Due mainly to my current job, I don’t have time to take on being the main photographer at weddings anymore. Oh, I have time to do the job, but not the contracts, scouting, post-processing and client relations that go along with it.
But I still work as a second shooter for friends in the business. It works for me when they handle the paperwork and logistics, it works for them because they know they’re not training a future competitor.
That leaves me free to approach the job from the mindset of being the most helpful and useful second shooter I can be without dealing with any conflicting motives. In the process I discovered that by being the most helpful second shooter I can be, I built a base to be the prime wedding photographer, should I ever want to go that route.
An ironic outcome for sure, yet predictable when you realize that professional photographers are competitors, but they’re also collaborators. Since wedding photography is a lone wolf business the day will dawn that accident or illness will strike and they will need the support of others to make it through that time.
With that background, here are my ten tips for second shooters.
Be Prepared To Be The Only Photographer
Accidents happen, illness can strike suddenly and there is a slight but non-zero chance that you’ll have to do more than be the second shooter. Even something as simple as a traffic snarl can leave you as the only coverage for part of the day.
I’m always prepared to go solo and am pleasantly relieved when the primary photographer shows up, even better when I roll into the parking lot and see the primary already checking his or her gear.
Introduce Yourself To The Other Vendors
The wedding planner, videographer, caterer, DJ and venue staff all have their jobs to do. Introducing yourself as the second shooter and establishing a first name relationship right up front will go a long way to creating a harmonious working relationship for the whole day. It’s very important to keep firmly in mind they’re working for the bride, groom and guests, not you.
Never ask other vendor staff to get you anything. Sometimes you need their cooperation and assistance moving things around for a shot, that’s different and it’s okay. Just keep in mind they’re not there to accommodate you and don’t pull anyone off an assigned task without asking.
Get a Stack Of The Primary’s Business Cards
During the shoot there may be people who ask about securing a wedding photographer for a future gig. The business card you hand out should be the primary’s, not yours. If you’re there working for someone else, the referrals rightly belong to them.
Self-promoting when you’re working for someone else is lower than low and will taint your relationships with others in the business.
Shoot Your Assignments
If the primary tells you to cover the long angles and guest candids, stick to your assignment. You should never be shooting side-by-side with the primary photographer unless specifically asked to do so. When there are lulls in the action I chimp through some of my shots with the primary to see if that’s what they had in mind.
The more you work together, the less you’ll need to worry about mid-gig checks. It usually is a load off for the primary when they know you have some decent shots in the can.
Keep Your Head On A Swivel
There are a lot of moving parts to a wedding and it’s a constantly shifting work environment. There will be a lot of people moving around, many of them in some stage of inebriation, electric and mic cords, light stands, and some very expensive decorative items. Attracted by the flashing lights, kids are famous for quietly sneaking up behind you while you’re focused on working. Their parents are talking to other guests the little ones just slip away.
Be careful where you step, mind your elbows and swinging gear. There isn’t anything you can knock over that would be cheap to replace. When you’re shooting, keep in mind that there will inevitably be someone at your elbow with a cell phone or point and shoot camera. It’s like a press conference sometimes. Now I instinctively pull my elbows in and look before I turn. Slide your feet when backing up instead of walking backward.
Put a Knife To Your Throat Before Eating Or Drinking In Front Of Guests
Good photographers will have it in the contract that if there’s food being served that you get a meal, too.
Just in case I carry a bottle of water and some energy bars. Either way, when it’s time to eat, be as far away from the wedding guests as possible and preferably out of sight where you can still hear what’s going on. Chop your hand off before taking anything off a food tray, buffet table or from the champagne server.
Likewise don’t get anything from the bar, even soda. If you need a can of pop, find somewhere to get it away from the event. You’re not a guest, you’re there working. Don’t ask the serving staff to fetch anything for you, at least offer to get it yourself (not always allowed by local health codes). The same goes for hitting on a guest or other vendor staff. Save it, Romeo, you’re on the clock.
Be A Fountain Of Calm Charm
Weddings can be really stressful. People get tired, their blood sugar tanks, they’re drinking on top of all that. I’ve seen people yell at the help, been run into by people pushing and shoving one another and more than once had people tell me how I should be doing my job.
If you respond in kind to an abusive word, it’ll blow back on the primary photographer regardless of the provocation. You don’t ever want to be in a position of explaining yourself. Sometimes if a guest is really agitated, just for insurance, I’ll quietly thumb the selector switch on my camera to video and start recording which also activates the audio recording (warning: may not be legal in all states). Your best bet is to be the voice of calm reason at all times and it’s better to walk away than say something stupid.
Be Prepared For Non-Photography Related Problems
I carry “the box” with me in the car that has a vast assortment of cleaning supplies, stain sticks, scissors, scotch tape, gaffer tape of various widths, a stapler, new comb in a package, new hairbrush in a package, a spare bottle of water (a lifesaver more than once), hair spray, latex gloves, a clip-on bow tie and decorative hanger.
You can’t believe how many times the dress comes out of the bag on a crappy plastic hanger. Can’t get a decent dress shot that way. And just how does a groomsman lose a freaking tie in the 10 minutes it takes to walk outside for the formals? Be prepared.
The DJ Is Your Best Friend At The Reception
Introduce yourself to the DJ and ask before stuffing anything under their table. The DJ can cue you when shots are coming up and play a longer song if you need to hop out for a bio-break. Be nice to the DJ and you’ll have a great reception.
Your Day Is Over When Your Images Are Safely Copied
Not a minute before. Even if the primary offers to return my data cards to me later, I go along and make sure the images are safely copied and backed up before I go home.