This year has been my busiest year second shooting. I’ve been in business for almost 4 years. Since January, I’ve second shot with other photographers at 14 weddings. I’ve learned a ton from second shooting. I wanted to share some things I’ve learned that I think help out the primary photographer a lot.
***Updated 6/6/13: Contracts are now for sale here.***
First, let me say that I don’t think second shooting is beneath any photographer, no matter how experienced they are. Second shooters aren’t always photographers who are just starting out that are trying to learn how to be a primary photographer on their own someday. Sometimes it is just that a primary photographer has a client who hired a second shooter and they want someone they know they can trust that helps them out.
Before I left Chicago, I had built a nice side business between portrait clients and weddings, especially in 2009. However when I moved back to Jacksonville, it was like starting over again. The first time I second shot a wedding was in early 2009 when my brother got married. I also second shot a couple of times for free for another photographer to gain some experience before shooting my first solo wedding in June 2009. When I started out as a professional photographer, I started with pet photography. I did pet photography for over a year before I shot my first wedding. One day out of the blue, the manager for PetSmart, who had hired me to do a weekend of pet photography during an adoption event they were hosting, asked me if I did weddings and if I would consider doing hers. I had no wedding experience and was very up front with her about it but told her if she wanted me to, I would send her a quote. Ultimately she hired me and referred another couple to me as well. I then listed my business for weddings (in addition to pet photography) on Google and was getting a lot of inquiries and quite a few bookings.
Going back to what I was starting to say, so when I moved back to Jacksonville, it was like starting all over again. I had met some photographers over a forum I had been a part of, one of which lived in St. Augustine. She invited me to lunch and before I knew it, she was referring me to second shoot. Long story short, referral led to referral and between these photographers, they hired me multiple times this past year.
Recently I’ve had a couple of emails from photographers wanting to know how they can start second shooting for photographers, which inspired me to write this post. I don’t know that I really have any good advice for how to start second shooting or even start shooting as a primary photographer, but what I can offer is what I think helps a second shooter become reputable and what really helps primary photographers. So here goes.
- First, always show up early. In 2010, I second shot for a photographer where, the first time, I showed up early, but the second time, the client said I showed up late. I actually happened to be right on time when I arrived, but their expectation was that I be shooting at that time, not getting out of my car. Lesson learned, always plan to be there 15 minutes early.
- Second, this should be a no brainer, but I’ve heard some stories. Always show up with your gear ready to go. Be sure your cards are formatted, your gear is clean, and show up ready to shoot. There was one wedding in 2010 that I second shot where I did forget to grab my spare camera batteries off of their chargers. I think the battery lasted the whole wedding, I really can’t remember. I don’t remember having to borrow a battery from the primary photographer, but my memory is currently on prego brain so I really don’t remember. I do remember telling her that I forgot my spare batteries and may need to borrow hers, but I don’t think I ended up needing them… That leads me to my next point.
- Always have a check list. Make sure to have a check list of things you need to take with you. It doesn’t matter how many times you shoot a wedding or second shoot for someone, always have a list and go over it. Pilots do it every time they fly a plane. Naturally, our brains can slip up and we may forget, but we need to have a system in place that doesn’t allow us to forget.
- Always carry your extra camera body. You are being hired as a second shooter. If your camera fails or heaven forbid the primary photographer’s camera fails and they don’t have a spare, there needs to be a back up. You need to be able to shoot the wedding as though you are the primary just in case anything happens, so be sure to bring your extra camera body.
- There’s nothing worse than showing up to second shoot and you don’t know the name of the bride and groom. Always make sure you ask the primary photographer to give you their information. If you’ve asked for it and they haven’t sent it to you, then send them a text before the event to try to get it. You are representing their company and it is your job to make them look good.
- Many times, there is some down time before the ceremony. Always ask the primary photographer if there is anything you can help them with or if there is anything you can get for them (water, soda, etc) so that you are staying busy. If they tell you just to hang out, then either find a way to keep busy, or just hang out.
