If you're breaking into the wedding photography industry, one of the best ways to gain experience and to make connections is as a second photographer. This means finding an established photographer who is willing to hire you as their backup, second photographer. Keep in mind that there are diehard wedding photographers whose motto is, "I do it all alone." That's okay, plenty of others are willing and wanting to work with one or more assistants because they see the value in doing so.
While being a second shooter isn't as glamorous as the main shooter, it actually allows you to learn a great deal under someone else's wing, or in this case, lens. When you're starting out, there are a bunch of things you simply can't know yet about the industry until you're in the thick of it. I want to be sure you get a good foot in the door by being armed with knowledge of what the main photographer will want from you, so read up on these tips on what to expect - and do - when second shooting.
Be ready to rumble, hop, and jump to it
As the second shooter, you'll be expect to take on tasks that may make you feel like a girl (or guy) Friday. Don't begrudge these tasks; they're ideal learning experiences. Doing odd jobs other than actually taking photos will make a huge impact on both the guests and the photographer who hires you. What might these include?
Working with other vendors, such as the caterers. That doesn’t mean putting on your chef's hat, but it is helpful to do things like letting the photographer know when dinner is almost ready so he or she can switch gears when the dinner bell rings.
On a hot day, you want to ensure your photographer has enough water. They don't have the time to look around for a cold glass of water. Keep water near them, and you'll be thanked. The same goes for the bride and groom, especially while they're getting ready. See that their needs are being met.
At the same time, you'll be expected to capture photos! Look for the candid opportunities that the primary isn't likely to get while they're doing the wedding party photos. The guests are a very important part of the ceremony and the more fun and candid photos you can capture, the more it will round out the entire experience.
Dress the part
Weddings, even if on the casual side, are an occasion to be respected by proper attire. The photographers' clothing should blend in with the guest, be clean, pressed, and appropriate. Ask the primary how formal or informal the wedding will be and go from there.
To add to your attire, wearing a smile and a positive attitude is a must. You are there to make things easier on the primary, which means bringing a can-do attitude with a smile.
Bring the right gear: lenses, filters, etc.
No matter what your background is, you have to know your gear and how to use it. Being a second shooter is about learning the wedding industry and assumes you already know enough about photography and your gear to do a great job. So, be sure to bring and know how to use the right cameras, lenses, filters, tripods, and whatever else is expected of you.
If you are just starting out and aren't sure what lenses you need to buy or rent (a great option until you know what you like and use the most), you can't go wrong with a 70-200 2.8f lens. The extra focal length will be needed because as a second shooter, you will likely be a little farther away from the ceremony and other action than the primary. Check with them as to what specific lenses they might want you to bring as well.
As a standard, you should have a UV filter on all of your lenses, especially for outdoor weddings.
Remember that you're a "second shooter" not a "shadow shooter." The idea is to add to what the main photographer is capturing, not to duplicate it. Spread out and capture image that are original. To do this, you'll want to play with different angles and attractions that are still in the realm of what the primary wants. It helps to go over these expectations prior to the wedding so you can feel free to be free in your shooting. Your primary and the wedding party will appreciate the added creativity and a different photo angles from the exact same moment. Diversity means a more pleasing outcome!
Do not hand out your own photography cards
The quickest way to lose your job as second shooter is to pimp your own business at the gig. This is simply rude and unacceptable, so I'm going to assume that the thought never even crossed your mind. But, if you are on a shoot with other shooters, keep an eye and ear out for those who do and see the response. It won't be pleasant, and you don't want to learn the hard way, so leave the cards at home. If a guest asks you for a business card, you should always and without question pass along the main photographer's business card. Which reminds me to remind you to ask for a pocketful of them. The more work your primary photographer gets, the more you will, too.
Egos get left at the door
Another "goes without saying" but I'd be wrong if I didn't write it. As a second shooter, your ego must be left behind. Much like the girl Friday approach, you will be expected to do a lot of things that don't mean shooting as much as the primary. Your job and goal is to make the main photographer's life easier. Yes, you may miss a fabulous shot of the bride smearing cake on the groom's face, but if a tripod is about to fall, you better be ready to catch it so it doesn't startle the primary. Dramatic, maybe. Could it happen? Definitely. If it means missing the best photos at the wedding to make sure the primary gets the shot, do it.
You're in a supporting role, not a starring role.
One thing that wedding photographers are having to work around are all the guests who bring smartphones, iPads, and their own cameras to weddings. You will need to learn to navigate politely around the guests to let them get their shots while you get yours. You may come up against some resistance as the second, so be prepared to work with that in a positive, resolution-minded approach.
At some point you will be able to break away from second to primary, if that's your goal. Some people actually prefer to stay secondary. If and when you break out on your own, take away the lessons you've learned and expect to be surprised at how hard the primary's job is and how valuable your own second shooter might be to you!
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