You’re first starting out in the photography world and wondering how do I break into the wedding photography business, and once I do, what is the best way to work my way up and grow your business! Well don’t you fret! I am here to help you! ***Also disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS an absolute perfect second shooter but I have learned several helpful tips and tricks over time that I wanted to share with you all so hopefully you can be on your way to being the best second shooter you can be!
*All photos taken while second shooting for Michelle with Muse Moments Photo
When I first started my business, I was so convinced I didn’t want to get anywhere near weddings! I was a wedding coordinator in college and worked part time for an established planner and florist so I learned the stresses of wedding days very quickly which had turned me off to the idea of being involved in someone’s biggest day. So with photography I had told myself I would do everything BUT weddings…couples (engagement or just general couple photos, not weddings), newborn, family, maternity, graduation, boudoir, literally everything under the sun! I knew that wedding photography was where the money was at but again, I had convinced myself that it was too much pressure and I couldn’t do it (this is the part where self doubt and negative thoughts creeped in). After about 6 months of trying to grow my “everything but wedding” photography business (mind you I had a full time job and was doing photos on the side still) I decided it was time to give weddings a try! I mean I had already told myself no BEFORE even giving them a shot so who was I to judge if I would actually like them or not. I knew the best place to start was second shooting or even assisting another photographer at weddings so here are some tips on how to even begin second shooting:
That’s right! Connect with fellow photographers on Instagram and feel free to message them offering to assist or second shoot for them at their next wedding! What’s the worst they can say? NO? That’s okay! Don’t let that get you down. You have to go into it knowing they may have their own go-to team or group of people they hire to second shoot for them but that’s why even asking to assist them is the next best option! Anything for you to be a part of what it looks like to photograph a wedding day is great even if it’s carrying the photographer’s bags, or getting them water! You will at least be able to shadow them and get a feel for what a typical wedding day looks like.
I know this can be a tough one especially if you have no backup income BUT you have to put in the leg work in order for you to get where you want to go! When you are starting out and offer to assist or second shoot, many times since you probably don’t have a lot of experience, lead photographers will not pay you until you build your portfolio and get more shoots under your belt. That’s just the way it is! But I have to say it’s totally worth it for the experience and hands on involvement that you will have on a wedding day. You have to start somewhere so just know going in don’t expect to be paid at first.
I know what you are thinking! How do I get experience without having experience! WELL….START CREATING! Most photographers want to see something from you. I mean hiring a second shooter, is hiring someone to represent you and your brand so of course they want to be able to fully trust you and know that you have a sense of what you are doing! SO…the way to gain more experience is to get out there and shoot! Ask friends, or family or your neighbor if you can take their photos! Of course this falls under the free category or at least cheap price category when you are first starting out but if you want this that badly you just have to bite the bullet and do it! Ask anyone and everyone (okay maybe not just any stranger but you get the point) if they want to do a photoshoot with you! This allows you to still feel comfortable enough since you have a foundation or relationship with them but also forces you to get comfy with posing, being creative, and learn how to use your camera even better! You can even stretch it and create simple styled shoots! I know “styled shoot” makes it sound extravagant and that it requires a ton of work but it truly doesn’t have to be that way! You can literally get a $20 Amazon wedding dress like this one and some flowers from Trader Joe’s for super cheap and create a styled “wedding” or elopement. That way you can prove your abilities as a photographer and practice shooting what a wedding day consists of. ALSO! You can attend a workshop or shootout near you! There are SO MANY educational workshops out there that not only provide you with knowledge about the industry and photography in general by professionals that have gone before you but they also provide the styled shoots so all you have to do is show up! It’s a GREAT way to gain content and be able to practice! You can use these free photos that you are taking of various couples to post on your Instagram and create a website that way you are showing consistency and building that portfolio of yours, getting more and more comfortable each time!
I know gear is not everything and you can still create magic with a crop sensor camera, BUT gear does provide you with a leg up! When it comes to your camera, having a full frame (not a crop sensor) makes a HUGE difference! It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest DSLR out there, it can even be an older series that came out years ago, but as long as it’s full frame that’s what matters! So what’s the difference? Well crop sensors are doing just that – cropping out the edges of the frame and increasing focal length whereas a full frame camera provides a broader dynamic range and better low light performance with the benefit of a shallower depth of field. Basically, full frame cameras really capture the full essence of the photo you are taking rather than having a crop sensor where it doesn’t capture the image at its full potential! Most (if not all) professional wedding photographers require that their second shooter have a full frame camera body (along with various lenses) so upping your gear a bit is HIGHLY encouraged in order to second shoot!
Lastly, to set yourself up for success to be ready to second shoot, you definitely should learn how to shoot in manual mode as well as shoot in RAW (not JPEG). Manual is the way to go so that way YOU can control how the image is taken on your camera based on ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed. So rather than putting your camera on Auto and letting it make all the decisions for you, you are able to better control various lighting scenarios (which let’s be real is the most important), and overall, have a better understanding of how to best snap away depending on what is happening on the other side of the lens (such as movement, how blurry you want the background, what time of day it is, etc.)! And following up with manual mode is shooting in RAW format rather than JPEG. This is crucial when it comes to editing and when you hand over the card to the main photographer on a wedding day you want them to be able to successfully edit the photos you took to match their style! This simply means that with RAW is basically like raw dough – uncooked but you can add whatever ingredients you can to it (presets, enhanced colors, basically your editing style), and than at the end is the finished product JPEG! But if you shoot in JPEG that is basically delivering the final product, making it difficult for the main photographer to apply any of their ingredients and limiting what they can and cannot do to the images. SO ALWAYS SHOOT IN RAW! I hope that helps explain it a bit better!
