There seem to be two types of wedding photographers:  The lone wolves who prefer to shoot solo and simply bring an assistant along to carry equipment and help set up or keep an eye on things, and the team shooters who rely on each other to cover multiple angles at once, and more.  I admire both styles of shooting, actually, and my handful of favorite wedding photographers fall into each category.

This article is for those of you who enjoy shooting as a team, or who wish they could at least have the opportunity to shoot as a team.  Because let’s face it-  depending on your area, it might be very difficult to find “lead” photographers who are willing to let you shoot for them unless you are already highly experienced.  The whole “you gotta have experience to gain experience” is the aspiring wedding photographer’s biggest catch-22.  In the following article, we’ll give you a complete guide to second shooting a wedding, with these topics:

Second Shooter Roles and Responsibilities

Below are the general responsibilities for second shooters.  While each studio differs in their expectations, the following are very common for most studios.  For more information, see our Second Shooter Pathway.

Groom Coverage

classic and creative portraits of the groom wedding photography guide

Before the wedding, the lead shooter typically goes with the bride and the second shooter goes with the groom.  Therefore everything groom related is the responsibility of the second shooter.  This includes the following:

  • Groom’s Details
  • Groom’s Portraits
  • Groom’s Photojournalism/Storytelling
  • Groom and Groomsmen Portraits
  • Groom and Groomsmen Photojournalism/Storytelling
  • Groom and Groom’s Family Portraits
  • Groom and Groom’s FamilyPhotojournalism/Storytelling

Ceremony and Reception Details

pin lighting to light details wedding reception photos

When the ceremony and reception details are ready, the lead shooter is often photographing the couples session or other event.  This leaves the second shooter to cover the details.

Photojournalism and “Grip and Grins”

Throughout the day, the second shooter is expected to capture secondary angles, candid reactions, and grip and grins.  Grip and grins are simply the photos where groups of people get together and look into the camera.

How to Second Shoot a Wedding

If you can master and consistently follow these nine guidelines, and of course if you have artistic creative talent, then you can easily fill any of your free weekends as a 2nd shooter with fellow professionals!

1.) Plan and Prepare

Synchronize your cameras at the beginning of the day.  Check all your memory cards, batteries, etc. and mention it to your lead shooter just in case they too might still have that 9% battery from Thursday’s photo shoot still in their camera.  Also, in general, know where stuff is.  Know your lead shooter’s bags, where all their lenses and accessories are, their spare batteries, flash gels, radio trigger cables, etc.  Carry a few of these things on you, too.

Last but not least, set like five alarms to get up in the morning if you have a really early start and you may not be used to getting out of bed so early.  It also doesn’t hurt to plan on a team phone call either the night before the shoot or the morning of the shoot, just to double-check final details, meeting time and location, etc.

2.) Memorize The Details

Read the itinerary, print it out if it’s super-detailed, and input addresses on your GPS / phone as needed . Set alarms for things like “time to go shoot the reception details!” or “absolutely must leave now for church!!!”

Also, memorize any other important details as necessary.  Who the parents, grandparents, and siblings are for example.  There is nothing worse than getting a bunch of great candids of so-and-so’s girlfriend or boyfriend, and none / few of the actual sibling, cousin, or BFF of the happy couple.

Other details include things like special heirlooms such as rings or trinkets, other hand-made details, etc.

3.) Keep Your Eye On the Lead

Take your queue from the lead shooter.  If they’re the type of photographer who just dives right into the action, maybe you should too!  Oppositely, if they’re un-obtrusive and discrete, follow that lead.  Your vision and artistic creativity don’t have to match perfectly, but your shooting style ought to.   Unless you discuss it beforehand, and take turns shooting “in the action” and “fly on the wall” separately.  The bottom line is that you want to keep your eye on the lead photographer all throughout the day, and keep their angle in mind.

Just get in the habit of glancing over at them every 30 seconds or so, during peak action times such as a ceremony, first dance, etc.  If you get in the habit if doing this, it becomes very effortless to give each other signals for things like “get out of my background!” or “don’t let that kid knock over the flash stand!”

As an experienced team / lead shooter, I can definitely tell you that paying attention is one of the number one issues that can create problems.  If a new 2nd shooter comes out and just seems to disappear every now and then, or is distracted in general and doesn’t notice when they’re in the lead shooter’s background, then it is a sure-fire guarantee they won’t be shooting again.  Technical prowess or creative eyes can always be coached and improved, but “spacing out” is a very big red flag most of the time.

4.)  Criss-Cross The Action While Staying Out Of Their Shots

This next tip is along the same lines: A lot of traditions and ceremonies take place with two or more people facing each other.  It is good to come up with a plan.  The “criss-cross technique” is basically when two photographers stand off to the side of the action, and capture opposing angles, yet both of their backgrounds are at an angle so that they don’t have to worry about being in each other’s background.

Of course this is pretty straightforward in a regular church ceremony, and it’s always a good idea to get an off-angle / criss-cross photo of things like the first kiss.

