I started doing weddings in Montreal several years ago. I started as a second photographer, now I'm working with my own second photographers, and here, I'll be sharing wedding photography tips for both second shooters and main photographers working with second photographers for the first time. I’ve phrased the tips into questions you should ask yourself, and I’m giving you the 5 most important ones, because people seem to like lists with multiples of five.
1) How should you divide the work?
Having two photographers is a great opportunity to get a diversity of angles. But to take full advantage of this, it’s important to have a plan, otherwise you’ll just end up with duplicate shots. If you’re working for the first time with someone else, I’d recommend sitting down together and going through all the key moments of the wedding day.
Examples of key moments where we divide the work: Beginning of ceremony: bride walking down the aisle vs. groom’s reaction Exchange of rings: close-up vs. wide Bouquet toss: bride throwing vs. focus on women catching the bouquet Speeches: reactions of bride & groom vs. person speaking
One moment where my second photographers and I do not divide the work is during the morning preparations (for a bunch of reasons). If the schedule allows it, we prefer both visiting the bride and groom, rather than sending one person with the bride, and the other with the groom.
2) What kind of equipment will you be bringing?
Make sure your cameras, lenses, and focal lengths covered complement each other. Does one of you have a macro lens for close-up shots of details? How will you deal with low-light situations? Are both of you going to be using flash? Or is one person going to rely on high-ISOs and fast lenses only? Figuring this out beforehand is ideal since you'll be able to position yourselves optimally during the ceremony and reception.
Examples of what we do: Although our focal lengths overlap, I’ll tend to shoot more telephoto during the ceremony, while my second photographer will shoot more wide. During the reception, to avoid bombarding wedding guests with flash, I make sure only one of us uses flash.
3) What other responsibilities does the second photographer have? Will the second photographer be a combination of second photographer and assistant?
Make sure the expectations are very clear between both photographers. Some second photographers will just be a second professional wedding photographer at the wedding. Others may be asked to be an assistant at times, so their task list might involve carrying bags, herding people together for a group photo, holding reflectors and lights, etc. Make sure the expectations are clearly defined, otherwise you might offend a second photographer.
What I ask from my second photographers: Because I am typically the only one setting up light stands and flashes, I do ask for help from my second photographer for carrying things at times. During parts of the wedding where I believe having only one photographer is better (such as formal family portraits), I will ask my second photographer to help me pose people and ask other guests to put their cameras down (if they are too distracting and causing my subjects to be looking in multiple directions). I also ask my second photographers to bathe me after the wedding. Just kidding, we both take a bath together. Anyway the point is that we communicate before the wedding, and it’s not a surprise on the wedding day.
4) What image usage rights does the second photographer have?
This is perhaps the most important point. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot do with the images as a second photographer. Each photographer will have a preferred way of working. Here are the two extremes for second photographers:
a) The mercenary: Some consider that all the photographs produced on this day belong to the primary photographer. The second photographer cannot post these photos online, even if he took them, because they were taken within the umbrella of the primary photographer’s business. In this option, the second photographer is just a hired gun for the day. If I were to second-shoot a wedding as a mercenary, I would charge more for this kind of work, since there is no benefit afterwards (such as using image for portfolio or for promotion purposes on social media). You just do it for money and experience. In this kind of situation, the primary photographer often provides the memory cards and takes them back at the end of the wedding day.
b) The intern: Another type of photographer may be an intern-type of photographer. Some people will start as second photographers to build up a portfolio, and therefore getting permission to post the images after the wedding is crucial. Make sure you agree on how and where you can post the photos, and if credit to the primary photographer is necessary. If I were to second-shoot a wedding as an intern, because I would be able to use the photos after the wedding, I would expect to be paid less.
Many photographers have very strong opinions against both types of photographers, so make sure you discuss what role is expected!
What I do as a primary photographer: I only hire the mercenary-type of photographer. One reason is image control for my clients. I tell my clients where their photos will be posted (blog post, a few on my social media pages, and portfolio), and I can only fully control this if I have all the images. I don’t want one of their images pop up in a random photo contest somewhere, or on a random Flickr page.
5) How should the second photographer behave at the wedding? Does the primary photographer have any rules s/he goes by?
This is an important point for me personally. During weddings, the guests judge the photographer team as a unit. Some guests might be engaged and will be considering the photographer. It’s important that both act and dress in a professional manner. Regardless whether the second photographer is a mercenary or intern type, the tiniest unprofessional behaviour from his/her part could cost the primary photographer a potential job.
What I do: I ask what they’ll be wearing to make sure that it fits with what the clients are expecting from us. I tell them obvious (Don’t flirt with the bride/groom and guests. Don’t get drunk.) and the less obvious (Don’t have your phone out, even if it’s to look at the wedding schedule - get a printed version. Don’t hand out your business cards or promote your own photography business to inquiring wedding guests, you’re there as my associate.)
Hope this was helpful regardless of your wedding photography experience, and whether you’re a second photographer looking for work or a wedding photographer looking to hire someone to join you for the first time! Now I’ll leave you with a surprise 6th tip. Make sure there’s a contract. It’ll protect both of you!