Wedding Photography — How to Be a Great Second Shooter

After speaking with several lead photographers, it occurred to photographer Emily McGonigle that a lot of second shooters out there don’t know what it means to be a second shooter at a wedding.

A quick online search showed her that online guides for second shooters tend to be written from the perspective of the lead photographer.

Describing herself as “strictly a second shooter“, she has shared with Bokeh ten important considerations that she believes make the difference between a doing an passable job and getting repeat work.


Don’t forget whose gig it is

“When you are second shooting, you are not your own photographer. You are an extension of the lead photographer. You work for them. You are part of their brand for the day.”

Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons

Don’t talk to the client about your own photography business. If they ask, never hand them a business card, show them your website, or mention specifics.


Don’t get in the way

I don’t care how great it would look in your portfolio, even if you’re there to gain experience and build a portfolio, that always comes second to actually supporting the lead’s needs.”

The lead’s shots are more important than yours. Don’t get in their way just to ‘get the shot’.


Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons


Don’t engage with the guests after the party ends

Your interaction with the client should end at the end of the night when you leave the wedding.”

If clients seek you out and add you on Facebook, contact the lead photographer and ask them what they would like you to do.


Don’t use the work for your main portfolio

“If the lead photographer allows you to keep your images (and not all of them will—you’re a work-for-hire contractor as a second shooter), never post them online before the lead photographer gets a chance to do so and finish with their client.”

Never use the images in your main portfolio. After the lead photographer has posted them and is finished with their client, blog with them if you wish but always specify that you were the second shooter at the wedding, and be sure to mention who the lead photographer was.


Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons


Help the lead be in two places at once

“You’re there to be a second set of eyes or a second perspective for the lead photographer. Getting different angles of the first dance can help enhance the story-telling of that moment.”

Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons


Capture as many details as possible

“Take photos of everything you see. Having more details of the wedding than needed is way better than not having enough. Shoot everything.”

Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons


Anticipate the lead’s needs before they do—be proactive

“If the lead has a lot of equipment to carry, help them carry it. If there are lights that need to be put on stands, help them set up lights. Watch for hair ties on wrists, unbuttoned buttons, uneven bouquets, etc.”

Don’t wait to be asked to do what you can see needs to be done, be the lead’s second set of eyes.


Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Krystal Mann


Be time/space/lead-aware

“Be aware of where the lead photographer is, and make sure to avoid being in their shots. Also, be conscious of the guests. You are there to get great photos, but you also need to be considerate.”

Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Krystal Mann


Shoot a different focal length than the lead

“Communicate with the lead photographer.”

If the lead is shooting the first dance with a 70-200, you should shoot with your 24-70. If they’re getting wider shots of the ceremony, get tight shots of the bride and grooms expressions. Help them offer as much variety as possible to their client.


Emily McGonigle / second shooter for Matthew Simmons


Come prepared

“It’s good to have lenses that cover both long and short focal lengths, because you’ll need to get wide shots for certain situations and tight shots for others.”

In addition to short and long focal length lenses, some people will want to get macro lenses for close detail shots. As McGonigle is primarily a portait photographer she is content to work without. One essential is a flash, and knowing how to use it to combat the less-than-perfect lighting you’re bound to be up against in some venues.

Check out the complete guide on McGonigle’s webpage, and let her know if you feel she has missed any!

For a look at some of the wedding work upon which McGonigle has acted as second shooter, check out Matthew Simmons and Krystal Mann.