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5 Common Mistakes of Wedding Photography Assistants

By Pye Jirsa on March 26th 2014

As a partner in a Wedding Photography Studio, I was writing an email to an assistant we’re bringing out this Saturday for the very first time, when I started to realize that I was writing the same email that I had written a couple times before. Basically, it’s an email that discusses some of the common mistakes we’ve seen our assistants make throughout the years. I thought it would be useful information to the photography community, so instead of sending the email again and again to each new assistant, I decided to post these tips here. [Note: in our studio, “assistants” and “second shooters” mean two different things. Our assistants come and help with gear and lighting, while shooting on the side. Our second shooters, are trained shooters and have advanced past this point. This article is geared toward assistants].

These tips are meant to be super simple and really conservative to make them easy-to-remember and effective. Some of them are actually really obvious, but in my experience, even really good photographers slip up once in a while and need reminders. Also, each one of them can and should be broken when the situation and the artistry calls for it. But for the most part, we’ve had photographers with very little wedding photography experience deliver spectacular results when following these simple guidelines.


The 5 Most Common Mistakes Assistant Photographers Make

1) Shutter Speeds – Keep them Up! On your zoom (70-200mm): Daytime above 1/160. Night time Reception above 1/100 with Flash. On your medium zoom (24-70mm): Daytime above 1/100. Night time Reception above 1/80 with Flash. We could go in depth about the reciprocal rule, motion blur, etc, but it’s hard to go wrong with these general shutter speed guidelines. This is probably the most common, and most costly, mistake we see our assistants make. Blurry shots, whether caused by camera shake or movement in the scene, are almost always automatically undeliverable.

2) ISOs – Keep them below 1000 ISO, ideally at 200 or below during the day and between 400-640 during the night time reception. Again, we could go into more depth about grain, exposing for the background, sensor quality, etc, but it’s best to keep it simple.

We realize that this is highly dependent on your camera system. The 1000 ISO rule applies to older Prosumer Cameras like the Canon 50D and below. With Canon 5D’s, Canon 7D‘s and up (and their Nikon Equivalents), you can go up to 3200 ISO in certain situations.

3) Shooting Over The Shoulder – Find a different angle. Besides missing opportunities for some interesting perspectives, shooting over the shoulder creates duplicate images and therefore more work in the filtering and post production processes. We realize that some of you may be coming out to work for us with the primary objective of building your portfolio, but your main objective should always be to help the team deliver the best possible product. Your portfolio will come in time and with enough shoots; and in fact, some of the best shots from our weddings have been from the secondary angle, with an interesting foreground or a unique perspective.

For example, the picture below was shot by Max Young of Film Foto Fusion. As the second shooter at the wedding, he didn’t shoot down the aisle, because the lead photographer had that angle covered. Instead, Max climbed up the balcony of a building and shot through the railing. Needless to say, his picture turned out much more interesting than the lead shot, showing the standard straight-down-the-aisle perspective.


4) Crops – Make sure you’re not getting too much ceiling or too many bullseye shots. I think it’s natural for amateurs to point their center focus on the face of the subject and fire away. This creates crop issues, as you’ll likely be getting too much ceiling (or empty space above the subjects); and you’re going to end up with too many bullseye shots. Make sure you’re not leaving too much room above the subject’s heads. That means, in most cases, you’re bending your knees a little so that you’re shooting straight (instead of slightly pointed up); and the subject’s face is somewhere around the top focal point on your camera.

What are bullseye shots? They’re exactly what the phrase implies. They’re shots of the subject directly placed in the center of the image. Now this may be necessary for many moments, but in general, too many bulls eye shots equals too many boring shots. Switch it up and recompose your shots a little! Put your subjects off center in the left or right third of the image, even the corners of the frame.


5) Confidence – Even though it’s your first wedding, you should carry yourself like it’s your 100th. You should be confident, sociable, and personable. Compliment the bride, share your own wedding experiences, and do your best to become friends with as many people at the wedding as possible. As a representative of the lead photographer’s studio, everything you do reflects on the studio name and service.

Other noteworth blunders we’ve seen on the job include the following:

  • Improper Attire – Dress appropriately. For our studio, dress in all black and in conservative attire
  • Eating/Drinking – Ask the lead photographer before eating and do not drink alcohol on the job
  • Not Being Careful – Do your best to mind your surroundings and avoid knocking things over (especially the cake!)
  • Not Sync Cameras – Make sure you sync the times of the cameras before you begin shooting
  • Not Shooting in RAW – Make sure you double check what format your lead wants you to shoot in. For our studio, please shoot in RAW/NEF

We hope this article has been helpful; and we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    Read and remembered.

