I consider second shooting to be the best way to learn how to photograph weddings. Over the past 2.5 years I have second shot over 70 weddings ( you heard that right!) with a wide array of photographers and all over the DC Metropolitan Area, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Other than learning how to shoot weddings, its been a great way to supplement my income, have an unlimited stash of photos to use in my portfolio, challenge my creativity, have the opportunity to shoot at a diverse range of venues and network with other wedding photographers.
All that being said, I have decided to share with those who are new wedding photography and also those who may just want more opportunities to second shoot my tips on how to be prepared to book fruitful second shooting opportunities.
Before I started to look into second shooting opportunities I prepared myself by doing the following:
First and foremost, I made sure I had adequate gear for shooting weddings. That meant having a full frame camera, a lens or multiple lens that were versatile (if you don’t have a huge selection yet I recommend having at least a 35 mm and/ or a 50mm since literally you can shoot a whole wedding on either of those if needed), a flash, and memory cards (I have both CF and SD cards). For equipment this is the bare minimum that you need to be considered by most wedding photographers as a second shooter.
Before thinking about second shooting a wedding, I assisted and shadowed other wedding photographers for a few weddings. I met a photographer in my hometown who I shadowed for four weddings back in 2016. They let me ask questions through out each wedding I shot with them and bring along my camera to take some shots of my own to help build my portfolio. It seriously was the best thing ever and a nice, easy way to transition into wedding photography without feeling overwhelmed. I recommend researching and reaching out to local photographers in your area about opportunities to assist and shadow them at wedding before going to second shoot. Some photographers are very open to having others shadow and/or assist them or have mentorships they offer so you can get first hand experience. I think it is so important to do this a couple times before second shooting so you can get acquainted with how a wedding photography timeline works, how equipment is utilized, how to do basic posing, and all the other details associated with photography on a wedding day.
In order to successfully pitch myself, I made sure that I had a solid portfolio to present! To be honest, this can be a tricky at first especially when you start shooting weddings since you will not have a ton of content. I have two primary recommendations for building your portfolio. First off, find styled shoots to participate in or start networking with other vendors to create ones of your own. I am in a group on Facebook called Styled Shoots Across America that has a ton of vendors all over the country that you can network with to organize styled shoots wherever you live. My second recommendation is if you don’t have a lot of wedding content to have at least a solid portfolio of other work you have shot. When I got my first couple second shooting gigs from other photographers, when responding to posts I was very honest about my limited wedding photography experience but had a solid portfolio of portraits and other work I had done to show them the potential I had. A lot of photographers were open to give me a chance based off my portrait work. I was so surprised and grateful how much having good portrait work helped.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted my style of wedding photography to be when I shot weddings of my own some day. Do yourself a favor and research different shooting and editing styles. Once you figure what you want to go with, look for opportunities put out by other wedding photographers who shoot and edit the way you want to shoot. For me, since I had a style in mind that I wanted to go for, I found it not proactive to learn from photographers who did not shoot or edit the way I wanted my work to look like This also helps in the long run with being able to build consistent portfolio worthy photos.
Responding to Second Shooting Opportunities
The majority of my second shooting jobs have been booked by being very active in local photography groups on Facebook, the Honeybook Creative Community page, referrals from other photographers, and being asked back to shoot with photographers who have worked with me previously.
I have a pretty high booking rate for second shooter gigs I respond to. I attribute this to two things that I do which are:
1. Thoroughly reading the requirements that are posted.
2. The email that I send out.
Most wedding photographers who are looking for second shooters want applicants to respond to their posts with the following questions answered:
A full list of their gear (lens, camera bodies, flashes, cards, etc…..)
What type of gear you shoot with (the standards being Canon, Nikon, and Sony). Some photographers have a preference of the brand of gear they want their seconds to have and will state that.
Your hourly rate for second shooting (or sometimes in the post the photographer will specifically state what they are willing to pay per hour or a range based on experience)
Two or more full wedding galleries. If you have not shot a wedding yet of your own, I suggest making galleries with your “best of” photos from weddings you have second shot in the past or have assisted. Again, this is another situation where honesty about your experience can help and usually will suffice to send these galleries instead of weddings on your own to show your experience and potential.
Your style of shooting (light and airy, dark and moody, photojournalist, fine art, etc..). Most photographers want a second shooter that compliments their work well and your portfolio and galleries should reflect that.
How comfortable you are with flash - most photographers I find want you to have at least have basic flash knowledge which should be reflected in your portfolio and galleries as well.
How comfortable you are shooting groomsmen (There is a 50/50 chance that on the day of the wedding you may be the one shooting the groomsmen). Again, your portfolio and galleries should reflect that!
If you are local to the area where the venue is. I have found that ideally most people want you to be within an hour of where the wedding is so they don’t have to pay large travel fees. That’s not something that is always budgeted for when putting aside money for a second shooter.
What to Do Before Responding To A Post
Thoroughly read the post and make sure you meet the requirements that the photographer is asking for - I can’t stress this enough! In the past, I have had other photographers respond to my posts where I have asked for second shooters for weddings of my own and they totally disregard the requirements I ask for. When that happens, to be honest, I don’t even take time to respond to those messages. A lot of other photographers have this happen to them as well who I have spoke to and its exceptionally frustrating. Respond to opportunities that are a good fit for you and that you can insure you can best serve the primary shooter’s brand! No one likes their time being wasted.