Diagram from our Wedding Photography Training System

However, other types of ceremonies can get a little hectic, and this is when it becomes very important to coordinate the “criss-cross” technique.

5.)  Know How To Handle A Crowd

During the group photos, things can get hectic. The lead shooter should only have to focus on one thing, and that is clicking the shot.  The 2nd shooter (and hopefully at least one or two relatives or members of the bridal party) can do the yelling, organizing, and of course guarding any flash stands you might have set up , or keeping other cameras at bay if necessary.  This is a good idea in general during any photo shoot-  keep your eye on the details; the groom’s boutonniere might be upside down, the bride might have a fly-away hair poking out, etc.  Bottom line-  help to make those important “formal” shots to be perfect!

6.) Take Turns Covering Lead

Don’t take your bathroom / dinner breaks at the same time.  Don’t go off looking for creative side angles during the ceremony at the same exact time.  You get the idea.

During critical moments, make sure you capture a clean shot, even if your angle is a creative side-angle.  I have learned two things about wedding photography over the years:  1.)  you need to take a break every now and then to rest, and 2.)  cameras do in fact break.  Many photographers have never had a camera fail on them, so they leave their backup camera in the car, or they don’t care whether or not their 2nd shooter gets a good clean shot of the most important things like the ceremony kiss etc.  But this is another very big reason why 2nd shooters should be glancing over at their lead every so often during a ceremony, or anything important during the day-  If they need to change memory cards or batteries, you want to be covering for them!


7.) Be Professional All Day Long

Your job as 2nd shooter is a balance. You should be polite, and even talkative when necessary, but at the same time don’t get distracted.  Dress sharp, act professionally, and make your lead photographer proud to have you there.  If they have to worry about you saying or doing something un-professional while on the job, there is absolutely no chance you’ll be coming back to shoot with them again!  So it goes without saying; leave your own business cards at home. Stock up on a couple of the lead shooter’s business cards, in case people ask.

When interacting with other people on the wedding day, be polite but keep your eye on the job.  Especially towards the end of the night, you don’t want guests to see you sitting off in the corner yawning with your shirt un-tucked.  Even if things are running slowly at any time during the wedding day, be professional and smart about everything you do.

8.) Back Up The Photos

Back up your images immediately, on-site if possible.  If the lead photographer has their own backup system, use it too so that 100% of the wedding photos are on that backup device by the end of the night.  If you both have cameras with dual card slots, coordinate with the lead shooter and maybe send one of your memory cards home with them, while you keep the other set of memory cards for safety.  (Remember to give the lead shooter whichever memory card you used for chimping and deleting!)

Personally, what I recommend is just splitting the memory cards and/or backups.  One copy goes home with each photographer, that way you have an immediate off-site safety measure.  Of course the lead shooter may still want to download to a computer when they get home, but I also like to use my 2nd shooters as a last-resort backup too.

9.) Be Professional and Respectful After The Event

Another thing that can get you “black listed” VERY quickly is being disrespectful of the lead shooter’s prerogative after the event.

Usually, the un-written law is that you shouldn’t go and blast facebook with your photos immediately after the wedding, tagging the couple and everyone else.  In fact for most photographers, Facebook tagging is off-limits, period.  Unless you shoot frequently as a team and you have an understanding, you should be sending all traffic to the lead shooter.

It may seem harmless, but these days it is not uncommon for Facebook (and blogging) to be a photographer’s primary source of creating buzz after the wedding, and even generating referrals and new business.  So if you steal that thunder, you’re done.

How to Become a Second Shooter for Weddings

The best way to get started as a second shooter is to gain experience.  Reach out to local photographers and see if you can work for free to gain some experience.  Once you feel comfortable with your skillset and you have a portfolio that you’re proud of, you can start shopping your services around at a reasonable hourly or day rate.  For more tips on becoming a second shooter for weddings, see this article on “how to find a second shooter.

Here is a brief overview of the steps:

  1. Reach out to local photographers and gain experience by being a 3rd shooter or lighting assistant.
  2. Build up your portfolio for 1) groom and groomsmen photos and 2) ceremony and reception details.
  3. Establish your hourly or day rate.
  4. Reach out to photographers in your area with an introduction to you, your portfolio, and your rates.
  5. Join local Facebook groups for wedding photographers to keep an eye out for opportunities


It may seem like a catch-22 if you’re just starting out as an aspiring wedding photographer.  You want to build your portfolio and gain experience so that you can one day build your own business and get your own clients, but lead photographers have such strict standards for equipment and skill, and there are so many no-no’s. However in my experience, there are indeed 2nd shooting gigs out there for photographers of all experience levels, and 2nd shooting will be such a good learning experience that will equip you far better for your own work than you could ever imagine!

The question is, where do you find those good solid 2nd shooting gigs?  Well of course we have another full article coming soon on how to get hired as a 2nd shooter, so stay tuned!