Weddings are by no means a suitable arena to learn general photographic principles. It has frequently been likened to conducting a portrait shoot, at 100mph, for 8-10 hours (if not longer) straight and having been shooting weddings myself for a number of years now, I can largely attest to the accuracy of that statement. But what if you feel you’re now fairly proficient with your camera, or even a pro in another area of photography, and want to start building your wedding photography portfolio and experience?
Well, there are a couple of ways of getting in to shooting weddings, the most risky of which is to go it alone from day 1 as the main shooter. This may work for some, so long as the couple are made well aware of the fact that you are not experienced in shooting weddings and they sign a contract to this effect, should your shots on the day not quite match their expectations. Believe me, nothing will ruin a burgeoning photography career more than a disgruntled bride smearing you on every social media platform out there.
So if you’re not quite ready to take that step, then the safer route might be to become a second shooter (or an assistant photographer, if you’re not familiar with that term) with an established wedding photographer for a period. This allows you to accumulate a number of images for your own portfolio, build up relevant experience and confidence but, importantly, limits your responsibility for the full array of wedding shots.
If this is your chosen route, then there are a number of things you should consider, not only so you don’t end up being more of a hindrance than a help to the main photographer but more importantly (from your point of view, at least) to get the most out of each job. So with that in mind, here are my top 10 tips on how to be a great second shooter:
1. Have the right kit – that’s not to say that you need to buy the latest and most expensive gear but, far aside from giving the couple superb images, if you want to build a great portfolio for yourself, then a good lens choice matters much more than your camera body. Given this, it may be worth renting a lens, or two, with large apertures and ideally with zoom capabilities. Zoom lenses will allow you to capture many more intimate and candid moments by being able to stand away from the scene so as not to disturb the moment, whereas large apertures will allow you use faster shutter speeds in lowlight situations, such as old churches or during the first dance on a darkened dance floor, etc. They’ll also make it easier for you to capture that ever popular Bokeh (or blurred) background, allowing you to isolate your subject from their distant surroundings. One other consideration should be a flashgun. Even a cheap non-branded version would be better than none at all. In fact, a Chinese company called Yongnuo have recently shaken up the flash market with a number of fairly sturdy & fairly reliable flashes and light sticks for knock down prices. Currently you can get a YN560iii speedlite and 560TX wireless trigger, enabling you to get your flash off your camera, for around £50.
Being able to keep your distance with a zoom lens will help in getting candid shots
2. Don’t be afraid to get up close – Having said above that standing back and using a zoom lens can get you some lovely candid shots, getting up close can also result in some great images. War photographer Robert Capa once famously said “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” and whilst I’d never compare a wedding to a warzone (or would I?), there is more than enough truth in that quote for a wedding shooter. Whether it be the groom on the dance floor busting some grooves with his groomsmen, some detailed shots of the bridal prep in the morning, or a shot of a Hindu bride and groom separated by a white sheet as they anxiously wait to see their intended, getting in close and wide can get some fun, dramatic and remarkably detailed shots.
Don’t be afraid to get up close for some real storytelling shots
3. Extra memory cards – So you’ve had your camera for a while now and you’ve always relied on your trusty 16gb memory card for all your shots. Well, you’ll likely want to buy another one or more, as weddings can find you rattling off a number of duplicates (and if you’re not, you should be) to ensure that Great Aunt Mabel, or Uncle John aren’t grimacing, blinking or otherwise not looking where they’re supposed to be. The price of memory cards has tumbled in recent years, so this again shouldn’t set you back too much either. One caveat I would add to this is not to buy a super-sized card thinking it will last you the whole day, as one of the dangers of this is having the card go ‘rogue’ on you and losing every shot you’ve taken. It’s far better to have 2 or more cards that you change out throughout the day, to minimise the risk of losing a large number of shots.
You’ll certainly want some bigger cards than these but don’t be tempted in to buying super-sized ones to capture the entire event
4. A spare battery – Considering that you’ll be taking a large number of shots on the day, it’s likely that your battery will take a bigger hit beyond what you’ve been used to. By this, I mean that you might be surprised at how quickly a battery drains when it’s constantly on, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, compared to how you might usually shoot for a few hours, turning the camera on and off as you go. A second battery (or third AND fourth, if you have a battery grip) are essential then, to ensure that you’ll be able to keep shooting all day. Taking along a battery charger is also advisable, so you can at least be charging a dead battery while using your spare.
