Something you may not know about me is that while I shoot my own weddings, I also second shoot weddings A LOT. It's a great way to fill my open weekends and I love seeing how other photographers work. Over the past five years, I've shot for 25 different photographers and I've learned so much. But before I knew second shooter etiquette, I messed up. I posted on social media before the primary photographer had delivered the gallery, I tried to tag the bride in the photos.....I was a textbook bad second shooter those first couple of months, but only because no one told me what was right and what was wrong! So learn from my mistakes. I'm laying it all out for you right now!
Please know that every photographer is different. Some may be super laidback and not care about some of these points, but others may be stricter and care a whole lot. These are general guidelines that are mostly universal in the wedding photography world.
1. You are there for the primary photographer.
Don't hand out your business cards. Don't even mention your business at all. I often get asked by guests what my company is, or some kind of similar question, and I usually just say something like, "Oh, I'm the assistant! That over there is the main photographer, her company is called xyz". I try to get a couple of business cards from the primary at the beginning of the day, so when someone asks me for a card I can have one on hand.
2. Don't add the clients on social media.
Don't tag them, don't message them, don't "like" their photos. Every once in a while, I'll have the bride or groom of a wedding I second shot somehow find me and request to be my friend on Facebook or follow me on Instagram. In this case, I'll ask the primary photographer what they want me to do. Again, you are there to help the primary photographer, and the relationship building should be left to them.
3. Don't post on social media until the primary has delivered the gallery.
And actually, check with the primary photographer to make sure they even allow you to post, as some don't. If they don't allow you to use the images, I believe you should be compensated more, but again - everyone is different. Make sure to double check with the primary before you post that they've delivered the final gallery, and be sure you know exactly how you can use your images. Sometimes you can only use them in your website portfolio, sometimes primary photographers will even let you blog them.
4. Be detail-oriented.
The primary's job is to photograph the big stuff. Your job is to fill the spaces in between. Get those candids during family formals. Be on the lookout for hairties on the bridesmaids' wrists or phones, wallets, and keys in the groomsmen's pockets. Make sure the primary doesn't leave their bag somewhere - grab it for them! Make sure they stay hydrated. Offer to time-sync the cameras before you start shooting. Carry the bride's train and help fluff it. Memorize as much of the timeline as you can. Think of all the little things and handle them so that the primary can focus on the big picture! Pun definitely intended.
5. Study their work.
Spend some time looking through the primary's Instagram and website. Learn their shooting style, while also implementing your own style. The great thing about hiring a second shooter is bringing a different set of eyes and knowledge to the table, so don't feel like you have to become a clone and compromise your own unique style. Some questions I usually ask a primary I haven't worked with before are: What aperture range are you comfortable with? Do you shoot more under or overexposed? Do you use flash during receptions? And if you do - do you drag the shutter or bounce the flash (and if you're going to be second shooting often, you should know how to do both!) Shooting closer to their style means an easier editing process for them.
Pay attention to what lenses they use throughout the day. If they have an 85mm on, then you can pop on a more wide-angle lens, or vice versa. And get different angles! Don't shoot over their shoulder - the only exception is with film shooters where they do actually need the exact same shot on digital in case something happens to the film, but most photographers shoot digital, so don't worry about it unless they say something! During bridal party photos, stand to the side and get the little details of the bouquets, or close-ups of each individual member (with a long lens of course! Don't step in front of the primary!).
6. Let's talk about cocktail hour!
As a second shooter, you'll often be expected to cover cocktail hour and reception decor by yourself. These are sometimes the only photos the primary will get of the reception decor, so take it seriously! Sometimes the primary will ask me to duck out of the ceremony early so I can get detail shots of the reception room before guests start filtering in. I have to work the room quickly, so my process usually looks something like this: take several wide shots of the whole room, take photos of signage and gift/guestbook/other misc. tables, take a photo of the bar, take photos of the centerpieces and decor on the dinner tables, take photos of the buffet, and finally, take any other detail photos. Then as guests begin to arrive, I'll find the kitchen and stop the servers bringing out hors d'oeuvres for a quick photo while the tray is still full and fresh. As the room fills up, I walk around the area several times and try to get a candid photo of each guest, or I'll ask them to smile and look at the camera (smarter to do this now before everyone is drunk ;)). Be sure to get close-ups with a longer lens so guests don't become awkward or feel like you're intruding.
7. Other miscellaneous things to remember!
Dress professionally. My go-to wedding outfits are black dresses or black pants and a blouse. Your professionalism all comes back to the primary - so be nice and helpful and fun to be around!
Don't delete images. Everyone takes bad photos, even the professionals, but DON'T DO IT. RAW photos can be saved, especially if it's an important moment. This is just a good practice anyway since deleting photos from your cards can actually corrupt them! The proper way to clear cards is to format them.
Shoot RAW! I'm sure you do anyway, but I've made the mistake before of assuming that a new second shooter I've hired is shooting in RAW, only to find out in the middle of the wedding day that they've been shooting JPEG.
Stay off of your phone in front of guests! This is just common sense, right?
When posting shots you took for the primary, ALWAYS include credit for the primary photographer. Something simple like "second shot for @thisperson" is just fine.
Be confident in front of the client, even if you're new and still learning. It's completely okay to ask the primary photographer technical questions, but ask them when you're away from clients and guests.
8. Tips for Primaries
If you're a primary shooter and have never second shot, here's some advice from the other side. ;)
Make sure you are upfront with how many hours the second shooter will be there and how much they will be paid.
I've worked a couple 14 hour days as a second shooter. They paid well, but there is no reason you need a second shooter that long. There's no reason you need a PRIMARY shooter that long, but that's a different topic. In general, you only need a second shooter from about 30-60 minutes before the First Look to get groomsmen getting ready photos to after the first dances, toasts, and cake cutting. Although, sometimes it's good to have a second shooter stay til the exit so you can trade taking breaks and covering the reception!
If you can bring a laptop and dump all the second shooter's files on it at the end of the night, I've found that's always the best method! Or, if your second shooter shoots with a dual-slot camera, just give them one of your cards and get it back from them at the end of the night!
The next best method is to take the second shooter's card home with you and mail it back or meet up with them to give it back. I shoot in Nashville a lot, so most times the primary will just mail it back to me. Ideally you'll mail it back the following Monday. Remember to tape the card onto a note or piece of paper and then stick it in an envelope. Unfortunately I've had envelopes rip and my SD card fell out in the mail, so now I tell everyone to make sure they tape it!
If you're confident in them, give the second shooter some free reign. Let them style a detail shot or let them take over posing for a couple minutes!