Home Forums Let’s Talk Photography Second shooting, how do you do it?

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    Hi guys,

    I’m an amateur photographer looking to improve, I’m wanting to get into wedding photography/portraiture and I’m having a hard time of it. I see a lot of advice saying do a few shoots as a second shooter for an established pro but it’s damn near impossible to get anywhere with that.

    I must have contacted every photog in my area asking for an opportunity to second shoot or assist, even if it’s just lugging their gear about in order to watch and learn and get some practical experience but they either say no or flat out ignore me.

    I understand that they don’t want to be training up someone who may eventually become their competition but surely everyone has to start somewhere no?

    To be honest I’m out of ideas and it seems like I’ll never get the opportunity to learn to a point that I’m confident to go it alone, how did you start? How would you deal with this?




    I can’t talk for other wedding photographers but I too flat out say “no” to anyone wanting to second shoot or assist. First of all, anyone shooting at my wedding reflects on my business. As soon as you point a camera, you are working for me and represent me. “Learning” second shooters always say, “I’ll stay far back and not get in the way” but eagerness for the next shot invariably leads to them getting more and more intrusive and possibly interacting with the couple and guests. At the least, you may take their attention from me and that’s a huge no-no. And then, you’ll have to realize (at least in the country where I live), that any shot you take is mine. You may not use them for a portfolio unless I give the ok. And that’s what a lot of photographers won’t like. It’s bad enough setting up a beautiful shot and having mom or aunt Sue shoot over your shoulder and proclaim they “got the shot” (not that it happens to me as I don’t allow family and friends to shadow me), but many photographers don’t like working hard during the day and before it (actually working hard to sign the couple up) and seeing the day on someone else’s site as “your” wedding.
    Then there is the “I’ll carry your stuff”. Well, there is more to it than just lugging gear. You’ll have to set up the gear and set it up where I need it. Do you know that? Of course not because you’re new to the job. It’s not a criticism, just the way it is. So it’s of little help to carry some umbrellas and assorted gear. Anyway, I have (usually) little time to do my job. Or at least, many times less time than I’d like but I get it done because I have reliable staff that knows their job and I don’t have to second guess what they are doing. It just gets done. I’ve done formals in as little as 15 minutes and you’d think I had 2 hours. It’s because we know what we are doing. Having someone who has never seen the “behind the scenes” is quite frankly a hindrance. I have a lot of work to do, I have to make it enjoyable for the couple and their friends (make 20 minutes seem like it was 2 hours) and guests, and I don’t need the extra distraction of wondering what the trainee is doing/not doing.

    Now, that all sounded harsh I’m sure and it’s not meant to be cruel but I think brutal honesty is needed. I too get many who want to shoot or lug gear. I don’t have time for those who don’t know what they’re doing. A wedding day is not the time to train someone. I actually have a job to do (the old cliche of not being able to go back and do it again is true) and there are already many distractions I have to ignore and I don’t need another. So I would recommend (if you haven’t already) is not to offer to shoot or lug gear. Your best bet is to ask to shadow the second or assistant(s). Do not bring a camera. Do not carry/move/hold and equipment. Do not interact with anyone. Remember, you’ll be part of the photographer’s crew and you actions reflect on him/her. A comment that may seem harmless to you can deeply offend people, reflecting on the photographer and his/her business. Your best bet is to stay behind the second or assistant and do nothing but observe and smile. Oh, and then you have to hope you get a decent photographer to allow this. Ideally of course, you’d like to follow someone who really knows what he/she is doing on the day.

    Now that all said, you may find you can’t even get an invitation to shadow. “I understand that they don’t want to be training up someone who may eventually become their competition but surely everyone has to start somewhere no?”…is not the problem for all the reasons I stated above, at least from my perspective. Whether I “train” someone or they learn elsewhere, they will become my competition. You can’t stop it. But back to you. Do a fake wedding. Do you have any friends? Ask them to be the bride and groom and spend some time with them. Get feedback on how your are directing them. And timing. Don’t lose track of the time. You don’t want to get someone to their reception late.
    Then the next step would be a real wedding. Now, I hate to see any couple on their day get sub-par photos. The stark reality though is that there are couples out there is a budget so low that a photographer is out of the question. That is your opportunity to do the job for them. Be completely upfront and let them know your experience level (zero). But do what you can and that’s to be as technically proficient with your gear that you can be. Hone your “people skills”. Know how to read people and make them comfortable. And don’t lose track of time. With luck, and tons of hard work, you will improve and gain confidence. And use each and every moment of the day as a learning experience and take that into the next wedding and make every shot and moment better than the last. Good luck.



    Wow, thanks for the extensive reply. No need to worry about sounding harsh, all good points well made. To be honest I hadn’t really considered a lot of what you spoke about. I guess as you suggest I’ll have to just practice, practise, practise, get my direction right, get my portraiture up to scratch in any imaginable situation, then maybe that will give me the confidence to do a real wedding.

    The thing is, even if I shoot a wedding for nothing as a favour or for experience, I still feel that the B+G deserve great images after all, they’re all that last.



    Picstop has made some really great points in his post, and it’s great that you took them on board, well done.

    From my own experience, I never wanted to be a wedding photographer, it just wan’t something I thought i’d enjoy. Here’s a story from 6 years ago…

    After word of my hobby got around my office, I inevitably received a request to shoot a wedding for a colleague. I initially turned him down, explaining that I wasn’t confident and didn’t have any experience in that area, but he managed to turn my decision around. I was pretty swift at setting my camera to RAW after that conversation.

