The Important Role of a Second Shooter

This is the first year I have rearranged my “wedding packages” to include only a primary shooter for basic coverage. I use quotations around wedding packages because I actually don’t have any. My wedding coverage is completely a la cart. I have basic wedding coverage and a second shooter/photographer is an add-on. I went back and forth with this structure and have found it to be very successful for couples to have a package that is 100% exactly what they want/need for their wedding photography. Being a wedding photographer requires attention to detail, coordination, anticipation, and experience. I know this because after a wedding I am not only physically exhausted from climbing, jumping, and running, but I am mentally exhausted as well. Behind the scenes of a great wedding, you will find a prospective timeline that is being tugged by the actual events of the day, many great wedding vendors orchestrating a beautiful memory for two very happy people, and friends and family supporting two people making the first step into their life-long journey together.

So why hire a second shooter? Upon meeting with potential clients, and drawing up a custom package I ask them about the wedding and what is most important for them during coverage. There are things that can’t happen with only one photographer. One of the most obvious is I can’t be in two places at the same time. If they want coverage of the Groom getting ready at the same time the Bride is slipping into her dress – two shooters will definitely be needed. If they want a camera on the Groom as soon as he sees the Bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle, they need a second shooter. If their wedding ceremony location has restrictions for movement after the ceremony begins and they would like two vantage points, they need a second photographer. Are you seeing a trend here? It is possible to only have a single shooter for the event, there are just limitations imposed with that model. That’s why the original question of what is important for them during wedding photography coverage is asked.

danielle and pat las colinas wedding by dallas wedding photographer amy karp (5)above is Jason’s image just after the first kiss.

danielle and pat las colinas wedding by dallas wedding photographer amy karp (8)my image as Danielle and Pat read their vows to each other.

A few other things couples consider are the details – I love to photograph wedding details. I love to document all of the planning that went into the wedding day. A lot of times if formal portraits are just after the ceremony, I don’t get to see the reception site empty. Here is where a second photographer comes in – they are able to photograph the room setup before the wedding guests arrive.

dallas museum of art wedding by dallas wedding photographer amy karp

Jason’s image from a wedding reception at the Dallas Museum of Art

I also want to share a few things lead photographers and second photographers might benefit from (this is my preference and opinion – other wedding photographers may have different views or rules so always check with them first).

DO – dress appropriately. If the event calls for shoes, please wear them….if not, don’t. Keep in mind you are representing yourself and most importantly the photographer you are working with for the wedding. I prefer to dress for the season in darker neutral clothing. In the summer, you can catch me in dark capris with a darker blouse so I am not a distraction if I am caught in an image by my second shooter.

DO – bring enough memory for the wedding. I carry more than 150gb of Compact Flash cards to every wedding. I don’t use that much, but I have it just in case my second shooter needs to have a card. I prefer they use 4gb to 8gb memory cards depending on the file size per image.

DO – have backup equipment in the event a tragedy happens. Most of the time you are able to keep it in the bag, or some shooters are two-body users (like me and most of my second shooters) and its better to have it than NOT to have it. I prefer to shoot with other Canon photographers for this reason. Its not that I am a die-hard Canon fan, but in the event that second photographer needs to use my equipment, I don’t have to educate them before they begin shooting.

DO – be polite to guests and smile often. You’ve heard it. Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Its true….just try it. Smile at a stranger and they will smile back. This helps when you are taking their picture 🙂

DO – check your ego at the door. You may be asked to do something that is not your idea of fun, but if it makes the day go smoother and everyone has a smile on their face… (refer to previous “do”).

DO – help the primary photographer before you help yourself. Clock checks, water runs, formal shot lists, lights and stands, reflectors….its the primary photographer’s job to get key images and as a second shooter you are there to make that happen … just as important as shooting.

DO – find unique angles or stay at a 45 or 90 degree angle and use opposing lenses (if the primary has a wide, use a longer lens).

DO – shoot wedding details, details, and MORE DETAILS….Did I mention photograph details?

DO NOT – hand your business cards to anyone or mention you are a photographer with your own business and you’re just helping out for the day. You may be a photographer about to bust at the seams to get your business off of the ground, but you were contracted by a primary photographer who has worked hard to get to that wedding you are shooting.

DO – ask if you may use the images you shot for your own personal use. Some photographers require a written agreement before you can shoot with them and don’t allow any images to be used from the wedding. Remember, the agreement is between the main photographer and the client, so don’t get caught in a situation of posting an image that the client sees as unflattering. Another reason its great not to post is what if they main photographer doesn’t see that image to fit with the overall story and doesn’t release it to the client. Now the client is wondering if other images are missing.

I found two other places with useful information about second shooters. One is from a second shooter’s perspective and the other is from another lead photographer. Great information from both. If you have any you would like to share, leave it in a comment.