How To Get Started As A Second Shooter

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Being a second shooter for a professional photographer can be a great way to gain experience, build your portfolio and get paid at the same time.

Getting Started

Usually, photographers need a second shooter for weddings and events. So you should approach photographers specializing in those areas. Start by contacting photographers you already know, even if you only know them online. After that, you can reach out to others with who you are not connected with. 

Send a friendly, professional email including the following:

  • Your experience and training
  • A list of your camera gear
  • A link to your portfolio and/or website and social media 
  • Explain your reasons for seeking second-shooter work
  • List your skills, including editing, shooting and how you relate to people
  • Expected rate of pay if you have a figure in mind
  • Some personal info about why you love photography 

Photographers who need a second shooter are probably very busy, so they will appreciate a precise, informative email so they can quickly assess if you might be right for them. Be warm, flexible and offer to meet in person or video chat. 

Some photographers will be looking for a beginner to support them and who they can train. Others will prefer a seasoned photographer who might be able to work alone and produce work of similar quality they are. So you should reach out to anyone you are interested in working with. Chances are you will be over or under-qualified for some jobs, but you never know until you ask. Most importantly, be honest about your abilities and skill as a photographer. Don't try to look better or more experienced than you are. 

Requirements and Expectations

If you are lucky enough to land an opportunity as a second shooter, make sure you understand what is expected of you. Some important questions to ask are:

  • Can you use the images you take for your portfolio?
  • Are there restrictions to what is shown on and offline? 
  • What credits do you need to give when sharing your work (do you need to credit the lead photographer's company and vendors?)
  • What are the hours and pay rate?
  • What is the dress code?
  • Is there a contract?
  • Is edited required? Some photographers only require you to shoot and give them the raw files so they can edit to their style, while others might expect you to edit your own work.

If you are allowed to share your images online, it is second shooter etiquette to wait until the lead photographer has done so first. Always check with them before sharing. If they are editing the images, you should only share the edited images they give back to you (unless otherwise agreed) as you are representing their brand. 

It is common for lead photographers to market their brand on social media and publications like bridal blogs and magazines. You shouldn't expect to be credited as this was under the photographer's brand. In some cases, you might be credited. If you wish to share such published work, you should again double-check with the lead photographer. If you are not sure about publishing, sharing or crediting, always be respectful and check with the lead photographer. 

Working For Free?

Offering to work for free is a controversial subject. Some photographers would tell you never do that. Don't you value your work? But others will see it as an opportunity to get a tripod in the door. So it comes down to personal preference. 

If you are starting out on your professional photography journey and there is a lot of competition in your area and you can work with a renowned photographer who allows you to share and promote your work, it could be worth it. There can be great value in shooting a wedding apart from the financial aspect. You can think of it as investing in your future. 

But you should only shoot for free for a limited time. You might like to increase your rates gradually. Or you can ask the photographer what they pay. You might get offered more money than you expected. Keep an open mind and do what feels right for your business.

Gaining Experience

When you start out as a second shooter, you should work with as many photographers as possible, even if they don't allow you to show the work in your portfolio. You will learn new skills and develop your style with every wedding you shoot with a new photographer. The learning opportunities are huge. You might learn about posing, lighting, time management or see a photographer handle a difficult client in a graceful way that might help you in the future. You might see a photographer work in a way you don't like. If that happens, you might not have had the most joyful shooting experience, but it will help you define your work ethic and process. 

After working as a second shooter for a while, you are bound to connect with certain photographers who will give you regular work. This is the beginning of a network that can be very valuable to your career. They will become your friend, mentor and probably refer work to you if they are too busy. Nurture these relationships as your positive reputation as a second shooter grows.

If you find it difficult to find second shooter work, you might offer your services as an assistant. Even without a camera in your hand, you can learn a lot. In fact, being an assistant, you are with the main shooter a lot more than when you are a second shooter. While a second shooter will get sent to photograph the groom and his boys getting ready at the wedding, an assistant might be right with the main photographer learning how to hang a dress and organize champagne-fueled bridesmaids. After working as an assistant for a while, you might be promoted to the second shooter. 

Another idea that may appeal to would-be second shooters is offering to shoot while on vacation. This is good if you are purely focused on building your portfolio. If you are having a 2-week vacation in a tropical destination, why not offer to spend a day shooting? If a photographer knows you will never turn into competition, it can be appealing to them. Your brand can also be elevated by showcasing a destination wedding. (Make sure you are “volunteering” and not working if you are overseas, so you don't break any laws such as not having a work permit.) 

Being a second shooter can be an exciting and rewarding role in the world of photography. You are an essential part of a team and you can gain endless skills and experience. We know you will go from a new second shooter to a seasoned one in no time!

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