A lot of photographers seem to think that they’ll get into wedding shooting “on the side” without a lot of understanding of what that entails. The other problem with starting out is that horribly vicious cycle; nobody will hire you without experience, but you can’t get experience if nobody hires you. This is where second shooting comes in. Working for another wedding photographer is a game of give and take, but it can benefit you in the long run.
So, here’s the thing: you can’t really dabble in shooting weddings. When I was in art school, I thought wedding photography was the photo equivalent of flipping burgers. You know, something people with no skill can do as a last resort to make money. I was so wrong, and am so embarrassed by my attitude back then. (P.S., I’m so sorry if you were a wedding photographer who met my 19 year-old self. I probably offended you. Thank you for not punching me in the mouth.) A wedding job is a long day of being on top of your game, with few or no breaks, working for a client who is hugely invested in the outcome of your work that day. No couple wants to trust the photos of such an important day to someone who doesn’t really want to be there. It’s a big responsibility, and there are no do-overs. (Commercial photographer Zack Arias recently wrote a great post about wedding shooters, and the bad rap they get from the rest of the industry. You can read it here.) If you think that wedding and event photography is something you might like to get into, I recommend second shooting for someone who knows what they’re doing.
The difference between assisting and second shooting - This will vary from photographer to photographer, but assistants are not really responsible for capturing images. They carry gear, manage lists, plug in batter chargers, etc. A second shooter is exactly that; a second photographer on the day of the wedding to capture alternative views, and help the lead photographer be in two places at once. When he’s shooting the bride getting ready, you can be shooting the groom’s party. When she’s doing family photos, you can be getting detail shots at the reception site. That kind of thing.
How do you get a second shooting job - Do your research. If there are a few photographers whose style you like, and who you think you can learn from, call or email them to offer your services. It’s helpful to have a website of your work both to show you’re serious about being a photographer, and also so they can see what your aesthetic is. From a hiring perspective, I want to see someone who shoots in a similar style to my own, so that when I show my client a bundle of images from the day they all feel cohesive. I also want to see someone who has tried getting gigs on their own. Maybe they haven’t shot a wedding, but they have a set of event photos on their site, so that shows me the kind of candid shots they can get in a crowd, and what kind of lighting they’re comfortable with. Be polite, be professional, The usual.
Get used to:
- Not being the boss. even if you’re shooting, this is not your client, and not your job. The lead photographer has worked hard to build a business, a portfolio, and (most importantly) a rapport with this particular couple. You are a stranger. You may be awesome and helpful, and even a good shooter, but you are not the boss. Be respectful of that.
- Not being paid a ton of money. There are photographers in this city whose packages start at $6,000. But….they have overhead that you do not have. They may rent studio space, they have to pay to have albums printed, and packages couriered, and all kinds of things you don’t know about. Rates vary depending on who you work with and what your experience is. It may be a day rate, or hourly rate. You should negotiate this in advance of shooting the job, because it’s always yucky to have to deal with money after the work has already been done. Most photographers have a standard rate that they pay second shooters; you can take it or leave it.
- Not being able to use the photos you take. Again, this can vary, but it’s not unusual for you to not be able to use your own photos. Because it’s not your job or your client, many photographers prefer that you don’t use the shots in your own marketing. Some will let you show the images, but not online, or in your advertising. So you can’t second shoot for someone and then use those photos on your new website. But you could show the photos to someone in person. It’s really important that you clarify this with the photographer before-hand.
Why you want to do it - Being a guest at a wedding does not qualify you to shoot a wedding, and it does not mean that you know what a wedding day is like. Weddings have a flow, and it’s a learned skill. Weddings have a vocabulary of their own, both verbally and visually, and second shooting is a good opportunity to be steeped in that. You want to work with someone who is good at what they do, not just a good shooter, but a good business person. they can tell you tips and tricks to help get clients, and make those clients happy. They can answer questions about pricing, gear, vendors, and how they deal with pushy aunts who want to take their own photos over your shoulder and keep yelling the bride’s name and distracting her when she’s supposed to be focusing on your shot……And it also give you experience; a chance to test the job out without the responsibility of a whole wedding on your shoulders. You can be more creative, and push yourself, and you can see if the job is right for you. And, if it is something you want to purse, you’ll have that experience to talk about when you land the first client of your own. When they ask how many weddings you’ve shot (and they often ask that), you can say you’ve been working with so and so for this amount of time, and here are some prints of the work I’ve shot. It’s a much better experience for your potential client than for you to say “Well, I haven’t shot any weddings, but how hard can it be?….”