This post is part of the series, The Ultimate Guide To Being A Wedding Photographer — advice for running a successful wedding photography biz. Click here to view a list of all the posts in this series.
If you’ve been dreaming of shooting weddings, but aren’t quite sure how to begin, this post is for you!
Wedding photography is not (I repeat, NOT) for the faint of heart. Weddings are incredibly stressful, incredibly unpredictable, and very hard on your body (it’s called a “Wedding Hangover” — the day after when you can’t get out of bed because every muscle in your body is crying out in pain).
Sheesh! So, why shoot them? Because they can also be incredibly magical. And if you’re passionate about being a wedding photographer, none of that other stuff will matter.
So, maybe you’ve got the heart for weddings, but you don’t have the experience or portfolio yet. Well, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to find a couple willing to hire you without the latter two. So, what’s a girl to do? I’ll tell ya:
The best way to gain experience and build your portfolio is by assisting and second shooting for some more established photographers.
And, lucky you! Today’s blog post is gonna tell you exactly what you need to do.
When I started my wedding photography biz (almost 10 years ago!), the industry was pretty competitive. And dare I say, petty? Well, thankfully, it’s just not that way anymore!
As a whole, I’ve seen the photography industry really turn around and become more encouraging and embracing of newer photographers. This is thanks in part to The Rising Tide Society, who flooded our instagram feeds with the hashtag: #CommunityOverCompetition
Also thanks to other great organizations, like Showit and Shoot & Share who promote similar values. So, fortunately there are some great resources for you to connect with other photographers in your area.
I’d highly recommend searching Facebook for local photography groups. I talked about how game-changing my own local group, The Photo Betties, was in this post. Facebook groups are a great place to connect, meet other photographers, and find second shooting jobs!
If you can’t find any photography groups on Facebook (then you’re probably not looking very hard… there are a bunch!) you can also try searching The Rising Tide Society to see if they have a local chapter of Tuesdays Together. These groups are for all sorts of creatives — but you’re bound to find a few wedding photographers in there!
If you really can’t find anything on Facebook, you can also search google for wedding photographers in your area and reach out to them personally. When emailing, be sure to send a link to your portfolio (even if it’s just unpaid photos of your friends, you need to have some sort of online portfolio), let them know that you’re starting out and would love to assist or second shoot for them. And be incredibly gracious, when you do.
You might not hear back — but don’t let that discourage you.
Find your local photography community and start attending their in-person events. Photographers will be much more inclined to hire you if you are a familiar face that they know and like (even if you don’t have a huge portfolio), instead of just a stranger on the internet.
So, you’ve booked your first second shooting (or assisting!) gig! Woot woot — congrats!
First, you need to make sure it’s official. The main photographer (the one you’re working for) should always have you sign a contract. It will protect them, it will protect you, and it will help you know what to expect — including payment and photo usage.
So let’s talk payment. You might not get paid for your first gig. Especially if you’re assisting (hey, assisting for free is a GREAT way to get your foot in the door, and gain some great insight!).
You should be paid according to your experience. And if you have little to no experience…. Well, you should expect to be paid as much!
Markets vary but $50-75/hr tends to be the average rate for an experienced second photographer. Do a little research (again, Facebook groups are great for this) and as you gain experience, you can ask for payment closer to your market average.
Payment definitely needs to be discussed ahead of time. You should know how much you’ll make per hour, how many hours you’ll be working, and when you’ll be paid. This also needs to be covered in a written agreement (contract).
Unfortunately I have read way too many posts and stories of second shooters who work for a flakey first photographer and never end up getting paid.
Contracts. Make sure you sign one. And if the main photographer doesn’t want to, you need to consider if you really want to work for that person. Seems pretty sketchy to me…
Once that’s taken care of, you’ll want to research the main photographer’s portfolio. You want to be able to capture images that will integrate seamlessly with their work.
Here’s the thing about second shooting: It’s a huge honor, and one you need to take very seriously. This isn’t a portfolio building session for you (though, that’s a great bonus!). Your main function is to serve the photographer who hired you.
If you’re not quite sure, ask them what they expect from you. Some photographers want an equal partner in their second — one who can take half the bridal party and manage them, while getting all the perfect shots, all on their own. Other photographers are looking for more of an assistant, who shoots behind them. It will vary depending on who you work for.
Your big day has arrived — your first wedding!
Show up early, dressed professionally (ask the main photographer what they’d like you to wear), and come prepared. Check out this post for a list of essential wedding photography equipment, to make sure you have what you need.
Remember, your number one goal is to support the main photographer. You may end up running around a lot, gathering items (like bouquets and veils), and helping wrangle family members for portraits. And if you are genuinely kind, courteous and helpful — they’re gonna hire you again.
You should never try to overshadow the main photographer, and never undermine them (even if they do something wrong or differently than you would). You need to remain professional and always support them.
Bonus points if you can anticipate their needs. Have their next lens ready. Stay on top of the timeline and shot lists so they can focus on shooting. And never start giving directions to the Bride and Groom (or anyone) except at the main photographer’s request.
Lastly, never — and I mean NEVER, under any circumstance — use this as an opportunity for self promotion. You shouldn’t even mention to anyone at the wedding that you have (or plan to have) your own wedding photography business.
This wedding is the main photographer’s wedding. They’ve put in all the hard work with this couple, and with their business, and will hopefully gain future clients via word of mouth from this wedding. So it is incredibly unprofessional, and down right icky, to try to take advantage of that.
Just be a nice person.
OMG, it’s over. You’ve shot your first wedding — congrats!
The first thing you need to do is deliver all the files to the main photographer. (You’ll want to talk to them BEFORE the wedding to know what file type they’d like. Most wedding photographers prefer RAW, but some still prefer JPG. Don’t assume – just ask!).
Then, make sure you’re clear on usage for the photos you shot. This should have also been discussed before the wedding day (when you were signing the contract). But it’s always a good idea to clarify before you post anything.
Every photographer is different. Some won’t care and will let you post anything whenever you want. Some will ask that you not post until they’ve shared their images first. Others won’t let you share the photos at all — and that’s okay.
If you do have permission to share images, make sure you use them appropriately (according to the main photographer’s stipulations). Also, as a professional courtesy, give credit to the main photographer by tagging them or linking their site — and mention that you were the second for this wedding.
After the wedding, be sure to follow up with the main photographer. Make sure they got what they needed, and ask them on feedback (on your photos and your performance). Hopefully they will give you constructive criticism — because, although it’s always a little hard to hear what you need to improve upon, it’s the best way to grow in your craft!
Thank them (*pro tip: send a handwritten thank you note! Little courtesies like that go a long way!!) and let them know you’d love to second for them again.
There you have it — my guide to being a great second shooter!
Don’t think that second shooting is only for beginners. You can continue seconding throughout your career — I did! In fact, the very last wedding I shot, I was actually seconding for a good friend. It’s a great way to connect with, and learn from, other photographers!
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