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Tips & Tricks

How (And Where) To Find An Awesome Second Shooter

By Hanssie on February 25th 2015

Introduction

A few weeks (months?) ago, in an online photography community, a fellow photographer posted a photo in which her second shooter “ruined” one of the shots of the bride walking down the aisle. Behind the bride, you could see a person bent down, really close to the bride and from the main photographer’s vantage point, the only shot she was able to take from the front was the bride and her second shooter conspicuously in the way.

This is not a new phenomenon. There are horror stories among horror stories of terrible second shooters who’ve made a main shooter’s life miserable either accidentally or deliberately. Personally, I’ve only had one terrible second shooter in my career and I’ve definitely learned my lesson. I was a new photographer, and it was only my second wedding. I asked my friend, a talented photographer to accompany me to the engagement shoot and the wedding. Long story short, she not only blogged her images before I did, but she also went behind my back and contacted my bride and groom to gossip about me and rallied them to her side. She took great pleasure in telling me on the wedding day that the bride hated the engagement photos except for the ones she took. Anyway, she’s no longer a friend. I’d learned a hard lesson on choosing who I work with wisely.

Since then, I’ve worked with many second shooters at weddings and have been a second probably more times than I’ve been the main shooter at this point. In the recent years, I’ve taken a break from my own business (to work here at SLR actually), but I still second shoot often to stay fresh. Plus I love it. We have plenty of articles on how to be an awesome second shooter, but where do you actually find an awesome second shooter? Allow me to help…

Having a second is good for taking selfies when there is downtime on a wedding day

Having a second is good for taking selfies when there is downtime on a wedding day

Do You Even Need A Second Shooter?

First, let’s talk about if you even need a second shooter. My quick answer to this is yes. For me, as a wedding photographer, a second shooter is a must. I bring a second shooter to every wedding I shoot. Here are a few reasons why:

1. A Second Shooter Is A Good Backup

Yes, you have backup  gear, but what if it is inaccessible at the moment? This happened to me at a wedding reception where my camera chose the very minute the bride and groom were announced for the grand entrance to konk out. My backup gear was across the room right next to the door and I would not be able to get to it in time. Luckily, my second shooter was there and took over until I was able to get to my backup camera.

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Matthew Saville actually was my first second shooter. I hired him to shoot with me at the first wedding of my career. I knew if I screwed it up, my second would have great images…

2. You Can’t Be Everywhere At Once

Weddings run late. It’s written in a rule book somewhere, for that I am certain. Therefore, it is almost impossible for you to photograph the couple’s large family, the cocktail hour, the romantics and the room shots in the time allotted to you. Divide and conquer, especially during points of the day when multiple things are happening at once in multiple locations (i.e. getting ready, cocktail hour, etc)

3. Pay It Forward

Maybe you don’t NEED a second shooter and perhaps the couple’s budget is too small to even consider one. When I first started as a second shooter, I would’ve worked for free, but even if there’s a new wedding photographer wanting to learn, consider paying them as much as you can afford. For me, I was lucky that someone took me under their wing and so I want to make sure I pay it forward. The world would be a better place if we all helped each other, instead of tore each other down (now, let’s hold hands and sing Kumbaya).

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4. It’s Fun

I love working with a second shooter because I thrive on collaboration. I love bouncing my ideas off of someone and have them suggest their own unique ideas. This is why I have a list of friends I ask first to second with me. Plus, what better way to spend a Saturday than shooting with your friend?

This is actually one of my favorite images I've ever taken and it was actually suggested by my second shooter. She had an idea for a shot, so I let her set it up and I took this shot at a different angle. Our two shots are completely different, so it was very cool to see the two perspectives.

This is actually one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken and it was actually suggested by my second shooter. She had an idea for a shot, so I let her set it up and I took this shot at a different angle. Our two shots are completely different, so it was very cool to see the two perspectives.

What Makes An Awesome Second Shooter?

We’ve done a few articles that answer this question, so if you are looking to be an awesome second shooter, check out:

WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS: NINE WAYS TO BE THE BEST 2ND SHOOTER

SECOND SHOOTER TRAINING MANUAL

Second Shooter-3

Where Do You Find An Awesome Second Shooter?

Now that we’ve determined that you need a second shooter, or perhaps you want to second shoot just for fun, like I do, where do you actually find these amazing people? Here are three suggestions for places to look.

1. Second in Seconds

Second in Seconds is a website where photographers can look for a second shooter in their area, see their work and prices and read a bit about a potential second shooter. A potential second shooter posts a listing with various info such as  location, price, camera type, experience and their portfolio. A main shooter can search these options and be matched to their ideal second shooter. There is a star rating system and review section, sort of like Yelp. Right now, the service is new and it’s free. Who knows when they will begin charging, so sign up now if you’re interested.

2. Online Photography Communities

There are many photography communities on Facebook, Meetup, forums, etc. Join some if you haven’t already and participate! I run a group of 3000+ photographers, models, stylists, etc in the SoCal area and there are always people looking to second shoot. Any time a main shooter posts that they are looking for a second, they get bombarded with responses.

Second Shooter-5

3. Ask a Friend

I get all of my second shooting jobs through word of mouth. I’ve made many friends from my time in the industry and they’ve kept me busy. Just like with a client referral, you second shoot a wedding, do a bang up job and people want you to shoot with them again. Then when someone else needs a second, they remember you and voila, another second shooting gig. I second shoot maybe 10-12 times a year now. The extra income is great, there is no pressure and I get to leave work at work…a luxury that I never got as a business owner.

