A great relationship is the hallmark of great second shooters & lead photographers.


Being a wedding photographer, you’re almost guaranteed to have some incredibly unique experiences.

It’s one of those jobs where there’s always a certain amount of unpredictability, as you never know what exactly will happen on the day of the wedding. The weddings might be quirky, the happy couples might be extremely picky about their photographs or some of the tipsy relatives could have a few too many ideas about your photos.

With so many wild cards to deal with on the day of the wedding, you want to have at least a few things you can count on to be predictable and dependable.

Ideally, at least one of those dependable elements will be your second shooter.

Your second shooter can make or break the entire day. If they’re steady, competent and reliable, the whole day is almost guaranteed to run a bit more smoothly. But if they’re late, have no idea what they’re doing and are never around when you need them, it’s just one more unpredictable element added to your already crazy day.

Because we know how important the partnership between the lead photographer and the second shooter is to any wedding shoot, we’ve put together some tips for how you can build a great working relationship with your second shooter. Whether you have an extended partnership across multiple weddings or you’ve only worked together once, these tips can help you form a mutually beneficial cooperative relationship that enables both of you to do your best work.

What Is a Second Shooter?

A second shooter is like an assistant photographer — they work under the instruction and direction of the lead photographer. The tasks they complete will likely vary depending on the directions and instructions of the lead photographer.

Second shooters help take some of the burden off of wedding photographers.

Photographing a wedding is a huge job that’s often too large for one person to adequately complete. Everyone needs help, especially wedding photographers.

At first, the idea of having two photographers at a wedding might seem strange. After all, why are two photographers needed when one might do? However, it’s extremely helpful to have a second pair of hands and a second set of eyes. While you, as the lead photographer, are shooting the couple from one angle, the second shooter can be getting the picture from another angle. While you spend your time and energy getting the shot set up perfectly, the second shooter can be the one snapping it.

Other important tasks for second shooters can include:

  • Taking candid shots of the guests mingling, chatting and watching the wedding. This is especially useful when there’s a large number of wedding guests. The lead photographer can’t be everywhere at once, and of course, will be focused on the couple most of the time, anyway. Because of this, it’s handy to have another camera to take candid photos of the guests.
  • Acting as a simple back-up. It might seem redundant to have two people taking pictures of the same thing, but if one of your shots doesn’t come out well, the other will serve as a backup. A second shooter is also a great assistant to have in case you leave something on the other side of the venue or back at the hotel. They can run back to get it while you keep shooting, and the wedding doesn’t go on for a half hour with no one taking pictures.
  • Getting shots from different angles. They can get shots you couldn’t get because you were busy with something else. For example, maybe while you were shooting the bride and groom, there was a great photo op of the parents of the bride. You weren’t even aware it was happening, but your second shooter was able to capture it.
  • Serving as an extra set of eyes. Maybe you were so focused on getting the entire bridal party in the shot that you didn’t notice the groom’s tie was crooked. A good second shooter will have eyes for these kinds of details and can fix them.

Essentially, the second shooter’s job is to make the lead photographer’s job easier. That might look a little different depending on who the lead photographer is and what they want, but it will most likely include at least some of these items.

Starting Out as a Second Shooter

For those just breaking into the industry, it’s helpful to understand that wedding photography is like most businesses — you have to do a bit of training, a little bit of studying and a little bit of learning from the experts before you can become truly great at it. Finding work as a second shooter is the first step for most people to becoming a lead wedding photographer.

Ultimately, it’s an excellent way to build experience. By paying attention to the lead photographer and watching what they’re doing, second shooters can learn a great deal. Whether that’s admiring the lead photographers work, or thinking, “Hmm, maybe I would have done that a bit differently,” it’s all valuable experience that will help second shooters grow as photographers in their own rights.

Because of this, no one should object to starting out in this secondary role. It’s a great way to gain the necessary level of experience and learn from professionals, while also not being solely responsible for a wedding before you’re ready. It’s also a valuable way to network with professional photographers. If a second shooter does an excellent job, their lead photographer might recommend them to another photographer. In this way, second shooters can build a good reputation for themselves.

To make this relationship between lead photographer and second shooter as profitable as possible, both parties should be aware of this dynamic. The second shooter shouldn’t disrupt the lead photographer when they’re working, but they should ask questions before and after. And the lead photographer should be willing to explain the process and perhaps give tips to the second shooter.

Of course, being the second shooter can sometimes seem a little bit more nebulous and uncertain than being the lead photographer. Are they working for the lead photographer or the couple getting married? Do they get paid? How does the whole situation work out, anyway?

Being a second shooter can be a bit like an internship, albeit a much shorter one. If you’re working as a second shooter, it’s usually to get experience to put in your portfolio and on your resume. It’s an essential starting point for any career. Payment is always something that should be discussed ahead of time. The couple, the lead photographer and the second shooter should all be fully aware of what’s going on before any contracts are signed.

