deleted them all it makes life so much harder having to recover them. Just accept that every photographer even the worlds best take bad shots/test shots/eyes closed etc. The main photographer will remove these in the cull and won’t think any less of you. Just to put in perspective between myself and a second shooter we can take anything between 4-5k photos and I cull them down to 500-800 images.

22. Speak to vicar/registrar/celebrant if you arrive first 

It is common that you’ll arrive at the ceremony location before the lead photographer if the wedding isn’t all in one place, as I will be at bridal prep photographing the final getting ready moments. With that in mind, it is always really helpful to speak with the vicar/registrar/celebrant. A couple of standard questions would be:
Where can we stand during the ceremony?
Are there any rules we should be aware of?

23. Back up your cards

Be sure to make a back up of the images from the wedding on your own hard drives for the just in case moment. More often than not these won’t be needed but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

24. Have spare cards/batteries

With there being so many types of cameras these days it is always good practise to have spare cards/batteries. If for whatever reason you run out of cards/battery life and the main photographer has different equipment to you they won’t be able to help.

25. Help gather people for groups

This is a big one for some photographers. In recent years I have preferred my second photographers to capture candids and I ask the wedding couple to choose helpers (usually best man/siblings/maid of honour) to help gather guests. This is much easier as whoever is gathering people often know who they are looking for.

26. Text on arrival 

This isn’t essential but it is advisable especially if this is the first time you have worked with the main photographer, it just provides reassurance. More often than not preparations take place in different locations so it’s just nice to know that you’ve got there okay.

28. Behind the scenes photos

This is an added bonus. It is great to have behind the scenes photos on wedding days. I always love seeing BTS’s :-).

29. Give the lead photographer your contact details

I always like to have on file the contact details of who I have working with me for obvious reasons. Be sure to pass on up to date details should they need to contact you. Also, ask for their details, nothing worst than needing to call someone and not being able to find their number.

30. Don’t share photos before couple receive the gallery

During peak wedding season wedding photographers can have a queue of editing sometimes 5+ weddings, during this time turnaround can be a little longer. As much as you love the photos you took when you second shoot it is really important not to share the photos before the wedding couple has received the final gallery. If they see the photos through the second shooter first this is a really poor reflection on the lead photographer. Another thing would be, only share photos that the couple have received.

31. Contact them ASAP if you can not longer work the date

If for whatever reason you become ill and too ill to work it is important that you communicate with the primary photographer as soon as possible so they can work to finding suitable cover ASAP. If at all possible offer to help find cover especially if it is a prime summer date where finding cover might be more challenging.

32. Don’t do private couple shoot

The couples time on a wedding day is limited as it is and I always aim to get them back to their guests after couple/group photos. By doing more couple photos without the lead photographer knowing/present it simply takes the couple away from creating memories with their guests.

33. Help carry stuff

There will be times where not just me but the wedding couple may need some help. Just some of the things that I have carried over the years: dress train, veil, bouquet, buttonholes, drinks, bridesmaids bags, lipstick, phones, the list could go on!

34. Be there 

This is really vague but simply just being there for the lead photographer speaks volumes. Weddings can be stressful at times and knowing that someone has got your back when you need it is really reassuring. I am always there to support my second photographers and will always help them in any way I can too :-).

35. Keep learning

Last but not least, keep learning! There is always more to learn, not just at the beginning but always. Every year I try and pick an area of wedding photography I want to improve and work on that. Last year I upped my flash work and really loved some of the shots I created. Just keep learning and playing. Sometimes the best shots are the ones we didn’t plan to take.

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