Ready to focus on being a second shooter?  Here are some simple ways to take the lead and start calling the shots.

second shooter

Looking to branch out into event or wedding photography?  There is no easier way to learn the craft, than starting out as a second shooter.  So, what exactly is a second shooter and what to they do?  Well as the term states, you second shoot for another photographer.  You will follow their lead and take images to compliment or enhance their work.  As a second shooter, you must remember that you are an extension of the lead photographer’s business, and all images are owned by the lead photographer and should represent their style.

You are probably thinking, why would you ever want to work for someone else, or more importantly give them credit for your work?  Well, let’s turn that thinking around, and consider all of the positive thing’s associated with being a second shooter.

Real Life On-the-Job Training

First and foremost, you have the opportunity to learn and grow while shadowing another photographer.   As a second shooter, you will gain valuable, real life training on the all of the little details involved in a wedding.  You will experience the fast, no do-over pace, without the fear of missing a shot.  And there is a big difference in knowing when things should happen, and actually doing it.  Second shooting takes away the pressure of having to do it all.  It gives you the flexibility to concentrate on only what is assigned to you.  Communication is key.  Talk with the lead photographer, and develop a plan or series of shots you will be responsible for as second shooter. Most importantly, always follow their lead.

Lead Photographers Love Second Shooters

It’s true.  Having a second shooter allows the lead photographer to perform at their highest level.  Second shooters assist with keeping the lead on their set timeline, and supports the lead the entire day.  This may mean moving equipment, running for a bottle of water, or getting candid portraits of guests while the lead takes formal photos.  Or the second shooter may be the one organizing large groups for formals.  Remember, whatever you are assigned as second shooter,  you always act as a team.

second shooter Cole's Classroom

Twice as Nice

Second shooters offer a different look or perspective on the images.  Since two people cannot stand in the exact same location at once, the second shooter will have a varying angle.  If the lead photographer is taking a full body shot, the second photographer may focus on the hands, the feet, or a close up.  Their positioning can open up a variety of artistic opportunities which may otherwise be over looked.  Lead photographers tend to take the safe and expected shots, where second photographers have the ability to push their creative side and search for something different and unique.   Second shooters may also watch the guests and capture their reactions.  They should always be on the look out for those “other” moments, when the lead is focusing on the couple.

Second Shooters Shorten the Day

Having a second shooter allows more images to be captured at once, possibly shortening the timeline and your day.  If the lead needs to be photographing the getting ready images, maybe the second shooter can capture the details shots.  This permits two large events to be covered at the same time.  If a second shooter is not involved, the lead would have to set aside time or arrive earlier to capture those detail images on their own.  A trained second shooter can easily assist the lead with knocking out some of the requirements of a wedding day, and helps the entire process run more smoothly.  Communication is a must, and make sure you have a plan as to who will be shooting what.


Before signing on to be a second shooter, you should communicate with the lead photographer.  Meet up somewhere, and grab a coffee or sweet tea.  Go over expectations.  Discuss terms of payment, normally an hourly fee for experienced second shooters.  Or if you will be shooting gratis and mentoring with the lead photographer.  Find out if you will be able to use any of the images for your portfolio or social media, and any restrictions on them.  Each lead photographer handles this differently, so before you second shoot, make sure you know their policies.  Draw up a contract with all the legalities outlined between you as the second photographer and lead business.  Now is the time to discuss what you will be covering, and the role you will play as second shooter.  Create a game plan for the day similar to the wedding or event timeline.  Follow this link to find out what you should wear as a wedding photographer..

second shooter

Help Them Take the Lead

The day of a wedding, the lead photographer has a lot on their plate and is juggling a lot of responsibility.  It is your job as a second shooter to help lighten their load.  You may assist with setting up shots, moving equipment or grabbing that extra lens.    Seek out ways to make the day flow more efficiently.  This is not the time to step in and start posing your own shots, or talking over the lead photographer.  Remember, you are representing the lead photographer and their business.  Do not hand out business cards of your own.  The lead photographer  has a relationship with these clients they have worked to build, so now is not the time to advertise yourself or your photography business.  If the venue coordinator has questions, always refer them to the lead photographer.  It is not your place to step in and make judgment calls.

