Second Photographers and How They Help You Grow as a Wedding Photographer

Good second photographers are needed to grow the industry.  Second photographers are groomed to be the next generation.  So how does it help you grow as a photographer?

“Need a second photographer for 3 hours, Nikon preferred” is a common post you see in Facebook groups currently during the start of summer 2022 here in Asheville and most of North Carolina.  It seems more and more photographers have been selling the line item, second photographer as a part of their packages or collections.  It’s great for extra cash, but why is it important for your growth as a wedding photographer in North Carolina?

The first interaction with a camera I can remember, is when I picked up my grandfather’s Nikon F camera. I remember how it felt in my hands.  The way the mechanism worked and moved, always brought a lot of curiosity for me.  I was about 10 years old, and had no way of knowing that 32 years later, I would be writing blog posts as someone who could be possibly influential to others in my field.

I started out in the wedding industry as someone who wanted to be a music festival photographer.  I wanted to be a part of the joy that it brought to others and preserve that with them.  Then I saw how few were able to make a comfortable living doing it.  When I entered the wedding world I didn’t understand how personal it would get for me, I just thought I would make bank. 

I began second shooting for a photographer in Key West, Florida where I lived for 10 years, and still maintain a presence in, but now am focusing my free time on establishing myself in Asheville, North Carolina.  Starting out, I didn’t know how to shoot manually, nor did I know how flash worked.  All I knew was what I had seen on Youtube, and it was time to grow from there.  

I came on as an assistant, and also a full time second shooter.  My job consisted of carrying gear, setup/breakdown of flash and cameras, being a lighting assistant, and at the time of parting ways with this photographer, able to handle a full wedding by myself.

Although we parted ways, I learned a lot through malfunctions of equipment and how situations were solved.  I did research to understand why things acted the way they did, so that I could apply that into my own business.  I found out that knowing a broad range of gear helped me, but that second shooting was even more positive.  The pressure wasn’t there, so I was able to let my mind run free.

I’ve spent the past two years shooting more and more with other photographers as a means of supplemental income, but also as a tool to experiment with light and compositions in a real world setting.  I’m able to go after the BIG shot in hopes I get something epic, which will add to that couples experience, and if you don’t it’s ok.  

You also focus on the tough shots that you would deliver as a primary photographer.  A second photographer is also there to back up the primary, and have their back.  They are part of your support system for the day.  You never know when that ceremony image you took from close to the same angle might be better and a cleaner shot.  You also see how to create relationships with your clients.  You get to see first hand the importance of knowing your photographer and something as simple as their last name.

It’s a great opportunity to shoot, but also learn from photographers who use flash.  So many second photographers do not know how to use flash, and are scared to death of taking the flash off the camera. Get over it! Learn!  I won’t hire anyone to assist me as a full time second photographer if they dont have at least somewhat of an understanding of flash.  The images that I can create with an assistant versus solo takes things up a complete level.  I’m currently training someone as an assistant who will move to second photographer when she is ready, but understanding flash first makes her even more versatile.  It’s the same way I learned flash.  

Once you are shooting solo and hiring second photographers, you should never stop being a second photographer.  You find a photographer you look up to, or feel you have the same style, and grow together.  I couldn’t tell you how many new ideas I have tried while working with other photographers, and the ones that worked have just added to their delivery of awesome images. It’s also a great way to meet the people in your industry when new to a town, something I treasure being new here in Asheville, North Carolina.  

It gives you an opportunity to hang out with your friends and do something you enjoy, while pushing each other to create some amazing images.

So if you are reading this and you are thinking about offering second photographers, or want to learn more about larger weddings, I suggest you do this:

  1. Try to second shoot at least once a month.  Learn from someone who has experience and learn what the stresses are.
  2. Use it as an opportunity to shoot a little, and learn a lot.  I’m always happy to bring someone on a wedding to learn lighting vs paying for a course
  3. When second shooting go for the tough creative shots, but also make sure you are backing your primary up.
  4. Deliver quality images that contain storytelling components, or creative detail.  Don’t just deliver the “safe” shots
  5. Practice getting closer to the couples and filling the frame.
  6. Always give 110% regardless if it’s your wedding or not.
  7. Study your images and ask the primary to critique them for you
  8. Be open to learning at every opportunity

Here are some images from the past two years of wedding photography in Asheville, North Carolina as a second photographer: