How to be a 2nd Photographer

I get this question a lot, not only from the photographers that 2nd shoot for me, but also from photographers all around the world who are looking to get into wedding photography or improve their current skills. Occasionally, I love to 2nd shoot for other photographers. It helps improve my photography by seeing how other photographers run a wedding, and it gives me a chance to be more creative as well since I don't have to worry about the staple wedding photos, I'm free to roam around and find different angles and play with composition and such.

So, what I thought I'd do here is show you a wedding that I 2nd shoot for with Kay English, and point out the different things that I do on a wedding when I'm second shooting, which also mirrors what I expect from my second shooters.

Finally, at the end, I'll tell you a little story that happened on this wedding, because explain what NOT to do is just as important!!


1. Details, details, details. If wedding photography were like real estate, those would be the Three D's of Wedding Photography. As a second shooter you want to capture all of those details throughout the day. There can never be enough! :-)


2. Shoot from different angles. If you're working with the same subjects, at the same time, you want to try and photograph the same thing, just differently. Use different angles, make sure your lens is a different focal length than the main photographer, and try to photograph something that isn't the main point of attention.

3. The Bride. There can never be enough pictures of the bride either. Same as step 2, shoot the bride, but not the same exact way that the main photographer is photographing her. Find different spots to shoot from, places with interesting foreground or backgrounds. Again, have a different focal length on then the main photog has. For my 2nd photographers, I usually like to have them with a longer lens on that I have.

4. Vignettes. And I'm not so sure that this is the correct word for what I'm thinking, but if it's not, it is now. :-) During group pictures, I like my second photographers to capture parts of the group. So if the photographer is shooting the bridal party, take pictures of little groupings of them like this shot below of the three bridesmaids, and the photographs of the little kids.

5. The Kids. Little kids are always good to concentrate on, not only because they're so super cute, but because they can sometimes be difficult to photograph. As the 2nd photographer, you tend to blend into the background a little more, so you can sneak a few shots of the kiddos when they're not looking and get more natural smiles and real expressions. 6. The Ceremony. To be respectful of the sacredness of the actual marriage taking place, a photographer shouldn't be moving around and jumping through hoops to get the best shots. This is where the 2nd photographer is critical. Talk to the main shooter to see where they will be and where they want you. Prime example is the main photog is usually photographing the bride walking down the aisle, and the 2nd photographer shooting the same scene from behind the bride with the whole congregation smiling at her. In a nutshell, be where the other photographer is not, especially in short ceremonies where there's a very little time to capture moments.


7. Bridal Party Details. Sometimes bridal party details can get overlooked and they're so important! This happens because photographing the bridal party can sometimes be quite a task especially if you're under a time crunch and there's been drinking before hand. As the 2nd photographer, you'll want to take this moment to capture as much as you can including details like the ties, flowers, shoes, etc, as well as different angles and the Vignettes that we talked about before.

8. Back up. A great plus of having a second shooter is that if you get car-jacked on your way home and all the pictures are stolen before you can back them up (hey, not likely, but us photogs do worry about these things!), your 2nd shooter likely did not also get mugged on the way home. :-) So definitely take some backup shots of important moments like these bridal party pictures and traditional shots of the Bride and Groom, just in case. :-)

9. Bride and Groom. It's important to remember at this point, that the main photographer is the director of this part of the day. While you may be super excited about it, and really have the best idea ever in mind, let the photographer do what they need to do before you start throwing out extra ideas. And if you do throw out extra ideas, make sure that you do it discretely, so that no one else can hear. If the photographer doesn't like the idea, or is concerned about time, they may not take your idea and the whole scenario would end up looking unprofessional and may be damaging to your relationship with the main photographer if they think you're being pushy.

All of the previous concepts apply to this part of the day as well. Grab different angles, artsier crops, different focal lengths, etc. Because the main photographer usually has the staple shots, this is a good time for you to do something new and creative. 

10. Cocktail Hour and Reception Details. Same thing applies to the reception details as in the morning details, you can never have enough. During the cocktail hour, it's also always appreciated if you offer to grab the main photographer something to eat or drink! A lot of photographers won't eat or drink on their own and will run themselves ragged until dinner is served around 10pm or so and that's not healthy for the photographer and it won't help either of you produce the best images for the client. :)

11. The Reception. This part of the day is usually just capturing the moments. The one thing to remember here is to make sure that you're not standing in the main photographer's picture, or the videographer's footage either if they have video. Understandably, you both might get in each other's pictures from time to time, but keeping it in your mind and trying to avoid it is best. 

12. Style and Expectations. Finally, before and then throughout the entire day, be sure to communicate with the main photographer about his or her expectations. They may have certain shots that the bride requested, like group pictures at the reception, or just typical shots that they expect. Ask to see a previous wedding where you can look at their favorite 2nd photographer's work so you can mimic it.

Also, take note of the photographer's main style and brand on their website. While you may take 1000 beautiful pictures that have a deep, dark and emotional feel to them, they will be useless to the photographer if her brand, and what the clients are expecting, are photographs with a light, airy and fun feel. Not that you can't take ANY pictures that don't exactly match the photographer's style as variety is always good, but you want to take pictures that are consistent with what the client is expecting in quality and style.

And now, for the story. :-)

There are certain rules that are pretty standard in the industry, like don't hand out your personal business card, dress appropriately, etc., and then there are others that may vary like how and where you can or can't use the images you took, shooting in RAW or JPG, how much you're getting paid, etc. Be sure to discuss these things beforehand so there's no confusion.

However, acting professionally and in a way that reflects positively on the main photographer's company is a rule that is static, and one that I accidentally didn't follow in this wedding when I complained (to, who I thought was another vendor, but was actually the hall's maitre'd) about the fact that the "dinner" that was provided for us and paid for by the client was four, small cheese raviolis. I know, I know, you're probably either in shock that anyone would consider 4 ravioli's a real dinner, much less one that the client paid a good amount of money for, or you're in shock that I would ever complain about food at all. Either way, it was NOT a good impression to leave on this woman who became SO offended by my "insulting the chef's knowledge of portion control", and wouldn't accept my apology at all no matter how hard I tried, and told me that I should have packed a granola bar (which I of course did, but that was my lunch). Regardless of who was right and who was wrong in this situation, the point is that you want to make sure that you're always positively representing the company that you're working for, and if that means making sure you know who the hall employees are and not complaining in front of them, (but secretly ordering pizza on the side so you don't faint on the dance floor), then that's what you've got to do! :-)

Hopefully you've found this helpful!

~Vanessa Joy