Getting Hired: What Primary Photographers Look For In a Second Shooter

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I saw a post on a Facebook photographer’s group today asking for advice on how to break into second shooting weddings. I see this question flow across my newsfeed at least 3 times a week, and that’s when I’m avoiding photography groups. There are so many things that go into wedding photography, and trying to enter that world from the outside can seem very daunting. Believe me, I know.

When I first decided to try out wedding photography, I knew I couldn’t expect an engaged couple to let me shoot their wedding without any experience. A wedding is far too important to entrust to an inexperienced photographer, and I knew the stress of jumping in without any practice would be too much pressure for me. So I looked for a wedding photography company to second shoot with. The usual story, right? Now, here’s where my overly cautious planner side comes out. Aka, an “I’m crazy” moment.

I used,, and Washingtonian Bride & Groom as resources. I went their website and searched by location (I was living in Virginia at the time), and looked for every photographer within a 150-mile radius of me. I looked at every one of their websites, viewed their online portfolios, and read their bios. In other words, I did my research. I spend hours on this, researching hundreds of photographers, trying to find ones that fit my vision.

You see, I knew what I wanted. I loved natural light, romantic posing, and details with shallow depth of field. I wanted to learn from someone who shot like I wanted to shoot. I also knew I wanted to work for someone who liked their job, cared about their clients, and actually loved weddings. Remember, this is back in 2007/2008, before natural light was a “thing,” before relational “About Me” sections were popular, before all-prime shooters were common. This was still the era, in my area at least, of the classic zoom lenses and over-saturated images. This was almost before Lightroom. I was look for something that wasn’t yet popular, but I knew it was what I wanted.

And so I did my research. After weeks of searching, I narrowed down my options to about 10 companies I thought I could work with and learn from. It was only then that I started emailing and calling people to see about working with them. I heard back from three companies, interviewed with two, and only worked for one. But one was all I needed to get started. After that, I had a portfolio, reviews, and that company referred me to others for second shooting work.

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Why am I telling you all of this?

Because finding a second shooting job can be challenging! I still remember it! The research experience and interview process were very good for me. Even better than the shooting part. Because it taught me some things about what a primary photographer looks for in a second shooter. I’ve worked as a primary for over six years now, and I’ve lost track of the number of second shooters I’ve worked with over the years. Some have been wonderful from the beginning, some have taken a bit of coaching to get them to do what I need. As I’ve talked with other primaries and have looked back over my own experience, there are a few common characteristics that separate the great second shooters from the mediocre ones:


1. Willingness to Learn

Or, to say it more simply, humility! Every primary has a slightly different style of shooting, of interacting with their clients, and the way they run their wedding timeline. One of the first qualities I look for in a second shooter is someone who is soft and moldable in their attitude, willing to learn how I want things done. There are few things as attractive to me in a second shooter as a teachable spirit!

2. Takes Direction

This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. It’s easy (and important!) to develop your own style as an artist, but remember that on a wedding day, the primary shooter wants the second to be an extension of him/herself. I love the second shooters who ask me questions and then do what I ask them to do!

3. Takes Initiative

Yes, I want a second shooter who can take direction, but they should also have enough situational awareness to step in and help even when not instructed. Of course the level of expected initiative varies from one primary to the next, but second shooters shouldn’t assume they will be hand-fed instructions every step of the wedding day. The primary should focus first on the bride & groom, not on coaching the second through every part of the wedding day.

4. Frees the Primary to Do the Job

This is the essence of a second shooter’s role— freeing the primary shooter to do their job. The bride & groom hired the primary, and the second shooter is there to make the primary look good. Your work should compliment the primary’s work. Your presence should relieve unnecessary stress (the whole point of having two photographers there is to share the load). Even things like bringing the primary water throughout the day is just so helpful. If you don’t know what you should be doing, just ask— the primary usually knows what they need help with!

5. Equipment Proficiency

A wedding day is one of the most important days of a person’s life. It is not the place to learn new equipment. You may pursue second shooting because you want to learn wedding photography, but a wedding day is not the place to learn your camera. In the inimitable words of Yoda, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The second shooter’s job is GREAT, because it is a safe place to practice without the risk of failure, but that doesn’t mean you should show up to an evening wedding in January with a brand-new, never-used flash and expect to learn how to use it by the end of the night. On a wedding day, the primary’s role is to serve their couple and photograph the wedding, not to teach you how to use your camera (or new lens or flash or…). If you have questions, ask beforehand and set aside time to practice.

6. Ask Questions, Ask for Feedback

A continuance of points 1 and 2, it’s always so refreshing when a second shooter asks me for feedback on their work. It shows a willingness to learn, a desire to improve their art, and a heart to serve the primary photographer in the best way possible.

7. Give, Don’t Take

A good primary shooter/second shooter relationship energizes both parties, but that only happens when both are working to serve the client first and foremost, and then work to help each other. If you go into a second shooting job with the attitude of taking all you can get, you’ll leave unsatisfied, and you’ll leave the primary shooter more exhausted than usual! Second shooters with “taker” attitudes distract the primary from their job, and require more work. Second shooters with “giver” attitudes are such a joy to work with… and will make it more likely to book more jobs in the future!


If you’re interested in learning more about second shooting, and how to increase your value as a second shooter, check out my workshop: The Second Shooter, on August 1, 2015 in Washington, DC!

Topics covered:

  • The different kinds of primary shooters and second shooters, and how to know if you’re a good fit.
  • How to get hired as a second shooter.
  • How to find good second shooters.
  • Industry standards and common practices, covering image handling, pay rates, and image use post-wedding.
  • How to shoot to compliment the primary shooter.
  • A mini-styled shoot to practice…
    • Shooting to compliment the primary shooter
    • How to shoot details
    • Interacting with guests during cocktail hour
    • Styling men’s details during the getting ready portion of the day
    • … and so much more!

Time: 10am to 4:00pm on Saturday, August 1, 2015. Registration includes light snacks and lunch. Location will be emailed to attendees no later than two weeks prior event.

Click below to register— and use the code “EARLYBIRD” to get $50 off registration, now through May 31, 2015.



comments +

  1. This was such an informative read! Thanks for putting this together! 🙂

  2. […] few weeks ago I blogged a few tips for second shooters on how to get hired for second shooting gigs, and what primary photographers look for when hiring second shooters. […]

  3. […] Getting Hired: What Primary Photographers Look for in a Second Shoot, Second Shooting: How to Work for the Right Primary Shooter, and Our First Home. […]

  4. Thanks so much for this helpful information. I’ve been interested in second shooting for awhile now, but am having tough luck, like you mentioned 🙂

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