We all start somewhere.

I started out tagging along with a friend after my wife gave me my first camera, a Canon 7D, as a birthday gift. That turned into several more opportunities with other photographers and then eventually, I started shooting lead for myself. As I improved, I was thankful to have my second shooting opportunities open up with larger studios. Then after awhile I started shooting lead for those companies. Every studio is run differently from one another and each studio has its own style to maintain to keep its visual integrity, but being a lead shooter comes with responsibilities that are almost identical with whomever you shoot for. Whether it’s for yourself, a small studio, or a large studio, keep in mind these 5 things when transitioning from 2nd shooter to lead photographer.


1. Be More Proactive

As a second photographer, you tend to follow the lead shooter’s cues. You shoot in their light, you produce from secondary angles as they pose the clients, and you refer to the lead for scheduling notes. As a lead yourself, you have to be more proactive when taking on more responsibilities.

This starts with pre-wedding preparations. The lead photographer is responsible for setting up a pre-wed meeting with their clients. This allows you to open up communication with them prior to the event and make sure both of you are on the same page. This is a good time to discuss the timeline and see if there are any scheduling changes. This also allows the relationship to build with you and your clients. Seeing them on their big day won’t be the first point of contact during a long period of time and allows them to be more like themselves for picture opportunities.

During the wedding day, the lead might find themselves on several occasions when there doesn’t seem like much to shoot, but as a lead, it’s on your shoulders to find something. The makeup artist is running behind and you have extra time during prep, maybe knock out some ring shots just in case the reception gets hectic. Or, auntie is picking something up that was sentimental to the couple that was accidently forgotten for the ceremony, take the opportunity for great candids as the guests greet and meet, laugh, and converse.


No matter which part of the day it is, always remember that you are a lead shooter and not a second shooter. Take initiative, control the day’s photo opportunities and communicate with your clients and take advantage whenever you can.  Which brings me to my next point…

2. Communication

One of the differences of second shooting versus lead shooting is communication. Speaking with the clients and their families, instructing your team, coordinating with the vendors, are all extremely important in making the best of your photo opportunities.

Be personal with your clients. Sure, it’s work and it’s our job, but don’t ever forget that your responsibility is centered around one of the most important days of your clients’ lives. Treat them like people, and treat them like family, and you’ll most likely receive the same. Get to know the names of the family members, familiarize yourself with the significant people in their lives, and don’t be shy to introduce yourself. The weddings I’ve found to most enjoy are the ones where I’m heavily interacting with the family members and by the end of the night, I’ve even built such a rapport that we’ve established some inside jokes from earlier in the day.


Don’t forget to show your personality. As you converse with your clients, their families, and speak to their guests, remember to bring positive energy and display your personality. I love shooting weddings because of the positive energy. There’s so much uplifting emotion and so many happy moments that I find myself embracing the ambience. Spread that same outlook and you’ll receive it back in your shots.

Communicating with your team and the other vendors brings me to point 3 and 4.

3. Manage Your Shooters

I’ve shot a handful of weddings by myself, no second, no assistant. After a few of those experiences, I realized that I prefer shooting with a team. The benefits of shooting with other photographers also comes with responsibilities. Giving your second and third shooters great instruction allows you to provide a better product to your clients.

10-avenue-of-the-arts-wyndham-hotel-wedding-photographer 11-avenue-of-the-arts-wyndham-hotel-wedding-photographer

Throughout the day I like to explain my vision to my other shooters. Discuss the shots I’m going for and even explain to them what settings I plan to use and why. As I scan the perspectives and frame my shots, I constantly keep in mind secondary angles for my other shooters. Two shots from different angles of the same pose is a great way to maximize your photo opportunities.

[For tips on posing, check out our NATURAL LIGHT COUPLES PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP]

29-four-seasons-hotel-westlake-village-wedding-photos 28-four-seasons-hotel-westlake-village-wedding-photos


Another great example is being aware of scheduling conflicts. In a perfect world, the lead shooter would have enough time for the bride, the groom, the ceremony details and the reception details. Rarely does it happen, so putting trust into your other shooters and being aware of the schedule is critical. Usually groom and bride prep are occurring simultaneously. If there’s a first look scheduled after prep, be aware of the clock and communicate with the second so the bride and groom don’t accidentally see each other. After the ceremony there’s usually time for family pictures or a couple’s session as the cocktail hour happens. If the second photographer is required to leave early to beat the guests into the ballroom reception floor make sure to be on top of the schedule and coordinate with your team.

Coordinating with your team allows for a better workflow, which brings me to my next point…

4. Coordinate With Vendors

With so many parts coming together to produce such a special day, these different parts must work together for the best chance at success. Working together with different vendors means constant communication.

Communicating with the hair and make up artists in the morning, or coordinating how the bride and groom will walk down the aisle or speaking to the DJ on how he’ll light the first dance are key to making the best of your photo opportunities.

03-mehndi-party-w-hollywood-photos 02-mehndi-party-w-hollywood-photos

The most important vendor as a photographer is most likely the videographers. Our studio, Lin & Jirsa, has our own cinema team, but we frequently shoot with other companies. It’s integral to work as a team with the video crew because you’ll most likely be taking up each other’s time as you shoot.

Remember that a wedding day is a team effort. Although you have a job to do, so do the other handful of vendors providing services for your clients, so encouraging a team mentality is practically a necessity. Along with playing nice comes networking, which brings me to my final point…

5. Networking

As you coordinate with the other vendors, be proactive to offer your business cards for future referrals. As you would with your clients, their families and friends, be personal with the vendors. Introduce yourself and get to know their names if you haven’t worked with them before.

Our studio perpetually establishes relationships by offering to share our hard work. We understand the event is a team effort and that several vendors are involved in the production. Therefor, we’re happy to share our images to the other vendors.

25-four-seasons-westlake-village-indian-wedding-reception-photos 31-four-seasons-westlake-village-indian-wedding-reception-photos

In the end we run or work for a business and the final goal is to provide a great product to open up more opportunities for business in the future. Representing yourself well and establishing relationships with other vendors is a great way provide yourself with multiple opportunities for the future.

Wrap up

Again, every studio is different and every business is operated in their own way. Photography styles and techniques vary from one studio to another. Whether it’s for yourself, a small studio or a large studio, hopefully remembering these 5 things will help you transition from second shooter to lead shooter.

What was the most important lesson you learned when transitioning from a second shooter to a lead photographer? Comment below…