May 26, 2021

How to Start Second Shooting Weddings

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 of 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 to 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:

  • How to keep your shot list effective, efficient, and most importantly… make sure nothing gets missed
  • How a lead photographer handles stress, possible conflicts, and time delays
  • How to shoot in low light situations, specifically dark reception spaces
  • How to shoot in harsh light, mid-day sun is no joke folks
  • What wedding parties often need during the day, so you could implement this into your own client experience (emergency packs/water/tissues)
  • Situations where you can get the best angles/how to catch candid emotion
  • An environment where you can PRACTICE new things 


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 the 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 be 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

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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 🙂

  • What is most important I capture? Would you like me to focus more on candids, try to find new angles for traditional photos, or stay behind you to be a “backup” for most shots in the event something is missed?
  • Do you shoot most portrait/landscape/or mixture? Do you want me to shoot a specific style or go whatever I feel is best in the moment?
  • Are there any extra tasks you’d like me to manage during the day?
  • What attire do you prefer for the photography staff?
  • What is something a second shooter did in the past that you did NOT like?
  • What is something a second shooter did in the past that you loved?
  • What method can I keep track of the wedding day timeline (some will have a google drive or something similar they can share with you)?
  • Is there a second shooter contract that you have for me to review/sign?

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. 

  • Get out of the way… seriously. Do not be in the background of images, you should be aware of the lens your LP is using (likely a 35mm) and how close to the subjects you can get without getting in the shot. Also do not be hovering over the LP’s shoulder to the point that if they move slightly they bump into you, you are not there to get the shot as if you’re the LP… that is their job and you’re probably irritating them if they’re having to ask you to move over. 
  • Know your stuff. Second shooting is a wonderful opportunity for wedding practice, however the basics of your camera such as iso/aperture/shutter speed…that needs to be figured out before you sign up for a second shooter gig. Funny story: my first second shooting gig I asked my LP what she was using, meaning what lens did she decide to start out with. Well she thought I meant what camera settings she was using and you should have seen the fear in her eyes, we had a good laugh afterwards but your LPs expect you to know this stuff. 
  • Overshooting. We all do it, but it’s crucial you work on this while second shooting. If you overshoot your own sessions, the only one negatively impacted is you, well and your computer. However you don’t want to give your LP an SD card with thousands of photos, they have to cull through those and that’s a nightmare. Don’t be afraid to shoot, but be intentional with what you’re capturing. Avoid shooting for the sake of shooting- this has bitten me in the butt so many times! 
  • Do not… please do not… drink. I’ve heard horror stories about second shooters having a few drinks at the reception and it gets out of hand. This is unprofessional and can impact future bookings for the LP, and this is their business/livelihood… let’s not mess with that!
  • Attitude, don’t have one. You are there as a guest of the LP and they didn’t have to hire you. I’ve heard of second shooters snapping at LPs, refusing to shoot what the LP asks (example: groomsmen getting ready), or overall making it very clear they don’t want to be there. So here is my thing… is everyone a great fit? Nah. That’s why it’s so important that you meet your LP prior to shooting together. Does this mean every LP is a complete gem, nope. However my advice is show up super excited and ready to WORK, if your LP is less than pleasant do not reciprocate that attitude, finish your day out and go from there. If you have future weddings with this LP consider if you signed a contract and what the cancellation time frame is, if you are within the timeframe I’d personally send them an email explaining it just didn’t feel like a good fit and you will not be able to assist further. 


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:

  • The most important thing about this experience is the couple, it is the most special day of their life. After that, is your opportunity to learn, get your foot in the door, and collect content. 
  • If you email 10 photographers, and only 1 responds… that is still one person who believes in you and is willing to give you an opportunity to build your wedding experience. Do not get down on yourself if not everyone says yes, or even responds at all!

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! 

xMeg

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