The first wedding I shot after my divorce was rough and the bride was my friend from high school who was in my wedding. She had no idea I was divorced and I didn’t want to tell her and take away from her big day, so I smiled weakly as she and her family reminisced all day about my wedding. My second shooter was a good friend of mine and he was awesome in taking over when I had to work on not crying.

Second Shooters make the best light models

Second Shooters make the best light models

How Can You be Sure They Are Awesome?

Well, you can’t ensure that someone is going to be awesome until you’ve actually worked with them. But there are some things you can do to help your odds.

1. Hire Someone Who You Know/Whose Work You Know

Make sure you dig through your potential seconds portfolio/website. Don’t just look at images either. Read some of their blog posts. Does their “About Me” annoy you? Maybe your personalities might clash. Most of the time, my second shooters are friends of mine, so I not only know their work, I know how we would work together. With the exception of the ex-friend I mentioned above, this has been a good plan for my business.

2. Get A Referral

As I already mentioned, word of mouth is important and getting a recommendation from someone whose opinion you trust should give you confidence that you’re hiring someone solid.

3. Communicate Your Expectations CLEARLY

This is the most important tip, so I saved it for last. Whether you’ve worked with your second shooter once or twenty times, make sure you communicate your expectations clearly. Where do you want them to stand during the processional? During the ceremony? What types of shots do you want them to get during bridal prep? If you don’t want them shooting over your shoulder, then tell them. Also, it’s better to tell them before the wedding than during the romantics, when you feel your personal space being violated as they creep over your shoulder trying to get the same shot you just set up.

Plan to meet your second shooter at least 30 minutes before the wedding so you can sync camera times, you can tell them what you expect, what they should expect, what you need from them, etc. It saves a lot of headache in the long run, trust me.

Do you have any tips on how to find an awesome second shooter? Better yet, tell me your second shooter horror stories. Comment below.

About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com and www.fittedmagazine.com. Follow her on Instagram. Email her at:
[email protected]

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Danny Caro

    That’s awesome. I needed a little help finding websites like the ones you referred here. I’m heading over to Secondinseconds.com to try it out. Thank you!

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for providing some insight into second shooters. Great article!

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  3. Richard Hammer

    Thanks for a truly useful article that will no doubt relieve many headaches down the road.

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  4. robert garfinkle

    Uh, Hanssie? That photo of you taking a Selfie, in the mirror, well, is that a reverse-selfie because it’s being taken in a mirror? or is it a “Youfie”

    Hey, any you guys want to start another fun social website, called “Selfie Island” I already own the domain selfieisland.com (not developed yet) – that needs a “second, or a third, or a fourth partner that is… no competition to SLR Lounge, but we can take a run at Facebook – c’mon, who’s with me…

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  5. Jaron Horst

    Great article but, in my opinion, it addresses the easiest part of acquiring a second shooter! I have numerous requests from qualified people who would like to work as a second shooter for the experience (paid or free – although I’d like to pay them). The problem I usually run into is the legal headaches involved: taxes, workmans comp, general liability, 2nd shooter contract, etc. I do photography on the side so my profit margin is slim and projects are sparse but I desire to do things legit (I do carry general liability insurance, file my schedule C, etc.) — I can’t just buy insurance to cover a person for a weekend here and there! Yet, there’s always that chance that something could go south that you need to be covered for.

    Given the legal headache, I’ve found it’s actually easier to just ask a couple to hire a 2nd photographer independent of me if not another photographer who does shoot with a 2nd (I have a list or recommendations for them). While that has worked well in the past, I would much rather be able to pick my own 2nd shooter and be able to keep those weddings where the bride and groom would prefer 2 shooters.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      Legal headaches? These are (or should be) independent contractors.. you’re basically sub-contracting. The only “legal headache” would involve the copyright/release of images the Second takes.. and that’s simple enough. You’re not paying their wages, health insurance, workmans comp or whatever anymore than the couple is paying yours. Having two independently hired photographers in the same place sounds like a headache to me.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      Thanks for the Second in Seconds site Hanssie, never heard of it before.

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    • Jaron Horst

      Good points Stephen. I was going more from the perspective of hiring those just getting into the field though and not established photographers (i.e. hobbiests/friends who do not have a photography business per say) — the people looking for experience. You are correct about health insurance and wages but workmans comp requires that, if they don’t have their own WC insurance, as the person who sub-contracted them, *I* would be liable.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I believe that depends on the state and how the individual is organized. Either way, you wouldn’t be sub-contracting someone not getting compensation anyways, they’d likely fall into the “intern” category, legally, and that would depend on the state as well. They should have their own insurance anyways, even if they are not getting compensated and they are serious about the profession. And your contract with them should include you are not responsible for them.. that way when, in their eagerness to prove themselves to you, and they trip over their own feet and fall face first into the wedding cake spraining an ankle and shattering their lens they are not suing you for losses.

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    • Hanssie

      Something I should’ve included in the article is making sure that this stuff is spelled out in a contract which spells out a lot of these legal issues for seconds, otherwise all of my seconds are independent contractors.

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  6. robert garfinkle

    I am not a photographer, so it’d be fair to say I would not need a second shooter. However, it’d be good to pair up with a pro ( take em hostage for a few hours :) ) as part of a learning exercise in two areas. 1. I could learn to pattern myself after what they do (we could compare shots / perspectives etc…), and 2. overall it’d be good to know how to work in different situations, seeing how another photographer works with people…

    this was a great read – very informative. :)

    Rob

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    • Hanssie

      That’s my favorite way to learn and how I learned much of the craft myself :)

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