The Art of Second Shooting & Assisting

The Art of Second Shooting & Assisting

Have you been thinking about photographing weddings but not sure where to start? Second shooting is a great way to break into the industry. Besides gaining invaluable experience, it’s an amazing way to network with other professionals.

In the wedding industry, the main photographer sometimes offers a second photographer or assistant as either part of a package or as an add on. This person would work alongside the main photographer, with specific or general duties.

Second shooting, or assisting, is the perfect way to see first hand what happens on a wedding day without the pressure of being lead. You learn everything from how to deal with difficult situations, how to approach or direct clients, how to set up lighting or other technical processes the main photographer might use. But most of all, it’s gaining the experience that is vital to becoming a great lead photographer yourself.

Second Shooting vs Assisting

To some photographers, these two things may seem interchangeable but it’s important to differentiate when finding a photographer to work with. 

Second shooting generally means photographing a portion or all of the day. You are working alongside the lead photographer capturing moments, details, or whatever they ask. Most times you are in a different position to ensure a unique viewpoint from the lead. Depending on the lead photographer’s requirements, you may need to shoot some portion of the day alone as an extension of themselves. 

Assisting generally means someone who is not photographing the day but instead carrying bags, retrieving lenses or gear, helping to carrying bouquets or fluff a bridal gown, etc. An assistant is most often there to help the lead photographer as an extra set of hands or eyes.

How Do I Find Available Positions?

Start your networking with social media. Find a local photography group and put yourself out there. It’s a good idea to have a basic knowledge of your gear and some experience shooting in general. Some photographers may require more experience or specific gear/knowledge so it’s important to be upfront about your capabilities and understand their prerequisites. A position may begin as an unpaid internship but don’t let that scare you off. The information and experience gained is invaluable. It can be a good idea to meet with this person ahead of time to get to know them. It can make future jobs easier when you already have a connection with them and it’s someone you can work with all day in high stress situations.

Communication is EVERYTHING

It is vital to have an open communication with your lead photographer to avoid any misunderstandings or miscommunication. A contract or agreement is also a good thing to have in place to keep everyone accountable. Some of the important points to clarify include:

  • are you shooting or assisting or a combination of the two (and what parts of the day)
  • are you being paid for your time or is it an internship
  • when/how can you expect to be paid
  • are you using their memory cards
  • are you expected to keep the files for a certain period of time if you use your own memory cards
  • what gear are you expected to bring
  • what are you expected to wear
  • are you allowed to use any images you take for portfolio use (and how can you use them)

Scheduling and Availability

Wedding photographers often book their wedding months in advance, meaning they know ahead of time when they will need a second shooter and for how long. This is beneficial in a lot of ways as it allows them to schedule their seconds in advance as well. When a lead photographer reaches out for your availability, it’s extremely important to take this seriously. The lead photographer is now counting on you to be there that day so barring any emergencies, it’s important to be there. If your schedule does need to change, giving as much notice as possible allows them to find someone new. Just keep in mind this may affect any future jobs with this photographer.

The Day Of – Getting Started

First and foremost, be on time! A lead photographer will often arrive a few minutes prior to their official start time to give themselves a chance to update you on the wedding details, exchange memory cards, etc. 

Make sure you are dressed professionally and comfortably. This is often a long day, so having proper footwear is something your body will thank you for later. If your lead photographer gave you an idea of what to wear, respect that decision and dress appropriately for the wedding and the weather. 

Stay hydrated and bring snacks. Small breaks are sometimes few and far between.

Make sure your gear is cleaned, your batteries are charged, and everything is ready to go.

Sync your camera’s date/time or use a clock app to help the lead photographer in the editing process – this can save a lot of time later for them!

The Day Of – Second Shooting

A second photographer is often hired to capture unique moments and angles from the lead. This means it’s important to keep your eye on where they are at all times to ensure you are not in their shot or shooting “over the shoulder”. Most times the lead photographer is taking care of all of the major details and moments, so this is a chance to watch what is happening and recognize moments. Unless otherwise directed, it may not be necessary to “overshoot” – ask your lead the expectations of each event of the day (ie pre-ceremony prep, ceremony, portraits, reception, etc).

During the ceremony and the reception, the second angle is sometimes necessary to limit any disruptions to the guests. Understand and respect any church rules and where your lead photographer wants you to photograph from. 

The most important thing to remember while shooting, even if you are allowed use of the images after, keep in mind that you are NOT shooting for your portfolio. You are hired as an extension of the lead photographer’s company for that day to do a job. You may not be guaranteed “portfolio worthy images” every wedding you work. 

Even as a second shooter, carrying bags, retrieving gear or grabbing water is always helpful. These duties are not solely on an assistant but can help make you a rockstar second shooter with a very thankful lead!

The Day Of – Sticky Situations, Questions, Promoting, Etc

On a wedding day, guests often just see a camera or bag in your hand and can assume you are in charge. If there is any situation or question from a guest or family member, especially if you are unsure, defer to your lead photographer. Either direct the question to them or go ask for them to avoid any miscommunication. 

If at any time you are asked about your own photography business, please respect the lead photographer’s company and never promoting your own business or hand out cards. You may be there as an independent contractor for their business but you are still working under their name. That kind of disrespect can lead to no future jobs with them or any of their close network.

When dealing with a day of heightened emotions and substances like alcohol, things can sometimes get out of hand. You may have an angry mother of the groom or a drunk groomsman direct those emotions your way. You do not have to take any sort of abuse on a wedding day – report it immediately to your lead photographer. They should handle it and protect you.

All Done – Now What?

The wedding day is done! Now, put your feet up, drink LOTS of water, take an epsom salt bath, and back up those memory cards. 

Depending on the agreement you have with your lead photographer, you may not have anything left to do at all but wait to be paid! 

If you are able to use any of the images for your portfolio, make sure to have  all of the details sorted out. Some wedding photographers see paying a second photographer not only for their time on the day but as essentially “buying” the images and therefore not allowing any use. Other photographers may only allow use of images in print during in-person consultations or wedding shows etc. Some photographers do not allow online use (websites or social media) or tagging of clients/vendors involved for various reasons; sometimes they may not include that specific image in the final gallery or they have a different editing style or the lead photographer may have specific agreements with the other vendors involved. All of which can lead to uncomfortable or unnecessary conversations with clients or vendors for the lead photographer.

Hopefully this helps you get started on your journey in second shooting!


Darling Mine | Niagara Documentary Wedding Photographer | Niagara, GTA, and all of Canada | | The Art of Second Shooting & AssistingI can’t help but share a few recents of my regular assistant Jess! She’s been such a blessing since she came into my life and I am so thankful for her (and I know my clients are too!)

Niagara Storytelling Weddings | Darling Mine Photography | available for the Niagara region, GTA and all of Canada for weddings for romantic, adventurous couples | Real Life, Real Love, Real Humans welcomed | | for information on booking wedding coverage, see here

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