How to be a Good Second Shooter

Your guide to being a good second shooter

Wedding photographers – independent or studio owners – are always on the lookout for good second shooters. A lead and a second shooter working in perfect sync is the requisite recipe for fantastic wedding photos. If you’re looking to start in the wedding industry as a photographer or plan to launch your own business, working as a second shooter is the best way to gain experience for both. Working with a professional will help you understand the nitty-gritty of how the industry works.

In one of our previous posts, we spoke about the qualities a professional photographer should look at before hiring a second shooter. This post deals with the other side of that relationship, namely second shooters. A lot of second shooters don’t understand what it means or what are the rules to being a good one. There goes a lot into evolving as a second shooter that people can trust and recommend. It’s not as easy as just showing up with a camera and shooting whatever you fancy.

Whether you’ve recently started shooting as a second or are planning to gain more experience for more work, it’s important to get it right. If you’re feeling clueless or wondering why you aren’t getting hired more, this post is for you. Being an amazing second shooter is the key to getting hired again.

Image by Onam Giri

#1 Set expectations and communicate clearly

First and foremost understand what the lead photographer is hiring you for. Every photographer has their own way of working, so work out the specifics. Will you need to focus on crowd shots, detail shots, safe shots or creative alternates to what the lead is shooting? Clarify all points of conflict – payment, ownership of photos etc in the beginning so that there is no bad blood between you two later.

Keep the communication lines open even during the wedding. If at any point, you want to clarify something, find a gap where nothing major is happening and have a quick chat with the lead.

Image by Fahim Sayed

#2 Be Professional and Responsible

When professional photographers are looking to hire someone, this is of priority. Be flexible and always willing to listen and understand. Arrive on the time given to you in the brief. Memorise the schedule/itinerary so that you always know what’s happening where and when. Talk to your lead about family dynamics and know who are the important members. Being reliable and responsible is the key.

Sync your camera to the lead photographer’s as soon as you arrive at the venue. It’s also important to show up dressed appropriately. Treat this like you would any other job. Don’t hesitate to ask your lead for suggestions. We’ve written in a previous post on how to dress for a wedding as a photographer. Give it a read if you’re confused.

And most importantly, work without distractions. It would be prudent to not take phone calls or check your social media. You wouldn’t want to miss out on an important moment while you were looking the other way. Your work ethic and behaviour will reflect on the lead. So be alert and respectful at all times. Another important thing to keep in mind is data management. Losing the data is not an option – whether you’re shooting on their cards or yours.

Image by Rishabh Sood

#3 Be Selfless

No matter what, the brief given to you by the lead should not be compromised on. Your main aim is to complement the lead photographer and help him, so focus on that. By all means, take great pictures. But at no point, your portfolio or your personal career should take precedence. If they’ve asked you to take guest and group shots, stick to that. Keep doing your work with due diligence and the lead will definitely credit your work. Your main task should be helping the lead fulfill his/her vision. And you can do that by making sure that you’re shooting according to his/her general style and direction.

Image by Shishir Gaurav

#4 Know who’s the boss

NEVER hand out your business card or promote yourself at a wedding. This is extremely extremely important to understand as a second shooter. A lead hires you to represent their name and brand. So be careful about that and don’t forget that your job is to only and only be the lead photographer’s right hand. You should help promote their work and brand. Keep a stash of their business cards in case a guest asks for it (it happens quite often!) and pass along only that. There is no argument to this.

Then there’s the issue of image ownership. Can you share the images you shot? Do you need to mention that you worked for them? How long after can you share the images? Will you be credited as the photographer when they share your work? Can you use the images in your portfolio? We assume that you will have had this conversation before signing on for an assignment. Once you’ve signed on for an assignment with them, you should respect their rules. Just in case you haven’t talked about this before, make sure you have a discussion or ask for permission before posting the images anywhere.

Image by Sheetal Sherekar

#5 Be prepared to be the primary photographer

Even though your main job is to complement the lead, you should be accountable, and prepared to take up any responsibility. Accidents happen all the time at weddings. It’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. So be prepared for ANYTHING. Carry extra batteries, lenses and memory cards. Take care of gear – whether it’s yours or the lead’s. There are more incidents of photographers losing expensive gear in the chaos of weddings than we can count. So keep an alert eye out.

You should also be prepared to step into the lead’s shoes if need be. In case of gear malfunction, any medical emergency or two different events of the same wedding happening simultaneously (for example, Bride Haldi & Groom Haldi taking place at the same time in different locations) – you should be confident enough to handle it on your own.

Image by Sourav Paul

Working amiably and successfully with the lead can go a long way in getting you re-hired for future assignments. Remember that the photography community is small, so word – whether good or bad – travels quickly. So be on your very best behaviour to make sure that your lead recommends you to other photographers. No job is too small when it comes to supporting your lead. Be it helping them carry their gear or assisting when they’re framing and directing a shot. Grabbing a photo of them while working, for example, is a step forward to establishing a good relationship with them. Also, help the lead make the couple and guests comfortable. You’ll be shooting some extremely intimate moments of their lives, so it’s important that they trust you. And if at any point you’re confused, never hesitate to ask. It’s better to ask a ‘silly’ question than fail to deliver what is expected of you.

How has your experience been as a second shooter at weddings? Do let us know. Feel free to comment if you have any questions! We’d love to answer.


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