Capturing a wedding is one of the most important photographic assignments, because it is impossible to re-create a wedding and the images are cherished not only by the bride and groom, but by their families and offspring, often for generations to come.
While most people book a photographer for their portfolio, skills and personality, they don’t realize that a lot of what they’re looking at is the result not of just one person’s work, but often a collaboration between a photographer and a second shooter.
In studio photography and other commercial work, a photographer often works with one or more assistants—someone to move the lights, someone to wrangle the models, someone to manage the media cards and so on. Generally, the assistant doesn’t do any photography; they simply (as the name implies) help the photographer capture the images they need to satisfy the client.
For weddings, though, the assistant takes on a more creative role, not only helping the photographer get his or her required shots, but capturing moments the primary photographer otherwise wouldn’t be able to catch. There’s so much going on at a wedding simultaneously that this “second shooter” provides an invaluable service, allowing the photographer to be in two places at once.
A good analogy might be to the caddie in professional golf tournaments. While the caddie doesn’t hit the ball, they are instrumental in the selection of clubs, telling the golfer where the next hole is, measuring distances, searching for balls off the green and providing the help that pros need to win a tournament.
The second shooter, though, would be like having a backup golfer who could go ahead and hit the ball from the rough, play the next hole while the professional tackles a more important one, and do interviews while the pro is on the green.
Having a good second shooter is crucial to having a good wedding shoot, and a bad second shooter can be ruinous.
Photographer Sarah Phillips is a veteran at weddings, having shot close to 100 different events. Her rules of second shooting sum up all the requirements for this crucial role in the wedding photography world.
1. BE HONEST
Don’t pretend to have more experience or skill than you have. I might be willing to take a chance using someone with little or even no experience if I know exactly what I’m getting for a low-pressure family shoot in order to help a photographer grow his or her skills. However, if you tell me that you shoot in manual or can use on-camera flash at a reception and you can’t, I’ll know when I see your images, and not only will I never hire you again, I’ll warn everyone that I know.
2. MAKE YOUR PHOTOS DIFFERENT THAN MINE
Throughout the day, we’ll be shooting many of the same moments, but I don’t need two pictures that look exactly the same. Don’t shoot over my shoulder. Find a different perspective. Get down on the ground, find something to stand on, look for a different angle. Another way to make your images different than mine is to use a different lens. If I’m shooting portraits with a wide lens, you can use a long lens to focus on details. If I’m shooting with a long lens, use that opportunity to take a wide shot that gets more of the landscape.
3. BE AWARE OF WHERE I AM
If I’m in your shot, there’s a good chance that you’re in mine, too. While I would love to have a few great shots of me working, the couple doesn’t want either of us in their images.
4. DON’T PROMOTE YOURSELF
As a second shooter, you’re there to represent my brand and my business. Handing out cards, talking about your own business or promoting yourself is inappropriate and unprofessional.
5. DON’T POST YOUR IMAGES WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE LEAD PHOTOGRAPHER
Some photographers are okay with their second shooter sharing images from a wedding, some are not. Talk to the lead photographer about his or her policy and then follow the rules. Posting one of your images on social media before I post one makes me look bad and could also be considered self-promotion.
6. PAY ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS
If you notice that a bra strap is showing or that a tie is crooked, speak up or step in and fix it! I’m pretty good at watching out for these things, but sometimes I miss them and I’ll love you forever if you notice.
7. MAKE SURE WE SYNC OUR CAMERAS
If our images have the same time stamp, my job after the wedding will be a million times easier! Sync up all of our gear before we start.
8. SPEAK UP!
If you have any questions or aren’t sure about what you should be doing at anytime during the day, I would rather have you discreetly pull me aside and get clarification than fake it.
9. DON’T OVER-SHOOT
Shoot with intention. As the second shooter, part of your job is to capture moments that the lead photographer may not be able to get. You have time to wait for the perfect shot. Resist the temptation to hold down the shutter and take 25 shots of the same image when one or two will be plenty.
10. YOU NEED PRO GEAR
While I believe that how you use your gear is more important than the gear you have, I would be hesitant to hire a second shooter who had an entry-level camera and a kit lens. Shooting a wedding often involves working with less than ideal light. If the ceremony is taking place in a dark church where flash isn’t allowed and we’re not allowed to get any closer than the back row, you’ll need gear that can handle that challenge.
Even if you’re going to be shooting with the gear owned by the primary shooter, I need to know you’re capable of handling that gear. Even if you’re not planning to shoot with my gear, sometimes it’s easier for me to hand you a second body of mine with the right lens on it, instead of having you switch lenses, to catch a fleeting moment. You have to be able to use the brand of camera I’m using and the type of camera I’m using so we both don’t miss the shot.
Sarah Phillips is an on-location photographer specializing in newborns, babies, children and families, based in Massachusetts. Visit sarahphillipsphoto.com.