    The whole wedding and reception took place at one venue, so no stress about travelling around for the day. I turned up way earlier than anyone else so that I could shoot some images of the room and gauge the lighting beforehand. The stress hit me as soon as the first guest arrived. I didn’t know anyone there (except the groom) and any confidence that I had beforehand, totally vanished.

    My first amateur mistake was realising that the battery I had in my camera hadn’t been fully charged. It ran out during the first 10 minutes of the ceremony which left me fumbling at the back of the room to replace it with my only other spare! The rest of the ceremony went smoothly and I put the other battery back on charge for later.
    The next problem was my inexperience with flash photography. It was raining cats and dogs outside, so every other shot that day was taken inside a dimly lit venue. It was something I had anticipated as the worst case scenario, and it was happening! I only had my Canon 400D (Rebel?) back then, and going to 1600 ISO on that thing was asking for trouble, I had no choice though… My options were a 50mm f/1.8  or the 18-55mm  f/3.5-5.6.  Shutter speed was too slow at widest aperture so I had to crank that sensitivity for some ambient and try to use flash as a key light (on camera by the way….).

    I basically spent the entire day sweating enough to fill an olympic sized swimming pool. Every time I raised the camera to my face, I completely forgot how to use it. I had no control over guests for the formals and no idea how to pose the bride and groom for their couples shots.

    I left at around 10pm feeling exhausted and hoping I could salvage at least something from the day.  In the end I scraped together about 100 shots of the day and delivered them a few weeks later after some intense RAW editing in the software supplied with the camera.

    He was thrilled with them and had nothing but praise for me for working so hard on the day. He knew I was struggling at the time and showed support and encouragement for doing my best.

    Now I knew at the time that my images were garbage, they would have been on this site if I’d ever put them online, but it taught me one very important thing. I HATED wedding photography and never wanted to do it again.

    That was until I took my camera (for snap shots) to a family members wedding in Italy. I stayed well out of the way and let the hired pros do their thing. Straight away I noticed that I was getting much better shots than before, all candid. The stress wasn’t on me to perform and I could concentrate on getting my settings and composition sorted. We were in Sorrento (totally beautiful), and that day encouraged me to take as many images as I could for the rest of the trip. I walked quaint little alleys alone in the evening to find something to shoot, my hobby had never felt so fantastic.

    It was a few years until I shot my next wedding for a friend (having had time to practice, and calm down from the first disaster), which was a whole camping weekend away in North Wales. This time I was ready, I knew the camera like the back of my hand, I had off camera flash knowledge and I totally nailed it. The shots aren’t award winning but some are still in my portfolio to pad it out.

    The next wedding was a paid gig at a very low rate. Again it was a work colleague who asked me to shoot her sons wedding. It was a quick in and out ceremony, no longer than 2 hours at the venue (actually about 1hr 30 overall). Confidence in my skills and people handling had built considerably, again it was a good day.

    Now I love shooting weddings, wish I had more booked up. The rapport you build with the bride and groom is wonderful. Making guests laugh while setting up the requested group shots is a lot of fun. You spend less time stressing and more time being creative and enjoying the moments with everyone else.

    To sum up, if someone asks you to shoot their wedding for free, say yes and do it. Explain that you don’t have experience but will do your best. As long as they use you expecting nothing more than snapshots documenting the day, you can’t lose, and you may surprise them with a few gems.

    As a side note – I always say that if someone wants a cheap/free photographer that’s great. Whoever is shooting is “Working”, and that job is to document the day as best as they can. Everyone else may be taking photos at key moments, but the photographer is there to capture everything the others don’t see or care about. A photographer should enjoy the day too, it makes dealing with people a lot easier, but the first priority is getting the shots, even if they aren’t that good.

    I hope that little life story gives you some encouragement to go and work out a plan for yourself.

    Best regards


    You’re welcome, thenegativeone. I hope it all helps in some way.
    And I hope I didn’t come off as too arrogant with my “I say no to seconds or assistants with no training”. I hope people did get the impression, and I do, say yes to shadowing. I’ve actually had a few (from my local college and university), shadow for the day and decide wedding photography wasn’t for them. It can be an eye-opener. Anyway, as I said before, hone up on the skills you have and need as much as possible. Become comfortable with people and comfortable with conducting people. And above all, have confidence in your abilities. Always be confident and ensure everyone on the day sees your confidence. It always gives me a chuckle when a couple comes to meet me for the first time, and tells me “I don’t want to look posed or be told what to do and want candids”. Without fail, honestly, five seconds after arriving at the formals location, the bride will look at me and ask, “where do you want us and what do you want us to do?”. You really are the conductor for an orchestra. Even without asking, everyone will be looking to you for direction (not necessarily the literal meaning but they do look to you as the “one in charge”), and should you for a minute falter, they will lose confidence in your photos and that will show in those photos. Yes, that’s bad. So, confidence. And should your confidence falter slightly, bury it. Take a breath, adjust the camera settings, take the “bad” shot where after setting up the bridal party you see it doesn’t quite work so they don’t know it doesn’t and move ’em all again for the shot you really had in mind. Never let on that something did not go to plan. As far as people know, every breath you took was part of your big plan for the day. Never stumble, stagger or mumble. Always smile and be friendly. It’s a happy day after all and for the most part, everyone there wants to be there and are happy that the couple is getting married. Work the happiness and it’ll permeate you and you’ll be a little more relaxed too and more able to lead them all to wonderful photos.

    And…Thomas…what a great story. How similar to me in that I was never fond of the “you can’t go back and do it again” along with so many people to conduct. I was trained, I knew what to do and how to do it but for some stupid reason I can no longer fathom because it was so long ago, I was intimidated. Until the first time I finally said yes and I can’t understand why I didn’t start sooner. It’s not a career for everyone but I enjoy each and every wedding.

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