How Five Top Wedding Photographers Find Second Shooters

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Talking to wedding photographers about second shooters was, honestly speaking, much more interesting than I anticipated it to be. Wedding photographer, I am not. I cringe at images of bridesmaids holding up the groom. I roll my eyes at wide-angle shots of gigantic bridal parties taken from such a distance that you can barely make out the smiles of the bride and groom. Why does every wedding photographer insist on including a close-up of the rings? Doesn’t the bride see her ring every single day? Have I mentioned I’m not a wedding photographer?

 
Above photograph © Bob and Dawn Davis Photography

Photograph © Callaway Gable Studios

And then, as if I were looking for a photographer for my own wedding, I began sifting through wedding photography sites in preparation for writing this article. I got lost in Callaway Gable’s South Asian Collection.  I marveled at the portraits verging on fashion photography in the Fred Marcus Studio online galleries. Dylan Howell’s images have officially convinced me to get married on top of a mountain in the Northwest, and I don’t even own a pair of hiking boots. Unless, of course, it’s in front of a beautiful large-scale work of art. “Is that a Rothko?” I asked Bob and Dawn Davis, impressed when Dawn immediately answered an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Photograph © Bob and Dawn Davis Photography


My first conversation about all things wedding photography and, for the interest of this article, second shooters, was with Brian Callaway of Callaway Gable. To those of us who haven’t dreamed about their wedding since they were five years old, after chatting with these wedding photographers, I have more appreciation for them than ever and just might get married more than once to have each one of them and their second shooter of choice photograph my own wedding. 

 “What we do is hard. It’s hard to find someone who is going to show up on time. It’s not a job you can call in sick to. It takes a special person. Not many people want a job where you have to go into work if you’re still sick. It’s hard to find people that want to work for a studio as opposed to working on their own. The problem that we have is when we do have quality people are they here to learn from us and then go off on their own? How do we create something where someone is not going to want to leave?” Brian Callaway, Callaway Gable

Photograph © Callaway Gable Studios


 

Speaking of second shooters, below are some questions and answers from five conversations with photographers scattered around the states, who had a few helpful thoughts on the matter:

What’s the best way to approach a photographer with whom you’d like to work?

“Second shooters should approach us in the same manner as any professional when applying for a job, show that they know about our brand and style, have a solid portfolio and a plan as to how they could add value to what we do.” —Bob Davis, Bob and Dawn Davis Photography and Design

“I’d love to hear someone say, ‘I don’t want to be in business for myself, I don’t want to deal with customer service, etc. I just want to shoot. I just love to shoot. I want to shoot in a place where it can be creatively challenging where there is a creative environment.’” Brian Callaway, Callaway Gable

Photograph © Callaway Gable Studios


 

“Email is a good way to introduce yourself, as is finding me in person at bridal and trade shows. Disposition is really important to me, so any face-to-face opportunities are valuable. I do take the time to look through the emails that second shooters send, and it is the photographers with the most polished portfolios that make the cut.  The old adage about you only get one chance to make a first impression is true, and when I can quickly see that a photographer understands that their website and public profile are their selling tool—it lets me know that they are serious and detail oriented.” —Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

Photograph © Rachel McFarlin


 

What makes a good second shooter great?

“There are the obvious things that make for a good second shooter—a creative eye, familiarity with professional-grade equipment, and Photoshop skills. But beyond that, the true understanding [is] that photographing a wedding comes with a great level of responsibility and trust. This is an essential attribute. We must have the ability to anticipate and interpret every moment and every person, in order to get the most authentic results. Some minutes call for us to be directing, others call for us to seem invisible. Members on my team must be mature, composed, happy, leaders, in addition to artists. Photographic intuition and personalized professionalism make a second shooter above-average.”—Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

Photograph © Rachel McFarlin


 

“First knowing how to be appropriate at large social events with proper dress, manners, and an attitude of service above all, anticipating moments and being in the right place to capture those moments and not standing next to me or asking what should I do next.” —Bob Davis, Bob and Dawn Davis Photography and Design

“A second shooter must be able to understand the story that we need to tell. We do that by providing images that capture the smallest detail, images that capture emotions, and big images that can all but tell the story of the day in one shot. It is quite a dance, and we must both be confidant in one another that we know our parts. One of the best values that a second shooter brings to the bride and groom is their time to capture beautiful artistic photos. While the principal photographer is documenting the couple, the second shooter has time to work with staging, lighting, and different lenses to take the details and décor photos to the highest level. A second shooter must have an exceptional creative talent for detail shots.” —Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

What tips would you give to an aspiring second shooter?