So…you’ve gotten some experience in shooting, you have a small portfolio, you really know how to operate your full frame camera, and you’ve reached out to several photographers for opportunities to second shoot and BAM! Someone says, YES, and would like you to second shoot with them for an upcoming wedding and you are STOKED! YAY! Finally someone is taking a chance on you (as they should ;)) but now you are wondering how in the heck do I go about being the BEST second shooter come the day of the wedding, making sure you are fulfilling your second shooter duties and exceeding expectations! Because let’s face it you don’t want to blow it since this is your time to shine and prove that you CAN do this 🙂 Here are some tidbits of advice for you to totally CRUSH it! 😉
Just remember, you are representing the lead photographer and their business! You are working as an extension of their brand and their company so this is not a chance for you to grow your portfolio or hand out your business cards! You aren’t there to get the photos YOU want, you are there to assist the lead photographer and get the shots THEY want you to get. I know that may sound harsh but it’s just something to keep in mind and remember when you are second shooting 😉 And with being an extension of their brand, be sure to act professional and represent them in a way that they would want to be represented! Just imagine how you would want a “team member” to represent you and your business and that’s how you should act…with kindness, a smile, and professional. Just trying to help you out!
Effective communication with the main photographer is KEY! Be sure to confirm what the expectations are going into the wedding day! By this I mean, make sure you know your role and what you are suppose to be capturing during the day! Are you spending the getting ready time with one half of the bridal party and they are covering the other? Are you in charge of capturing the little details (reception decor, ceremony details, the florals, etc.)? Just be sure you know what is expected of you so nothing gets missed, especially something that is really important to the couple 🙂 And you can even go farther than that to always be one step ahead! Read over the timeline (HELPFUL TIP: I always screenshot the timeline and set it as my phone background that way I can quickly glance at it if needed) and keep track of the time and aim to stay on schedule. Being on top of things and staying one step ahead can be so helpful and allow the main shooter to not have to worry about all of the extra details since they already have a lot to remember that day!
As a second shooter, that means the couple has hired an additional photographer to capture those additional angles and various perspectives so that their wedding day is FULLY captured without missing anything. Keep this in mind especially when taking “romantics” or “bridals” of the couple. The main photographer will already be capturing the main directives but how about you get a lower angle or maybe focus on the groom’s face as he stares at his bride or what about dipping low to get a close up of their hands intermingling as the main photographer prompts them to play around with each other. As a second shooter, you are not aiming to capture the exact same photos as the main shooter, you are there to be sure you get what may be missed 🙂 That also goes with candids! Maybe during the ceremony you try capturing the facial expressions and reactions of the audience whether that’s a laugh from dad or a tear from grandma! Those types of emotions and candid shots can be so meaningful since the couple isn’t going to be catching every single thing going on throughout their day!
You may be thinking, oh perfect I will be spending a whole day with an experienced photographer, I can ask them anything I want and pick there brain on all of the business questions I have! DEFINITELY NOT! A wedding day is not the time to treat it as a mentorship. There is a reason that photographers offer mentorship and are more than happy to teach you all the things if you specifically book a mentorship with them but being a second shooter does not give you a one way ticket to their wealth of knowledge so just be sure to keep that in mind and just be respectful of their time and yours 🙂 I know it can seem harmless to ask all of the advice and questions since they are at your disposal all day but that is not the time or place to do so!
Like most wedding days, a lot of times the second shooter will be hanging out with the groomsmen, snapping photos of them getting ready, cheersing their beers, and goofing around in their suite! And part of the exceeding expectations or going above and beyond can be in playing a bigger role than just a photographer 😉 Typically guys don’t know how to operate those boutonnieres and have no idea where the pin and flower go on their jacket or shirt…this is where you come in! Practice putting on a boutonniere and master that craft! It doesn’t do you any good trying to capture the best man assisting the groom in putting his on if he has no idea how to do it so I highly suggest learning the handy work of putting a boutonniere on that way you can show them how it’s done!
Most photographers will have you do this before taking any photos on a wedding day, but in case they forget (this also falls within being one step ahead ;)) make sure you sync your cameras! This is especially helpful in post-process after the wedding day is over and the main photographer is uploading and backing up all photos between theirs and yours to have them in time stamp order! Meaning you sync your cameras, making sure you set the correct date and the exact same time before even taking one photo that way the day all matches up between all memory cards to that everything is in order of timing 🙂 Unless the main photographer doesn’t mind, just be sure to ask if they want to sync up…trust me it’s a huge help!!!
TAKE BEHIND THE SCENES! It’s always a nice gesture and very helpful for the main photographer to have behind the scenes shots of the day whether that’s taking photos of them directing the couple on your camera or using your phone to capture little snippets throughout the day that you can send them later to use for Instagram or social media in general! This is just a nice little addition for the lead photographer to have and since second shooters aren’t shooting 100% of the time or there may be some down time as far as your duties this is a great way to help out and provide something extra!