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A Photographer’s Thoughts: The Second Shooter Conundrum

dom the tog bride finalone2When choosing a photographer one of the questions that’s likely to have a big impact on your day is this: Do you use a second shooter?

Different photographers will have varying preferences with regard to how they shoot on the day. Some prefer to shoot alone, some always work in pairs where neither is the prime shooter. Sometimes photographers might hire another photographer to second shoot for the day and for others they have a permanent second shooter who is part of the business but by no means the prime photographer. On the face of it having a second shooter (in whatever capacity that may be) can surely only be a good thing, after all presumably you have twice the number of shots to choose from, so why doesn’t every photographer follow this model?

The advantages can be great – additional angles can be covered, one can perhaps concentrate on more candid shots whilst the other is capturing the formals, you have a second photographer there in case of delays or illness and, perhaps most significantly, it makes it fairly simple to capture the full experience of both the bride and groom getting ready for their big day. But this doesn’t necessarily show the full picture…

For the camera-shy the idea of having additional cameras present can prove more of a concern than a bonus, particularly when the second shooter may be someone who simply turns up on the day rather than the prime photographer with whom you’ve already built up a relationship whether that be through emails and phone conversations or through face-to-face meetings. It’s also probably fair to say that a second shooter who doesn’t shoot regularly with the prime photographer may have a very different style to how they shoot. This can in some ways be a good thing as they might provide more variety in the shots but it may also mean that the overall style is less consistent, even if the images are eventually processed in the prime photographer’s style. It’s also fair to say that some photographer’s simply work better alone and prefer to have full control of their own photographs rather than entrusting their work to someone else, after all it’s much more difficult to exclude a shot that the bride and groom witnessed being taken if it’s not up to scratch than not to include a shot that was never taken in the first place. There’s also the risk of another photographer actually getting in the way of the prime’s shots, particularly if the prime and second naturally look for very different angles.

Second shooter

Even where photographers do decide a second shooter is likely to be required, finding one is not always easy. Few photographers survive purely on being a second shooter and most will be prime photographers for their own business, making it difficult to always guarantee their availability. The standard of work produced by second shooters can also vary greatly, with some second shooters just starting out in their careers and using it as a learning exercise whilst sometimes your second shooter may be just as, if not more experienced than the prime photographer and may be second shooting only because, perhaps for reasons of respect or simply friendship, they want to spend a day working with with the prime photographer in question. Of course photographers will always look to work with someone who they believe shares a similar style as they want the images to be as consistent as possible and they will only want to work with someone with whom they feel compatible and so will always screen their second shooters very carefully.

As we’ve already mentioned of course not all second shooters are working on a freelance basis, often they are an important member of the actual business, some part time or some full time. This of course means that they are generally likely to shoot only with the prime photographer and will therefore have a much more consistent overall shooting style. This increased consistency is certainly likely to be extremely appealing, though of course sometimes in this model the second shooter has much less experience than the prime shooter and, being in a situation where they are likely to be limited to always being in the second shooter role which is sometimes more restrictive than that of the prime shooter (often being told to focus on getting the “safe” shots rather than more artistic exploration, they may have relatively fewer opportunities for self-improvement than a freelancer who might experience both roles on different occasions.

Eventually though in this model the full-time second shooter may become almost indistinguishable from the prime shooter and this can develop into an entirely different setup – the prime partnership. In this model neither is considered the prime shooter as both photographers are equally skilled and whilst each may have their individual specialties, neither has dominance over what might be considered the prime angle. In this truly collaborative setup you truly should be getting twice the coverage as all the shots are equally good, and the photographers are likely to have worked long enough with each other that they have a true and almost telepathic understanding of how the other works. This may seem like the ideal scenario, however such models are comparatively rare as it’s often more difficult for two experienced professionals to agree entirely on their creative vision and, whilst not always the case, it’s also worth bearing in mind that both photographers being on top of their game is likely to be reflected in the price you pay.

So which of these is the best model? Well each has their advantages and disadvantages and unfortunately the best answer we can give you is “it depends”. If you’re desperate to have full coverage of both the bride and groom getting ready then clearly a second photographer will be needed as they can’t physically be in two places at once. If you’re terribly camera shy and really don’t want another camera following you around on the day then perhaps just one photographer is the ideal for you. There’s no right or wrong answer but it is worth asking the question before you book so that you have a full understanding of who it is that will be with you at your wedding. At the end of the day though to second shoot or not to second shoot is as much as anything about personal preference and is a question that only the individual photographer will be able to answer.

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  • Stephen Duncan - February 20, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    A very nicely-written and well-balanced article, and chimes very much with the advice I give my wedding couples also (increasingly it seems a lot of people expect or assume a second these days). The only other thing I would throw into a mix as a consideration is the size of the wedding, as for me this can also be an important influencing factor: two photographers at a twenty-person ceremony can sometimes (but not necessarily) feel awkward. If you’ve got a couple of hundred guests coming however a second (and maybe even a third) can be crucial if the couple are after coverage of as many guests as possible through the course of the day. Ultimately there’s no right or wrong of course; as with most things in life it’s about balance and finding the option which best fits their requirements on the day.ReplyCancel

    • bridevsgroom - February 20, 2014 - 4:22 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the article Stephen and thanks for adding the point about the size of the wedding – it’s an excellent and very valid point :)ReplyCancel

  • Laura {Babb Photo} - February 21, 2014 - 11:36 am

    I will be working with an assistant at all of my 2014 weddings for the sake of my back/sanity. I always feel much less pressure when there is someone there to help me, carry things and support me. I don’t rely on an assistant for shots (if the couple want extra coverage I bring in an experienced second) but it does take a lot of pressure off me if I can have someone helping me. Also my back. Did I mention my back?ReplyCancel

  • Maria Assia Photography - February 21, 2014 - 4:03 pm

    Great post and I agree with so many points. I think there is one more dimension to it too. For couples that are also considering having videographers capturing their wedding as well as (a) photographer(s) it can be really overwhelming having 3-4 cameras pointed at you all day.

    Overall though, having two photographers can really provide a great, much fuller set of images and there are definitely weddings this year when I will have a second shooter with me.ReplyCancel

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