When I was sixteen, I started taking photography pretty seriously as an obsessive hobbyist. At eighteen I started getting paid to do what I love and have been photographing weddings full-time ever since (that was eight years ago). To get started in the industry, I found that the best way to learn was by second shooting. I captured 13 weddings as a second shooter before I even attempted to photograph one on my own. Knowing how important weddings are to clients, I wasn’t about to mess up someone else’s big day because I was still learning. I started by offering my second shooting services for free to learn everything about the business and also to begin building my portfolio.
Unfortunately, I made two huge mistakes as a second shooter at my first wedding. I wore high-heels to the event and was about ready to die at hour three. I contemplated running barefoot to the nearest Target to pick up flats while the lead photographer assumed I was in the bathroom. Then, a few hours into shooting, I reformatted my memory card. Even worse than my blistered and bleeding feet was the realization that I had lost every single image I took from the “getting ready” portion of the day. Both mistakes almost made me want to quit wedding photography right then and never return to the industry. I was nearly in tears as I told the lead photographer, who sweetly reassured me that, “this a learning process, don’t sweat it, I got all the shots I needed.” Who was this angel?!
Thankfully, I made these mistakes as a second shooter, not the lead photographer. After learning my lesson(s) I finally decided to give it another try with a few more weddings. By my third gig, I was completely hooked! I cold-called nearly every single wedding photographer in the Seattle area asking to second shoot for them. My experience second shooting taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I felt more and more confident that I would be able to book my own wedding clients after every wedding I shot.
I even learned valuable insights in-between shooting, or on the drive to a shoot, simply by chatting with the photographer. I learned which software to use, how to respond to client complaints, which companies were best for prints, how to make a contract and accept payment, and I even learned some editing techniques. Most importantly, second shooting taught me things about the industry that you just wouldn’t be able to learn without first-hand experience. For example, my main takeaways from second shooting were:
1) The typical timeline of the day and sequence of events
2) The best equipment for the job
3) Which poses work, and which do not
4) How to shoot with flash
5) Which lenses are best for which scenarios
6) How to keep people calm when things get stressful
7) Which shots are most important the day of the wedding
Along with learning an incredible amount from second shooting, it also allowed me to build my portfolio. I was able to quit my job to become a full-time wedding photographer after my first year of shooting because I had an established body of work. Starting out, most of the work on my website was from weddings that I second shot, but people saw what I was able to do and began to hire me. Additionally, second shooting allowed me to meet and help local photographers which ultimately translated into referrals once my business was up and running. After I started shooting on my own, the photographers I worked with would refer clients that had a lower budget for a photographer since I was just breaking into the industry. They’d seen what I could do and felt comfortable referring me if they were booked, or if the inquiry didn’t match their ideal client base.
If shooting weddings intimidate you (hint: it should!) but you’re looking to break into the industry, then second shooting is the best recommendation I can provide.
I also encourage the more seasoned photographers to seek out new or early-career photographers for second shooting gigs. After eight years in business, I have worked with many second shooters and have had the honor of helping them start their own businesses. It is a very rewarding experience! It may sound like counterintuitive advice, but we all have to start somewhere and your knowledge and expertise is invaluable to someone just starting out. You’ll have a fan for life, and the reward of knowing that you made a difference for someone following their dreams. If nothing else, you’ll have more images to provide your client at little to no cost to you!