- I always bring my own water because I drink so much water on a regular basis, that I can’t go a full day on one bottle of water. I’ll typically buy a couple of large Aquafinas or bring two of my own water bottles with water in it. If you stop to get bottled water, pick up extra for your primary shooter just in case. Worse comes to worse, you have more for you.
- Sometimes people think they are second shooters who don’t have to carry bags. Your job, even though you are second shooting, is to help the primary photographer in ANY WAY you can on a wedding day. If that means being a loud mouth to gather family for group pictures, you do it, even if you’re shy. If that means carrying bags, setting up lighting, holding off-camera flash, etc, you do it because that is your job.
- When you are second shooting, don’t shoot over the primary’s shoulder unless you are getting a different perspective. Sometimes I’ll shoot right next to the primary, but I’ll be focusing on rings, hands, bouquets, etc while he or she is getting the bigger picture or doing portraits. Always try to find a different and unique view. After all, photographers don’t need duplicate photos of what they’ve already shot. That’s not why they hired you.
- Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you pass out your own business cards at their wedding. That is not your wedding that you booked and their clients are not your clients. Instead, ask the primary photographer for a stack of their cards and hand them out at the reception. Some photographers use event cards that guests can pick up to view photos of the wedding at a later time. It helps their print sales if you go around while you’re photographing the reception and hand out the event cards and say, “Here is where you can go to view and purchase prints of sally and johnny’s wedding.” Of course, be sure it’s ok with the primary photographer before you do this.
- There may be times where you are working for a photographer that does things very different from you. That’s fine. You are working for them so do things the way they want them done. Plus, you may learn something you didn’t think you’d learn.
- If you can, bring a laptop or ask the primary photographer to bring their laptop with a card reader and an external hard drive so that at the end of the night, you can give them your files without having to waste discs. In my case, I shoot for several photographers who either don’t have laptops or don’t want to lug them around all day, so I’ll bring my husband’s laptop and a cheap $30 external hard drive I purchased from Target and at the end of the night I’ll load my cards on to the drive and give it to the primary with a self-addressed prepaid shipping envelope so all they have to do is pop it back in the mail to me when they’re done with it. If worse comes to worse, I’ll offload my cards at home and ship them the drive with a self-addressed prepaid envelope for them to send it back to me. I think primaries love this because it is fast, easy, and they don’t have to keep track of 6 or 7 discs.
- Lastly, ask for feedback. Every time I second shoot for a photographer I’ve never worked with, I always email them afterwards asking for feedback. The only way you’ll learn to get better at working for someone else is to ask for feedback, making sure that you are helping that photographer in every way you can, so that they are benefiting from hiring you as best they can. Plus it opens a dialogue where they are comfortable giving you constructive criticism that they may not have given you otherwise.
Here are a few recommendations I do have as a second shooter that I think helps the relationship to be cohesive and beneficial for both parties. The point in second shooting is not to build your portfolio, or gain experience, but to help that photographer. Now, let me just interject that earlier in this blog I mentioned I second shot for free on a couple of occasions for a photographer in Chicago to gain experience. In this case, I had posted on a forum that I was looking to second shoot for free to gain wedding day experience and see how weddings go BUT this is not typically why you’re hired to second shoot. In that case, I wasn’t necessarily hired because I wasn’t paid and the couple hadn’t paid for a second photographer. It was simply a great photographer helping out a newbie. If you gain experience while doing it, then that is even better, but ultimately, you need to build your relationship with that photographer by doing whatever it is they tell you to do and helping them however you can. If you work for a photographer who doesn’t mind you using photos you take as part of a second shooter portfolio, then that is awesome.
