6 Tips for Wedding Second-Shooters

2012-09-30 by elendilthetall. 1 comments

Like many serious amateur photographers, I have thought about making money from my hobby. Landscape and stock photography is super-saturated these days, and there’s not a great deal of money in it, so I decided to try my hand at wedding photography. It’s neither easy or advisable to jump straight into it, but I was lucky enough to have a friend of a friend who already had a few weddings under his belt who needed a second shooter, and so I jumped at the chance to help him out on a couple of occasions.

In this post I’ll try and give you some tips based on my (admittedly limited) experiences.

1. Prepare for a LONG day

At the first wedding I assisted on, I was tasked with shooting the groom’s preparations on my own first of all, before shooting the rest of the day, right up to the first dance, alongside the main photographer. This meant I started at 11am  and finished around 10pm. It’s a long shift, but what makes it tiring is the fact that you are pretty much switched on all day. You need to be constantly on the lookout for photo opportunities, especially because as the second shooter you will often be in charge of capturing candid shots while the main photographer handles the posed ones.

Lesson learned, for my second wedding I made sure to get an early night the night before, and to bring along some energy drinks and chocolate bars for a quick energy boost when needed throughout the day.

2. Consider renting a lens

One of the biggest advantages of second shooting is that you get to build your portfolio while you gain experience. While the guy I was assisting had invested in a top-end 24-70mm 2.8 lens, I was only using my consumer level lenses. Now, I managed to get plenty of useable shots, but they all would have been much better with a pro level lens, and I’m sure I would have increased my proportion of decent shots as well, thanks to the faster shutter speeds afforded by an f2.8 maximum aperture. Since my second-shooting experiences, I have had the opportunity via Stack Exchange to use some pro-level lenses and the difference in image quality is astounding.

I would absolutely not recommend buying such a lens (unless you’re really well-heeled) purely for dipping your toe into the wedding waters, but I would recommend renting. You can usually rent a lens for a weekend for next to nothing, and the benefits to your portfolio will be worth it and then some. The main photographer will also likely be much happier with the results as well.

3. Shoot duplicates – lots of duplicates

Put your camera in continuous shooting mode and use it. When you’re shooting formal or posed portraits, the wedding party will be constantly distracted by family members out of frame. They’ll blink. Younger members of the wedding party will run around like headless chickens. Shots will get messed up. Take 3 or 4 of each shot and you increase your chances of getting the shot, or being able to create the shot in post by compositing shots together.

4. Invest in another battery and memory card

If you haven’t already got them, you need a spare battery and memory card for shooting weddings. I was in two minds at first – hey, I’ve shot whole week-long vacations on one battery before now – but got a spare battery just in case for my first wedding shoot. And it was a good job I did: I burned through my first battery by the end of the formal shots. Constant shooting and writing to the card drains the battery so much quicker than the occasional snap on vacation. As for memory cards, you can never have enough. I shot 1600 shots at my first wedding, 1000 at my second (because I was following tip 3!). Capacity isn’t the only issue – what if a card fails? Spare cards are very affordable, so invest in a couple of extra ones and you’ll be good to go.

5. Be Adaptable

Weddings are great occasions, but they are also pretty damn hectic, especially in the run up to the main event. As I mentioned above, I was assigned to shoot the groom’s preparations in the morning. The plan was to shoot him getting ready, then get some shots with the best man and ushers. However, the situation was complicated by the fact that the groom was having to look after his baby son while getting ready, and the best man and ushers were nowhere to be found. I was under an obligation to get some shots both for my main photographer and for my portfolio.

In the event, I switched my plan to get posed shots of the groom’s party and went for more or less last-minute candid shots of them assisting the groom, when they turned up. My point is, you need to be ready for any eventuality. Have a general plan in place, but as Eisenhower said, no plan survives the first three seconds of battle. Be prepared to change your plans and adapt accordingly.

6. The Five Ps

Or, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Just because you’re ‘only’ second shooting, that doesn’t mean you should rely on the main photographer to carry the day. You owe it to him, yourself, and the bride and groom to do a good job. Firstly, get as much information as you can from the main photographer. The who, what, where and when is obvious, but the more details you can get the better prepared you will be. What colour are the bridesmaids dresses? Are the parents of the bride and groom on good terms with each other? How are the happy couple getting to the reception? Where does the main shooter want you during the ceremony? What does he want you to do during the portrait shoot?

Next, scout the location. Try and visit at the time of day the wedding will be taking place so you can assess the light. What kind of shutter speed are you going to get? Where are the best locations to take the group shots? How about the romantic shots of the happy couple? If it rains, is there somewhere indoors where you can shoot?

Get your kit ready. Make a checklist and use it. Charge your batteries. Format your memory cards. Clean your lenses. Pack your bag with just what you’ll need for the day – graduated neutral density filters and reversing rings won’t be much use, ditch them. If you’ve got a flashgun, do you have enough batteries for it? And so on. Be meticulous in your preparation and your day will go so much smoother.