The Do’s and Don’ts of Being A Second Shooter

When you are a photographer, you have your own ideas, your own agendas and your own style. You know what you want to accomplish and how you’ll go about it.

But when you add a second shooter to the equation, it can make your life ten times easier … or a complete nightmare. It doesn’t even come down to who your second shooter is – when I first started shooting with my husband Andrew, we had many “fights” about what to do and what not to do.

Two people means different styles and different ideas. That’s a fact. But your clients don’t care about the dynamics between you. They just want awesome photographs. And rightfully so.

Which means before you bring on a second shooter, whether its your spouse, best friend, or a new hire, you better have a clear understanding of what you expect from the second shooter. And have a way to communicate that knowledge to them before the shoot.

Here are some ideas to get you going.

DO – Write down your expectations in “contract” format. It’s much easier to design your second shooter wish list while sitting down and brainstorming your requirements. Whether you choose to use a contract or not is up to you, but at the very minimum have a form that allows you to go over your job expectations.

DON’T – Never explain things or issue new requirements in the heart of the shoot. Yes, the second shooter should be able to think ahead and be there for you. But they should understand what you want to accomplish long before standing in front of the client.

DO – Talk about what to wear. When I first started going along as a second shooter, I would wear my favorite dresses – including a bright fuchsia skirt with matching jacket. Until I noticed I stood out in many of the photographs.

DON’T – Don’t get hypercritical about what you should wear. Think of your clothing as a uniform. As our wedding photography improved, we discovered black suits were the best. Even with our assistants – male and female – we required black pants and jackets, and a black blouse, sweater or turtleneck. Pants meant I wouldn’t step on the back of my skirt when leaning down and rip out the hem (yep, did that a couple of times). And black meant we could fade into any image if we happened to be in it.

DO – Teach your second shooter well. They should understand all of your camera equipment and know how to set it up without you around. They should anticipate where you are going to be and what you’ll need.

DON’T – Never assume they can handle your equipment like you can just because they are photographers too. They may be new to photography, or use different equipment. They may not understand how to use your tripod or set up your lighting – especially in the manner you prefer.

DO – Talk about who owns the images from the shoot and what they will be used for. Many second shooters are looking to build their own portfolios. If you don’t mind them using a few images for their own personal use, let them know. Also make sure its okay with your clients, as they may be offended if they suddenly see their images marketing a photographer they don’t even know. They are representing you, above all, and they should follow your lead no matter what.

DON’T – Assume they are working for you and understand the ethics of copyright use. For many photographers, they assume if they “shot” the image, it’s theirs to do with as they please. If you have specific rules or requirements, lay them all out before you ever decide to shoot together.

DO – A second shooter should act professional and represent you well. What you assume isn’t always what you get. Give them an outline of the day. Talk about “breaks” and when you can eat at the wedding – no drinking on the job. Talk about cell phone usage. Talk about chatting with clients, guests, or whoever else is at the event.

DON’T – Never be afraid to adjust the behavior of your second shooter immediately. Above all, they are representing you and your business. If they are doing something you don’t like or disagree with, tell them. This is your ethics and business practice on the line – even if it is your spouse, you are in charge.

DO – Have your second shooter understand your process.  Will they be shooting with their own equipment or using yours? What should they do with the digital files during the shoot? If they use their own equipment, when should they have the images to you?

DON’T – Never rely on a shooter for important images without fully understanding what they can do. Second shooters are there to back you up, be in places that complement you, and allow you to do your job more efficiently. They are never there to be your main shooter or to take over while you do something else.

DO – Have specific requirements in mind before you take someone on as a second shooter. Many photographers will approach you for the opportunity of being a second shooter. But if you’ve never thought about having one before, the opportunity could be wasted for the both of you. Make sure you know what you want, and don’t settle without filling those expectations.

DON’T – Don’t get caught up in the idea that a second shooter has to be a great photographer when they first come to you. One of our best second shooters came to us as a senior in high school, very little experience but a true desire to learn. She worked with us every summer all through college and was one of our best second shooters ever. She was 100 percent reliable and ended up developing a great photographic eye.

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