5. Know what’s expected of you – This might seem like an obvious one but speaking to your main photographer beforehand and asking exactly what you’ll be expected to do on the day is imperative. Will you be shooting details, while the main photographer shoots the couple or will you be shooting one half of the room whilst the main photographer shoots the other? Perhaps you’ll be asked to assist with kit that the photographer will be bringing and so, if you are, are you proficient in its use? I have had a number of second shooters turn up on the big day not knowing how something as simple as a reflector should be positioned or how a particular strobe works. It’s certainly something I’ve made sure to ask any second shooter since then but it’s worth asking the question yourself, in case the photographer hasn’t thought about it. This doesn’t mean that you have to go on endless training courses to learn the ins and outs of an infinite list of kit, but simply having a conversation with the photographer so they can explain briefly how the kit works or, using the wonder of modern technology, simply searching online for tutorials on its use. Not only will you make yourself even more useful on the day (and therefore more likely to be invited back to second shoot again) but you’ll have gained useful training on professional kit.
Will you be shooting the details or something else? It’s always best to find out beforehand
6. Comfortable shoes – I can’t state this strongly enough. Whilst the dress of the day (suit, tie, etc.) may not be something you can do anything about, your choice of comfortable, smart footwear is and will pay dividends when you’ve been standing, squatting and tiptoeing for the last 6 hours plus. Trust me, your feet will thank you for it!
7. Plan for a long day – leading on from the above, you should fully expect a wedding day to last a long time. Being a guest at a wedding and being able to sit down, have a drink whenever you want and generally just relax is a world away from shooting a wedding and so you should make sure you mentally and physically prepare yourself for the day ahead. It also not uncommon for a couple to decide they want the photographer to stay longer (paying accordingly) on the day itself, so you may end up shooting for longer than you anticipate.
8. Be prompt – Again, whilst this might sound obvious and like good advice for any work arena, it’s especially important for weddings. Later in the day, you’ll find that scheduled events don’t always match the timings initially set for them (the group portraits, speeches, cake cutting and first dance will NEVER be on time), but the beginning of the day will need to run like clockwork. If you’re required to shoot the bridal prep., then the hair and make-up, or the officiant if you’re only shooting the ceremony, won’t wait for you to arrive and, more importantly, you’ll miss out on some of the funniest and most detailed shots of the day. Always double check what time you’re required from and aim to be there at least 15-20 minutes beforehand.
Weddings don’t always run to time but you don’t want to be the reason for it
9. Expect the unexpected – Seriously, weddings move almost at the speed of light for a photographer but it only takes a minor upset for everything to change and at a moments notice. An ability to keep a cool head and adapt is a valuable asset. It may be as simple as having to quickly and calmly get through a large crowd to the other end of a hall to shoot an impromptu ‘hen party’ dance that the bride and bridesmaids have just started on the dance floor, without knocking Great Aunt Mabel flying (regardless of how much you’d like to after her blinking in every shot earlier!) but could also be the main photographer’s camera failing and you now having to suddenly take on group portrait duty while they run to get their spare camera body. Anything can happen at any time and whilst you may not have the knowledge to deal with everything thrown at you, a degree of outward calmness will certainly keep everyone around you relaxed while you mentally freak out for 5 seconds before you figure out the best plan of action…. Because you will figure out a best plan of action, believe me!
Being able to keep calm and jump in to take charge of a large wedding group is a handy skill
10. Above all else, smile and try to enjoy the ride. Weddings can be extremely stressful events to shoot but they can also be the most enjoyable and despite many years of shooting them, I still find myself laughing along at the best man’s speech or sometimes welling up listening to the Father of the Bride’s oration about his now grown up little girl and, if you want to make weddings a permanent feature of your photographic career, I implore you to encourage the same in yourself. Being there is only half of being able to adequately shoot a wedding, being part of it and being able to visually tell the couple’s story because of that is where the magic happens!
Loving what you do and enjoying the experience can’t be understated when it comes to capturing amazing story telling images
Have you been a second shooter before or had a second shooter assist you and think there’s more to add to this list? I’d love to hear your experiences, so why not leave a message on any of my social media platforms.