I'm in a lot of Facebook groups for photographers, and a very common question that I see asked across all of them is, "How can I get started with second shooting weddings?" In the last couple of years, I went from having very, very minimal wedding experience to building a strong portfolio and ultimately feeling very comfortable on a wedding day, and it was all thanks to second shooting opportunities!
Before taking on weddings as a main photographer, I always recommend getting experience by taking on at least one wedding season second shooting. A wedding isn't something that you can offer a reshoot for, and you will need to feel comfortable with the flow of such an important day in your client's life! Plus, it is always very helpful to watch a seasoned wedding photographer do his or her thing. You can learn a lot!
So, you have very little, or no wedding photography experience. How the heck do you get opportunities to second shoot? And once you do, what do you need to know? Impressing the main photographer is a great way to gain more opportunities in the future, what are some ways you can do that? This is going to be quite lengthy, but I'm going to share what I learned from two wedding seasons of second shooting!
PART 1 // FINDING THE OPPORTUNITIES
Facebook groups. If you're not a part of many Facebook groups, join them! This is where I found the very vast majority of my opportunities. There are local photography groups for almost all communities, and if not your own, there will be one very close to you! Join all of the ones that you're willing to drive to for a second shooting job. I live in an area that is about two hours away from Baltimore, DC, Jersey, Philadelphia and Ocean City, so I joined all of those local groups that I could find! Many photographers will post in these groups when they need a second shooter for an upcoming wedding. You can comment on their posts if you're available, or message them privately to stand out. Sometimes they ask for no private messages, make sure you respect that! Also, I posted an introduction once I was approved in these groups giving them my name, portfolio, a list of my gear and a quick rundown of my (little) experience, while stating that I was looking for second shooting opportunities. I got a few messages from this! Make sure you check the rules, though, sometimes "self promotion" isn't allowed. Some great Facebook groups for this are your local Shoot & Share groups, J* Second Shooters, and any other local photography groups in your area.
Second in Seconds. Another way to put yourself out there as a second shooter is by joining secondinseconds.com! Main photographers are able to go onto this website when they need a second shooter, search their area, and reach out to you from your profile! I've only had a couple inquires from this website, but it is a great way to get your name out there.
Just ask! The final and maybe the most intimidating way to get these opportunities is to message your local wedding photographers. Introduce yourself, offer your services, list your gear and experience in a polite email. The worst they can say is that they aren't looking for any seconds, but at best, this could result in getting hired!
PART 2 // THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
The pay might not be great... or there at all. It will depend on your area, but over here on the east coast, the going rate for a second shooter is about $15-$25/hr. If you're thinking, "The photographer I'm working for charges X amount, they should be paying me more!" realize that the he or she has carefully considered and decided what they are willing to pay. They also have many more responsibilities than the second photographer that they hire, justifying their prices. Sometimes, a photographer isn't offering payment at all, so think about what you're willing to do for free. The experience alone is priceless, trust me!
Have a portfolio ready. If you've never done a wedding or have only done a few, be honest. A photographer looking to hire a second shooter is going to want to see that the person they are hiring understands the basic concepts and functions of their camera, such as exposing properly and good composition. Show any portrait work that you have done to give them an idea of what you're capable of, and if you don't have much yet, style a simple session with a friend!
Make sure you have a contract. And make sure that you read carefully. Some photographers want to make sure that you credit them when you post weddings that you second shoot with them online. Most don't want you to post a "sneak peek" or a blog post until they do first. Some photographers don't want you to use the photos that you took at all, anywhere! If you're wanting to use these photos for your portfolio (I know that was one of my main reasons for second shooting!) make sure you discuss these things with them.
PART 3 // HOW TO ROCK IT
Be prepared. I like to keep things in my bag that anyone might need, whether it's me, the main photographer, or anyone at/in the wedding! In my bag I keep extra batteries, a little first aid kit, bobby pins, quick snacks, and a pocket knife (I've had to pull it out a couple times to remove strings or annoying hanger straps!)
Don't forget who you're working for. A lot of time second shooting is actually not spent shooting. There are moments that they'll need you to grab something out of their bag for them, hold their equipment, or yell out family member names during the family shots. They may ask you to go shoot one thing while they are shooting another, so you won't get photos from each stage of the wedding day. You are there to help them first, and to build your portfolio second. Make sure that they know you're there to assist and not for yourself!
Get different angles. Don't shoot over the photographer's shoulder the whole time, it will be a culling nightmare for them to have to go through shots that look almost exactly the same! Try to stay out of their way, but keep an eye on where they are and make sure that your getting shots from a different perspective. That's one of the main perks of having a second shooter!
Have fun! I swear, my face hurts at the end of a wedding day from smiling so much. It's not even fake, I love weddings! You are a direct reflection of the photographer who hired you. Be friendly to the bridal party, family and guests, interact with and get to know them, and have a good time!