So you’ve decided you want to dip your toe into wedding photography however have absolutely no idea where to start… this is for you! Personally, when I first started my photography journey I thought to myself “I will never shoot weddings’” because the idea of that much responsibility on my plate, well that just felt insurmountable. Fast forward about six months and I realized the sessions that stuck with me the most, were my couples.
Since there isn’t a huge market for non-event couples only photography, I knew wedding photography was the next step for me. However what I wasn’t going to do was jump right into shooting the most important day of someone’s life, when I hadn’t ever held a camera during a wedding before. That led me down a path of booking 32 second shooter gigs for this year and I want to share with you that process and how you can get there too. Keep reading to learn why I preach second shooting, how to get into the market, and most importantly how to be a STELLAR second shooter!
Going back to the sheer amount of responsibility on your plate, it is not to be taken lightly. Although it is not required, I would recommend taking some time second shoot a handful of weddings (even if it’s only to learn the ins/outs of a wedding day). I think a lot of people look at their work and think “I’m confident with where I’m at, I don’t need to second shoot”… while I agree your work is stellar, there is so much more to a successful wedding day, outside of just being able to take a good photo. Before we even dive into how to be a strong second shooter, let’s talk about what you’re likely to see/learn while doing it:
Taking the step to become a second shooter not only is going to give you a glimpse into a realistic wedding day (without the majority of stress that a lead photographer carries), but it will also help you decide if this is the route you want to take your business. Now at this point you’re probably wondering ok I get what I’m going to learn, but how in the world do I even become a second shooter?! Let’s start by going through your social media accounts, and picking 5-10 wedding photographers that you follow, admire, and most importantly would love to work for. Now let me super frank- don’t just pick random people, the email you send them needs to be genuine and at this point I think most people can see through an email full of BS. Now I want you to draft an email that has the following structure:
Opening – Introduce yourself and describe your reasoning for emailing them
Paragraph I- Describe what you love about THEIR work and why you’d like to work with them
Paragraph II – Describe what value you will bring to them/their wedding clients
Paragraph III – Breakdown your gear list (include camera bodies/lenses/lighting)
Paragraph IV – Reiterate the value you want to bring and thank them for reviewing the email as you know they are likely extremely busy
Closing – Add a personalized “goodbye note” and add your social media accounts/portfolio link/contact information as applicable
Let’s call out paragraph one specifically, because that is where you can really stand out and this is why it’s important to craft these emails for businesses you truly admire. For instance (real story): I was following an elopement photographer for months when all of a sudden she posted on Honeybook that she needed a second shooter for a few dates. I knew her work, I loved her work, and I also knew a little about her personally since I had been following her for a while/interacting with her previously. So I knew that to stand out amongst the 100 other photographers that also responded to her ad, I sent her a personalized email with the subject line “Fellow Midwestern Mandalorian Fan”. I should add that based on her IG profile, she was a huge StarWars fan, as am I! Although some may think this is cheesy, building relationships with like-minded people is not silly… and guess who secured those second shooter dates? 😉
Now let’s talk compensation, this is either your favorite subject or least favorite! There are so many takes on this: some people say absolutely under no circumstances shoot for free and some say hey do what you have to do in order to get your foot in the door. This is a completely personal decision based on your circumstances, and since I’m being 100% transparent in these blogs: I straight up offered to shoot all of these weddings for free. Now, pick your jaw up off the floor! Personally I have a corporate 9-5 and am not hurting for money, I wanted to get all of the experience I could during 2021, and at the end of the day I wanted to stand out in my emails as much as I could. I knew that the pandemic hit photographers HARD, so I knew a lot of lead photogs could use some grace… enter MEG! Now long term I know typical second shooter rates are $20-$35/hour, up to $50/hour for seasoned wedding photographers. You need to make this decision for yourself ahead of time, because if a lead photographer (let’s call them LPs from here on out) decides to work with you as a second shooter… this topic will come up. Also I’d like to add that there were actually LPs who responded to me stating “I would work for free” with “oh hell no I will pay you” and those… those are the real heroes of this story!
Ok now we wait
And a photographer emails you back! So now that you have an LP who wants to work with you, you need to start the process of 1. How to not screw this up and 2. How to be the literal BEST second shooter. This is a foot in the door of wedding photography, and you want to be prepared not only so you make your LP’s day easier, but you also take advantage of the opportunity to learn. I find that the first step is to meet with them face to face is best if possible (coffee date or heck even wine date)! It is crucial to not only get to know your LP’s personality, but also their second shooter preferences (not everyone is the same… hey I never said this would be easy). This can be rough for second shooters who are a little less outgoing, but it’s great practice for when you want to book clients in the future and need to show them more of your personality. Outside of basic questions for your LP such as how they got into photography, what led them to weddings, and what they do for fun… you want questions to know what they need from you. Here is a list of questions I love to ask my LPs, which I keep a little notebook of their answers so I can keep everyone’s preferences straight 🙂
These are a handful of the basic questions I ask LPs, feel free to add more as you see appropriate based on your experiences! Even though each LP has different preferences, let me go over a few big tips I’ve learned that I’m sure each LP will appreciate you knowing.
Let’s quickly talk about contracts… they are important. They protect the LP and they protect you, but it’s important to read through them thoroughly. You will want to look for the agreed upon compensation, day of expectations, and also the “after event” information. This includes how the LP wants to obtain the images you took, if/when you can utilize the images for social media content, and what the requirements are if you have to cancel. Some LPs have a 6-8 week turnaround time on wedding galleries and don’t want you to post them on social media until the gallery has been delivered, you want to know that ahead of time to avoid a possible conflict. Also consider if your LP adds that you need to provide 90 day notice if you are no longer able to shoot for them, what personal things could come up within 3 months of that wedding and how will you handle that… you signed a contract after all!
If you made it through that, congrats not only for the short story you completed tonight but for gaining some insight to what makes a stellar second shooter. There are a few things I want to leave you with:
You are now ready to take action to get your first (and hopefully more) second shooter role. If you are wanting to discuss this subject in depth more or other “bebe photographer” topics, head to my educational page and book a mentorship for 1×1 support!