Don’t Run and Gun

You have probably heard the term run and gun.  Where you are unsure of yourself, so you rapid fire off 20 images in a row praying one will work?  Well, don’t do it.  Take your time.  Think through your process and compose your shots.  As a second shooter, you have the time to wait for the perfect moment.   Just relax and breathe.  In this instance, more is not better.  Besides, the lead photographer is responsible for editing all of the images taken, and no one wants to cull through 50 frames of the same pose.  The lead photographer will be grabbing the safe and standard shots, you have the opportunity to wait for that something special or “wow” moment.

second shooter weddings

Give them Room

As second shooter, remember to keep your distance from the lead photographer.  You are there to capture different looks or angles than the primary.  Be conscious of where the lead is standing, and which shooting lane they are in.  You do not want to duplicate shots.  Be different.  Try adding foregrounds or layers.  Move around, just make sure you are not in the lead photographers frame.  Second photographers may also capture the details of the pose, where as the lead will be shooting the entire couple.  The second photographer may focus just on their intertwined hands or a close up detail.  Remember, this is your opportunity to be creative.

Don’t Think: Sync

Before you even began shooting for the day, you should sync you camera with the lead photographers.  To do this, go into your camera’s menu, under date and time.  The second shooter’s camera should be synced to follow the lead photographers.  If the time is 1:00 27 sec, set the second shooters camera to follow at 1:00 28 seconds.  This will ensure all of the images taken have the same time, and the second shooter’s fall in after the leads.  Doing this prior to shooting, saves so much time in post processing.  You may also adjust your settings such as ISO, or custom white balance to those selected by the lead for a cohesive gallery.

Whose card should you chose

As a second shooter, your images belong to the lead photographer and their business.  Most second photographers use the leads memory cards, so they can just pop them out at the end of the night and hand them over.  This is the quickest and easiest way to get the images to the lead photographer.  You may also download the images through various sites such as Dropbox, or Shootproof, etc as a gallery.  It will all depend on if you will be providing the RAW images, or Jpeg fine.  Discuss how you will be sharing your photos, and if you will be able to keep a copy for your own portfolio.  However you turn the images over, make sure it is done in a timely manner.  As most clients expect delivery of their gallery within a set time period, and the images still need to be edited.  Do not hold the lead photographer up by not delivering the images within a few days.  The quicker the turn around the better.   Being prompt and a good team player will land you more gigs as a second photographer.

Second shooting fun

Being a second shooter is awesome.  Besides getting valuable experience, you get to experiment and try out shots you would not normally be able to as a lead photographer.  So, smile and interact with guests.  Take those candid images of Uncle Bob and Aunt Suzie.  Your job is to cover what the lead photographer cannot.  But, who says you can’t have fun?  Take time to laugh and appreciate the happiness and joy around you.  Besides, no guest wants to smile for a frazzled, frowning photographer.  If you do get overwhelmed and need a moment, let the lead know and take a breather.  You may also relieve the lead photographer, giving them a few quiet moments themselves.   The more helpful you are to the lead, the better.   Having a second shooter let’s the lead photographer relax, and enjoy the day without as much pressure.  Remember, you are there to work.  Stay off your phone, and don’t be flirting up the bridal party.  Check in with the lead photographer often.  Do your job, and do it well.  Make your lead look like a rock star, and in turn you will too.

second shooter

Developing your Style

The more you work as a second shooter, the more comfortable you will become with the pace and capturing amazing images.  Your eye will begin to develop for styling details, posing couples and grabbing some awesome candid shots.  As the second shooter, you do not edit the images or take over posing for the lead.  But, don’t let this stop you from visualizing and developing your style.  Second shooting allows you the freedom to experiment.  To try different techniques and see what you like and what you don’t.  You may gravitate toward the light and airy or dark and moody.  Play around and see what form of artistry feeds your soul.  Once the lead photographer releases the images, take time to edit them your way for use in your own portfolio.  Second shooting is a great way to find your style, while mentoring and learning with some great photographers.  Who knows?  The lead photographer may even pick up a tip or two from you!

How to Become a Second Shooter

If you are serious about learning and want to second shoot, there are a few ways you can achieve your goal.  Reach out in your photography community.   Let other local photographers know you are open for business as a second shooter.  Join local Facebook groups and photography meet up groups.  You can always join the great Coles Classroom family, and interact with other photography pros.  Stop in to local bridal shops.  Talk to everyone you know.  You are bound to have a contact who is willing to give you a try as a second shooter.  After your first second shooting gig, where your professionalism and charisma just blew the lead photographer away, you are sure to land more paying jobs.

Start Calling the Shots

The more you second shoot, the quicker you will begin building your own portfolio and confidence.  Take each step seriously.  Analyze your work.  See how you can improve, and implement those changes.  Create a beautiful portfolio of your best images.  Update it regularly.  Once you feel ready, begin advertising yourself as a wedding photographer.

So, get out there and second shoot.  Pretty soon you will be taking the lead!

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