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  2. Sharva Hassamal

    Those are some really good tips. There are some huge benefits to being an assistant as the amount you learn is incredible.

    A friend of mind actually connected with the Jim Lind, an assistant to Annie Leibovitz. He has great experience on the assistant process but also how to take the most from that job. Feel free to connect with him on:

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  3. 5 Common Mistakes of Wedding Photography Assist…

    […] Here are some of the common mistakes we've seen our assistants make throughout the years and how to avoid them.  […]

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  4. Matthew Saville

    One of my biggest pet peeves is simply not coordinating well enough. During a wedding I am in constant visual communication with my 2nd shooter and assistant, and if I need them to move out of my shot or cover an angle for me, I need them to be glancing in my direction every minute or so, or every time they move to a different area or something.

    To be able to work in harmony is the most impressive thing we can do as a team, in my opinion.


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  5. Gary

    Like Max, LJP and SLR Lounge have taught me so many invaluable lessons about wedding photography, professionalism and pushing ourselves for creativity. Get started as an assistant with these guys has been one of the best things I have ever done.

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  6. Northwest wedding photography

    Great post . The first I’ve been tempted to comment on. Every second shooter should read this before photographing a wedding.

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  7. Laura Kockelkorn

    I don’t shoot weddings but I’m curious why the time sync? 

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    • Anonymous

      Time syncing the cameras prior to shooting makes it so in post production all the images are in the proper order according to the time shot. So you see all 2 or 3 angles of a particular seen right next to each other. Otherwise, they appear all over the place as the times on all cameras are different.

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  8. Anonymous

    Very nice tips about wedding photography,these tips are useful every wedding photographer.Thanks for sharing genuine  tips.
    wedding photographers bristol

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  9. Nantucket Weddings

    Nice post! These tips are really informative and helpful. Thank you very much for the share.

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  10. Anthony Foster

    Great article on what can go wrong! Although the technical stuff is great the bit on attire is also important. An assistant in jeans at a wedding can lose you a lot of future work!

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  11. article police

    this article needs to renamed to “second shooters” not assistants. Assistants don’t shoot in the wedding photo world or any other world that Im aware of. good tips, change article name.

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    • Idiot police

      Why not call it an assistant? An assistant is there to do what someone above them wants them to do, so if they are asked to take photos then they have to take photos. Also these jobs a lot of times are a way for one to “shadow” someone else more experienced to learn from, so they can do their own wedding photography one day.

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    • Pye

      Chris wrote this from the perspective of our studio, “Assistants” and “Second Shooters” are two completely different things. Assistants come out to help with lighting and gear, and shoot on the side. They are not yet trained shooters, and this article provides guidance for them. “Second Shooters” have advanced well past this point and wouldn’t need this guidance as they would have had to already have done these things prior to becoming second shooters. — Pye

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  12. Julie

    Just doing some homework. Good read ;)

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  13. David

    Great Post! I love the tips, although I do also agree with Evert about ISO — in this case, I think it really depends on the equipment (although you can’t go wrong with your tip!). My D300s can handle 3200 beautifully, which gives me a lot more latitude!

    One question: How do we get this into EVERYONE’s hands?

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  14. Yolanda Huang

    Very great article for all starting wedding photographers! Thanks for the tips. Will keep those ideas in mind, even if I’m not a wedding photographer :)

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  15. Jay

    Great tips for 2nd shooters. Thanks for posting :-)

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  16. rio

    i’m about to assist in my 2nd wedding in a few weeks (at this point, i’m only allowed to pass the lens to the main photographer!) these tips are great, thanks for sharing

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  17. Evert

    great tips; although I don’t agree with the ‘keep it below 1000’ iso tip. Instead, I’d suggesting using it with care, but don’t ignore possibilities of digital SLR’s currently available.

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  18. Thomas Lester

    I think this needs to be renamed to “5 common mistakes of wedding photography second shooters”. My assistants don’t shoot. They assist. My second shooters shoot, and these are good tips for the second shooter.

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  19. Max Young

    LJP has taught me a tremendous deal, from the technical side of photography to the personal side of it. They are truly humble and they make shooting a 10 hour event as fun as the first hour!!

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