Second Shooter 101
by killer-diller second photographer, Lindsay Stanford
Finding a solid second shooter (herein referred to as a ‘Second’ because typing the extra word is TOO MUCH) is one of the most harrowing experiences as a lead photographer/business owner. Usually, Seconds are newer photographers. Photographers who may have their own business, but maybe it’s not quite as established as your own. In an ideal scenario, they’re bomb photographers who just aren’t interested in running their own business. This is great because you can spend more time training them and molding them into exactly the Second you need them to be without worrying that all of your time and effort will be lost when they go off on their own.
A Second can make or break your weddings and they can make or break your business. That’s why it’s SO CRUCIAL to find someone you trust completely to get the job done, to be a constant professional, and to knock it out of the park EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
In the 12 years since I’ve been in business, I’ve had amazing experiences with my Seconds, and I’ve had horrendous ones. And I’m going to talk about both. Because even the horrible, awful, no good experiences can provide us all with knowledge and wisdom - whether that’s how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, or whether it’s how to put out fires caused by the issues they create. And bonus - if you’re looking to Second for someone else - here’s a great list of what to do and what not to do!
WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not crowd your Lead to get “the shot” for yourself.
As tempting as it is to use your Second experience to build your own portfolio and nail “THE SHOT” yourself - chances are, your Lead doesn’t need you to do that. Nor do they want you to. As a Lead, I depend on my Second to get angles I’m not able to. I have to hug the center aisle during the ceremony to make sure I get a solid, clean shot down the middle of the first kiss. I don’t need another shot of that from over my shoulder. What I DO need is close-ups, and reactions and parents crying, wedding party clapping - all of that is excellent! And those are shots that I’m just not able to get myself while capturing the first kiss.
Is there a First Look happening? Great. Get me the opposite angle of what I’m shooting. Most of the time I position myself in front of the waiting partner. That way I can get a great shot of their emotion as they’re anxiously waiting to turn around. I can also get a shot of the partner moving towards them, and all of the emotions that comes with that anticipation. Again - it’s CRUCIAL that my Second not hug my shoulder and get exactly the same shot. Not only do I not NEED repeat shots, but it looks completely unprofessional, and rather than achieving the goal of FULL coverage, I’ll likely just delete the Second’s photos and deliver my own, only. So now the client is getting fewer photos…it’s a lose/lose. Actually, it’s a lose/lose/lose because I probably won’t work with that Second again.
by Queen Second, and boss business lady,
Do not disappear.
This seems like a no-brainer, but once upon a time, I was searching everywhere for my Second. I needed back up. I had a family group asking for table shots before dancing began at the same time that the couple was begging to go out for sunset photos. Of course, I deferred to my couple and took them out - only to find my Second hanging out outside on their phone. Crisis averted because I sent them in to photograph the family immediately, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Taking a break is totally fine - especially when you’ve been on your feet since 8am, it’s pushing 10pm, you haven’t eaten yet, probably haven’t had time to go to the bathroom since you left the house that morning, and your head is pounding from standing too close to the DJ’s speakers during the Hora. I get it. But make sure your Lead knows where you are, and has eyes on you in case you fall into crisis mode.
Do not correct your Lead in front of clients - even if you’re sure they’re messing up!
I cannot stress enough how important trust is between a Lead and their clients. The wedding day is the most high stress, high stakes, high emotions day for couples, and trusting that their vendors have firm footing all day long is crucial. Trust is hard earned and easily lost.
Any wedding professional knows that there is A LOT going on all day long on a wedding day. You're juggling your timeline, the shot list, keeping everyone happy and smiling and laughing. And you know what brings that all down really quickly? Almost anything. Specifically though, seeds of doubt. Particularly when those seeds are being planted by the Second.