One of the most controversial issues I’ve come across, because I mentioned it on a forum, is that I require all of my primary shooters to sign a contract with me. Most primaries will make you sign a second shooter contract that outlines their expectations of you (such as how to dress, portfolio usage, etc) but sometimes things that are important to a second shooter can be left out. It’s important, however, that if your primary photographer takes issue with any of the things in your contract, that you work with them on those issues to make sure it is reasonable. Here are a few examples of why I require a contract, some suggestions, and some of the things in my contract. You have to protect yourself and having a contract that lays out your expectations that does not contradict anything in the primary shooter’s contract is always a good idea. For example, one photographer I frequently second shoot for will not allow me to use a couples’ names in my blog posts because one time, a couple Googled their name and found the blog of a second shooter she used where the photos were edited completely different from her style and some photos were not included on the final disc. It is the primary photographer’s job to cull images and decide what fits their studio’s standards and what the client gets as final images so you could imagine what a headache this made for the primary photographer. Be sure you are flexible with your primary photographers because ultimately, you’re there to work for them, but on the same note, you also have to protect yourself.
- Work with a photographer and your contract: I had one photographer that was a little leery about my cancellation clause. My cancellation clause says I can cancel 2 days or more (more meaning I cannot cancel 1 day before the event) before the event should I be able to book my own wedding. More often than not, you won’t be contacted for a wedding booking 2 days before a wedding, but it could happen, which would mean my earning potential for that day would be higher, however, in some areas, it may be hard to find a replacement second shooter within 2 days. It was important to both of us that we work out a time frame that worked for them. Ultimately we did and that was that.
- Shooting on the primary photographer’s cards: I will not shoot on someone else’s cards. There are many photographers out there who require that you shoot on their cards. This is not uncommon and it isn’t a bad thing, however, I want to be able to have these files and blog them without the primary photographer keeping them from me. It is not an uncommon practice for a primary to require you to shoot on their cards and it is also not uncommon for you to not be able to use the images. Even though the photographs are the property of the person I am primary shooting for, my contract also outlines my usage of the photos (I can use them on my blog and second shooting portfolio with clear indications and a link back that the images were second shot for that photographer). With where I am in my business, this is just something I feel strongly about, but again, it is not uncommon to be required to shoot on another photographer’s cards, especially for higher profile photographers. Part of why I feel so strongly about it is because I want to be able to showcase my second shooter work to other photographers to see so they can see what they are getting when they hire me.
- Payment expectations: In most cases, I will not release my RAW files until I have been paid. I’ve heard too many stories of second shooters not being paid after they’ve given the files to the primary photographer and that is not fair. On a couple of occasions, I’ve second shot and the primary photographer has either forgotten my check or cash to pay me at the end of the night. If I’ve second shot a time or two with a primary photographer and they’ve built a good rapport with me, I’ll give them the files because I know that they are good for their payment.
- Other things to consider: There are several other things to consider. What happens if the primary photographer, heaven forbid, can’t make it to the wedding and you, then, have to primary shoot alone? What would your pay rate be? Who would retain copyright? How can you use the photos? What about double headers? What if you have to shoot until 1am and then accept another job with the same photographer that starts at 8am and you have an hours drive to and from? Do you charge extra for that? What if the photographer gets published off of your images under their studio? Do you require that they credit you for your images taken for them? What if you are second shooting for a photographer who is still building their portfolio and they end up using your photos on their website as their portfolio images and don’t credit you? These are important things to think about because until you’ve developed a relationship with a photographer, you may not have any references to go by as to if they have good work ethics. There are a lot of people out there who are not and you have to protect yourself. I’m lucky that I have worked with really amazing photographers with solid ethics, so I’ve never had to enforce any part of my contract.
Lastly, the only advice I can really give about getting into second shooting is to find a group of photographers that meets every now and again and make connections. Don’t go with the intention of trying to work for other photographers. Get to know them, have lunch or coffee with them and really invest in getting to know them as friends. Relationship building is everything. If nothing, second shooter job wise, comes of it, then you know at least you’ve made some great industry friends/piers.
I hope my mistakes and advice helps anyone looking to try to second shoot for other photographers. I’m very blessed to have had the opportunities to second shoot this year with the amazing photographers I have second shot with. I hope next year I’ll get to second shoot for them too.