Go to the photographer’s website and or Instagram and check it out to see if they are someone you would like to learn from and someone who’s work you think you can compliment well. If you don’t shoot the style that a photographer is looking for and they specifically state it, my honest advice is don’t respond. It’s nothing personal but most wedding photographers don’t want someone who shoots in a way that does not compliment them since they want the final gallery that they deliver to the client to be consistent. For example, I would never reply to a post looking for a light and airy photographer or super posed work because that is not my style at all and that would not benefit the primary shooter and their brand at all.
Know what the hourly rate is for your region for second shooting! On average in the DC Metropolitan Area, the average for second shooting per hour is low end $25 to a high of $60 per hour. Make sure beforehand that you are okay with the rate that the photographer has listed they are paying for the gig. If the photographer does not have a set price that they are paying, make sure you have a set hourly rate that you are willing to work for. With that being said, also set realistic expectations for how far you are willing to travel for second shooting before charging for travel. I have a set price per hour and a price that I charge to travel per mile over a certain distance from my home. I have adjusted my rates over the years with more experience. Also do this because some photographers unintentionally or sometimes intentionally try to under pay so be careful and know your value. As someone who has second shot as much as I have over the past couple years, I know how much myself and others bring to the table. Make sure you are getting compensated fairly for your time!
The email that I send out to photographers when inquiring looks like this:
Email Subject: Second Shooter for _______
It is so nice to meet you!
I would love to be considered to second shoot for you on _________ at __________. I really love your work and think that my work would compliment your's well.
Here is some more information about me as a photographer:
My second shooting rate is _____ per hour and I travel up to ________ from my home in ________ before charging a travel rate of ______ per mile.
Let me know if you are interested or would like to chat further!
Talk to you soon!
If you get a response back, do NOT commit to any second shooting job before you confirm the following from the primary photographer…
Make sure you know the expectations that the photographer you are shooting for has for their second shooters - this is super important! Part of the reason I feel like I have had an overall positive experiences when second shooting with other photographers and have been asked back in some cases to second shoot is because from the beginning I want to make sure we are on the same page. I have shot with a ton of different photographers with very different ways of managing their second shooters. Some photographers are super relaxed and trust me to do my thing based off my work and experience while others are super structured and have a specific game plan in mind for how they want their second shooters to conquer the day. There are some photographers who heavily rely on their second shooters while others use them as a backup. I always offer to do a phone call with whoever I am second shooting for to go over the timeline and their expectations. Some photographers are all for that while others don’t have time, but all of them appreciate the offer because it shows them you are there to serve them and their brand. If a phone call does happen, I usually ask the following questions:
What the dress code is (some photographers are really strict about how they like their seconds to dress while others are not. General rule of thumb is for me is that if I am not sure, I will wear black pants and a plain dress top or a long plain dress)
How early in advance I should show up and where I should meet them. As a rule of thumb I try to arrive 10 to 15 minutes regardless.
If there are any specific shots they want during the day that are different than typical wedding photos.
How they prefer to communicate during the day if we are split up at times. Some photographers I work with are fine with texting and calling while others prefer to use walkie talkies.
If they have a specific method for shooting getting ready shots or groom/groomsmen photos. Some photographers that I have worked have a specific vision and will have guides for shooting getting ready and groomsmen photos (which I think is super helpful).
One of the things I am a stickler about with second shooting is how the images are handed off at the end of the wedding. Some photographers have you shoot on one of your own memory cards, give it to them at the end of the night, and then they get the images off the card and mail it back to you at a later date. When I first started second shooting, I use to do this but realized that there is a more efficient and safer way of handling this. I always shoot on 2 cards. My camera bodies (the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 5D Mark IV) have two card slots which include a slot for a CF card and a slot for an SD card. So there is no waiting to get your card(s) back in the mail or worrying about them getting messed up or lost in transit or corrupted, I have as one of my requirements as a second shooter that the primary has to give me either SD or CF cards to shoot on that I can hand back to them at the end of the night and I will shoot on back up cards of my own to insure that there will be backups that I can send in the event of a corrupted card. I keep the photos on the card up to a week before deleting them. Earlier in my 2017 season I had two cards ruined in the mail that were sent back to me from a photographer I shot for and I decided that the safer, faster and cheaper option (which lets be real, memory cards are expensive!) was to shoot on their cards in addition to my own. PS - If you didn’t already know this, make sure to format your cards and the cards you get from others before shooting!
A lot of wedding photographers allow their second shooters to use the images they took during a wedding in their portfolios and social media with a few rules. Normally, the photographers that I have second shot for let me post the images 4 weeks to 3 months after the wedding (which is q normal time span to edit and deliver a gallery). When I post the images on social media I have to credit them since I shot under their business name. I say something along the lines of “Taken when second shooting for _______”. Lastly I am not allowed to submit the photos for publication and I can’t tag and / or follow any of the vendors working the wedding or the bride and groom on social media. These are all pretty standard requirements. To me personally, it is not worth second shooting for another photographer who won’t let me use any of the images for my portfolio, social media or for blogging since a big reason for second shooting is building a portfolio but that is up to you to decide! Either way, make sure prior to the wedding, it is made clear how you are able to you the photos after the wedding takes place.
In conclusion, I hope the biggest things you take away from this post are how to prepare yourself for second shooting, how to figure what second shooter opportunities are best for you to check out, how to pitch yourself in the most appealing way possible as a potential second shooter for another photographer, and what to do to insure you have a good second shooting experience and best serve the photographer you are working for.
To my fellow photographers who are new to wedding photography or just looking for more second shooting opportunities, I hope you found this post helpful and you can start booking more second shooting jobs.