I once had a Second at my side during portraits with just the couple. It was just the four of us out there, in a big open field, blue skies, warm breeze…it was utter perfection. Except for the power lines cutting right through my otherwise perfect frame. But I had just gotten my extremely camera-shy couple to let loose, and we were SOARING through portraits. Every shot was GORGEOUS and even better - they FELT gorgeous. And I had already decided that it was not worth breaking that high when I could easily photoshop those pesky eye sores out. And then, from my side, my Second pipes in: “Maybe you should move them somewhere else. The power lines are making this really ugly.”
Bye. Everything was undone. I smiled and laughed, and made a comment about how I would take extra time in photoshop because it was hashtag worth it for that shot. But now I was in an awkward position. The couple seemed squirmy and unsure, and even though I was done with the location - I had gotten what I wanted from that space - I felt that if I moved them at that moment, they might think I really hadn’t noticed the flaws in that location - and maybe I didn’t notice another flaw elsewhere… blerg.
I diffused the situation quite easily, because this was not my first rodeo, and all was well. And I did photoshop out those power lines. BUT, the circumstances are not always going to be as favorable. And you may have a Lead who isn’t as confident, and might not be able to bounce back. It’s your job as a Second to support your Lead. Let them take the reins, and you support them however they need! Maybe go grab them a bottle of water while they’re taking the couple off for portraits alone. And if you have a suggestion for a killer location you’ve spotted while they’re clicking away, mention it to them while they’re in between sets. Let them LEAD.
by my bride-turned-photog Second,
Don’t assume you have the right to use the photos.
Every Lead photographer is different. Everyone will have a different set of expectations and rules for how you can or cannot use the images you take for them.
Personally, I allow my Seconds to use the images as they’d like in their portfolio - because everyone has to start somewhere! Unless my couple has signed an NDA with me, go for it! Build up your portfolio! But I always ask that they never tag the couple, the venue, or the other vendors when posting to social media. Across the board this is a huge no-no. It creates major confusion for the couple when they see themselves or their guests on the feed of a photographer they didn’t hire. And it’s just plain disrespectful. The Lead has worked hard to build their business and their brand, to find couples who will say “I do” to them. They’re entrusted to capture their wedding details perfectly.
I had an experience recently where a Second used the photos from a wedding they photographed under me, blogged the images with no mention of being contracted under me, tagged every vendor and the venue — before I had a chance to do so myself. The couple saw the Second’s images before they saw mine. This created incredible tension across the board. This person deliberately ignored my rules and created awkwardness between myself and the client, and I was never comfortable working with them again because of it. Woof.
WHAT TO DO
I deliberately wanted to end this post on a high note. Because my Seconds are AMAZING. They are QUEENS (and KINGS). They know me, and they anticipate my needs before I even have them. They are supporters of my business, of me, of my clients and couples. And if they’re not — I don’t use them more than once.
DO make sure your Lead is always aware of where you will be.
If you’re new to working under them, check in with them before major events like the ceremony and reception. See if there’s somewhere specific they’d like to you stand or angles they’d like you to get.
DO offer your input!
There’s a reason they selected you from the pool of other Seconds. You have an eye that is uniquely yours. And nothing makes a Lead stronger than taking advantage of their Second’s different perspective! But offer suggestions to your Lead, only - unless they open it up to you otherwise!
DO make sure you understand what is and is not okay with your Lead in regards to using the images.
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DO ask questions!!
There’s no better way to learn the ins and outs of the industry than to listen to your Lead. Allow yourself to be mentored. We’re all always learning - no one has ever “made it”. The day you think you have is the day you’re slipping back down to the bottom of the ladder. But those photographers who have been around, have seen things - and overcome obstacles - you can’t even imagine. Glean all you can from them so you don’t have to repeat their mistakes!
DO make sure to have fun!
I know one of the most important things to me in a Second is someone who can roll with the punches - and laugh about them! Weddings can be crazy. Let’s be real. Timelines go awry, weather is unpredictable, guests are being treated to an open bar…. anything can happen! It’s incredibly important to me to work with someone who can make the best out of any situation, and still HAVE FUN!
and another money shot by Lindsay Stanford.
So go out there, nuggets, and share your talents with local business owners! Learn the ropes, and scale those mountains!