“Find a mentor, offer to just carry his or her bags, learn more about their business than they even know, don't pick up a camera until you are ready to fully contribute and ask questions and feedback. It should also go without saying to practice, practice, practice, so when the time comes to actually shoot, you're as ready as you can be in that moment.” —Bob Davis, Bob and Dawn Davis Photography and Design

Photograph © Callaway Gable Studios


 

“Some younger second shooters are doing it to build up their own portfolio, but what they need to do is look at it as they are supplementing and assisting the main photographer. The main purpose you are there is to not be getting the same photos the main photographer is getting. Wherever the first photographer is, be on the opposite, be aware, and don’t get in the photographer’s shot.” —Kristi Drago Price, Editor's Edge

“Service with a smile is equally important. This is not just some marketing fluff, either. The rubber really hits the road when we are interacting with brides, grooms, their families and their guests on the actual wedding day. As photographers, our interface with the client is a tangible part of what we offer—and it is what makes clients refer us to their closest friends for special events in those people’s lives. One of our goals is that a couple has such a good all-around experience with us, that they feel compelled to tell others. An assistant photographer on my team must be an affirmative and cheerful person, enough so that it leaves a lasting impression.” —Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

“Enjoy the creativity instead of trying to get the main shot. Be supportive. Ask, ‘Can I get you a drink?’ Or… ‘Hey, I got you something to eat.’ You’re there to support the first photographer. It might be obvious, but for some second shooters, they don’t know how to be. Put your ego aside. You’re there to do a job!” —Kristi Drago Price, Editor's Edge

"When I photograph as a second photographer and selecting them to work with me, my mindset is that the day is all about the groom, his family and friends. I pretty much disregard the bride unless she is interacting with the groom. It maintains that complete focus on the groom, which often times is just a ‘prop.’” —Walter Van Dusen, Walter Van Dusen Wedding Photography

Photograph © Walter Van Dusen


 

“A second shooter must be able to understand the story that we need to tell. We do that by providing images that capture the smallest detail, images that capture emotions, and big images that can all but tell the story of the day in one shot. It is quite a dance, and we must both be confidant in one another that we know our parts. One of the best values that a second shooter brings to the bride and groom is their time to capture beautiful artistic photos. While the principal photographer is documenting the couple, the second shooter has time to work with staging, lighting, and different lenses to take the details and décor photos to the highest level. A second shooter must have an exceptional creative talent for detail shots.” —Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

Photograph © Rachel McFarlin


 

Contributing Photographers:

Rachel McFarlin, Rachel McFarlin Photography

Walter Van Dusen, Walter Van Dusen Wedding Photography

Kristi Drago-Price Photography of Editor's Edge

Bob Davis, Bob and Dawn Davis Photography and Design

Brian Callaway, Callaway Gable

11 Comments

As someone who, ironically, started my own (solo) wedding photography business as a 2nd shooter, I read this article with a practiced eye. The title of the article really didn't have anything to do with the content: the piece was long on how important the primary shooter is and short on the value of 2nd shooters, relegating them to little more than subservient lighting assistants. After 10 years as a solo practitioner, I can count on one hand the time I've used a 2nd shooter, and it's never been because I've needed one; it's always been because the client(s) insisted on it. The amount of value a 2nd shooter provides, versus how much post-processing work they create for me, has led me to persuade my clients to save their money (as of now, I charge an extra $600 for a 2nd shooter). Can I capture both the bride and groom getting ready? Yes. Can I capture each in that moment they first see each other? Yes. Does a 2nd shooter provide a client with more images? Maybe. But where does that stop? If a client is simply looking for more images, why not hire five more shooters? Reading this article has only cemented the notion that 2nd shooters are simply a way to charge the clients more money. 

Thanks for reading, Photomatte! That's fantastic you've been a solo practicioner for 10 years! As the title of the article states- this piece was about how Five photographers find their second shooters. By no means was it meant to be a representation of all wedding photographers out there! Glad to hear you've been successful on your own! 

Reads like a 2nd shooter is the photographic equivalent of a (golf) caddy; experienced enough to be of great service, but not just confident enough to do it themselves.

Well put Roger...if I'm going to be at a wedding taking pictures, I'll be taking pictures not carring a load for someone else.

Hi Roger! Sorry you felt the second shooter in this article was the equivalent of a golf caddy. That wasn't my intention! My impression upon talking to everyone mentioned in the article is that sometimes starting with the small stuff, like offering to carry a bag, is a great way to begin learning the ropes - not that they will forever be a "caddy!"

Thanks so much for reading!

Five wedding photographers reveal what they look for in second shooters

The title is misleading. There really isn't any information in this article on how these photographers find second shooters. It's too bad, because that's what I was interested in reading about.

I pretty much said what I'm looking for from a second photographer.  Someone that can focus on the grooms day. To take it one step further, I want to see a portfolio from the person that I'm selecting as a second photographer, showing me their groom coverage. I personally consider my seconds as co-photographers.  They are pretty much always primary photographers in their own right.  Be where the other photographer is not when building your portfolio.  Some tips when being a second photographer and for your portfolio:  Capture real moments, know directional lighting, be able to pose when required, throw in some detail images just in case the primary did not have time to do them, capture reactions during key moments along with the main moments, try to not be in the primaries images, focus on the groom's day, and show the primary something different than what THEY can capture during the day.  Hopefully, this was helpful. Walter 

Just like Roger said: you are looking for a good caddy

All great comments 

Hi Steve, sorry you felt misled! It was my intention to share what these five photographers had to say - and what I learned is that it often boils down to others approaching them! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

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