In most cases, the second shooter is hired directly by the lead photographer, although it’s not entirely unheard of for a couple to hire a second shooter. Either way, if you’re the second shooter, the lead photographer is your boss for the day. Your job is to help them out in any way possible and learn everything you can from the experience along the way.

The Best Working Relationship

Since the lead photographer and second shooter are going to be working so closely with one another, they’ll need to come up with strategies to make their partnership effective. It’s crucial to establish beforehand how to not get in each other’s way, make their work complement one another’s and coordinate their efforts to make the wedding go as smoothly as possible.

Communication strategies are an important part of any photography business.

For the second shooter, here are some do’s and don’ts to help you get off on the right foot with your lead photographer:

  1.    Don’t: Be Late. This is an obvious one. Not only is it unprofessional, but it’s rude to your lead photographer and sends the message that the job isn’t important to you. To start off on a good note, give yourself plenty of time to arrive early.
  1.    Don’t: Hand Out Business Cards. The wedding shoot belongs to your lead photographer. They are the ones who are going to be doing most of the work, and they are the ones whose vision the photography is. Don’t try to steal their thunder by promoting yourself and handing out your own business cards.
  1.    Don’t: Play on Your Phone. Again, this is unprofessional. If you absolutely must check your phone, be sure to do it in the restroom, or someplace else where you’re guaranteed to be out of sight.
  1.    Don’t: Post Your Shots to Facebook. Unless you have explicit approval to do so, don’t share your photos on the internet. Someone might see them and think this was your shoot, which could result in your unintentionally taking credit for the lead photographer’s work.
  1.    Do: Take Lots of Photos. Don’t be afraid to snap a picture of anything that catches your eye. You never know what will be useful, or what the lead photographer may end up being able to use.
  1.    Do: Pay Attention to the Details. Your lead photographer is going to be busy with a million different things. They might not always be able to catch the little details. Keep an eye out for things like a dress that needs to be fluffed out, or a hair that might be out of place.
  1.    Do: Take Your Job Seriously. Be just as prepared for this shoot as you would be if you were the lead photographer. Bring a backup camera, extra memory cards and extra batteries. Be prepared for anything.

The Importance of Good Communication Between Photographers

The best relationships — and the ones that are the most fruitful and beneficial to both parties — are the ones where there’s lots of healthy communication going on. Just like relationships between colleagues, friends or family, this applies to the relationship between lead photographers and their second shooters.

Photographer and second shooter relationship is a business relationship that takes work

Some of this communication should be happening before the wedding even begins. You might choose to meet up to talk about the job in person, or you might keep things simple and exchange emails, texts or a phone call. However you decide to talk, a conversation will need to happen.

Here are some questions the second shooter should to ask up front:

  • What am I allowed to do with my images after the wedding?
  • If I’m permitted to use them, how should I credit you?
  • How long should I wait before posting any images?
  • Do I edit my images, or do you?
  • Will you credit me for any images or for my role in general?
  • Will I get paid? If so, how much?
  • How would you like me to deliver my images to you?

Finally, and most importantly, you need to ask: What will my role be at the wedding?

This answer to this last question is critical to establish from the very beginning. This ensures that you feel confident and prepared to do your job well at the wedding. It also helps the lead photographer know that their expectations are going to be met.

Good Communication Is Your Responsibility

For those of you who will be the lead photographer, it’s your responsibility to explain things to your second shooter up front. It’s your job to provide answers to these questions that your second shooter should be asking. It’s your responsibility to explain how you’d like them to give you their shots, what they’re allowed to do with them and how you want to be credited. You should discuss their pay and, most importantly, explain to them what their role will be.

Our wedding photography CRM helps wedding photographers master their business and communicate with their second shooters

In addition to communicating before the day, you’ll have to communicate on the day of the wedding, as well. This may be slightly more complicated than it sounds. If you find yourself standing all the way across the venue from your second shooter and want to tell them to snap a specific shot, you’ll need a way to communicate that.

In situations like this, it’s unprofessional to yell across the venue. Instead, it might be prudent to plan for this with your second shooter ahead of time. Brainstorm possible hand-signals to communicate with each other. Or if that isn’t an option, agree to have your phones on you and exchange numbers — with permission from the couple to use your phones during the wedding, of course.

By following these tips, it doesn’t matter if you’re the lead photographer or the second shooter. You’re well on your way to shooting your most successful wedding yet.

Try Táve For Your Photography Business

Whether you’re a second shooter or a professional photographer, everyone needs a little help running their business. But not all businesses are the same. You need the help of someone who understands the creative work that goes into photography.

Táve includes customizable second shooter contracts - so everyone can be on the same page.

Táve includes customizable second shooter contracts – so everyone can be on the same page.

We know your passion is your creative endeavors. But no business is sustainable without keeping track of figures, spreadsheets and the like. That’s why we think you’ll love Táve. Our business management software app is designed to help streamline your business by keeping you organized.

If you’re not sure if Táve is the right fit for you, take advantage of our 30-day free trial. You can get our app and begin using it to decide if it’s the right business management solution for you and your wedding photography business.