How to find or become a second shooter

When I started my photography career and wanted to get into weddings I started being a second shooter for a more established, local wedding photographer.

Everyone wins.

The lead photographer benefited because he didn’t pay me and got my help throughout the day. He could also leave me with the groom in the morning while he focused on the bride. Also, I could be at the back of the ceremony while he worked from the front. I could fetch him gear from the car and help round up people. I could do ‘behind the scenes’ photographs and video showing the lead photographer in action, which is great for his marketing. Of course I’d sometimes get great images that he missed, too.

The couple benefited because they got a second photographer, free of charge.

And of course I benefited because I got to build my portfolio and experience the challenges and flow of a wedding without the pressure of being the lead photographer.

These days I return the favour and use second shooters for 90% of my weddings.

However, many photographers don’t like using less established photographers as their second shooter.

There are two main reasons for this.

They’re worried the photographer will screw something up.

They don’t want to reveal all their secrets to the second shooter.

Let’s look at those two issues…

Yes, I do worry that my second shooters will screw something up.

I worry that they won’t even turn up!

One didn’t and I could never get hold of him ever again.

Ever since I’ve made a point of meeting every second shooter I use and I ensure that they’re local (this guy wasn’t).

Obviously I want to see the quality of their work, but I also want to get a feel for their personality, reliability and seriousness.

I’ll test them with questions about what they’d do in certain situations like low light and when they’re faced with 8 groomsmen getting ready in the morning.

But I also train them and give them tips and advice.

It’s also critically important to manage the expectations of the client.

I explain that my second photographers are learning their trade and that while they understand how to use their camera the client can’t expect the same quality as they’ll get from me.

If that’s a concern for them then I’ll be happy to source a more established second shooter at an extra charge.

I’ve recently started explaining this in my wedding contract so it’s in black and white.

Using less experienced second shooters is not an ideal choice for everyone.

If you’re a high-end wedding photographer then everything needs to be of the highest quality, including second shooters.

But then using an experienced second shooters come with problems too. They can be harder to find because they’re often already booked, or the client isn’t prepared to pay what they charge.

You’re probably thinking one of three things right now…

  1. Pah – not interested! That’s fine, this isn’t for everyone.
  2. How do you find these less experienced second shooters?
  3. If you’re less experienced yourself then you’re probably wondering how you get to be a second shooter?

Well, since I’m well ranked on Google and my tagline is ‘The World’s Most Helpful Photographer’ a lot of them find me.

I guess it’s because I sound approachable.

However, in the past I’ve had success with doing a quick advert on Gumtree. I got over a dozen responses the last time I did it.

You could also use the myriad of photography Facebook groups. Try to use local groups though because you want to meet them and build a bit of a relationship. My one second shooter who never turned up was from over 2 hours drive away (although he did turn up the first time and the day before he did confirm he was coming.)

So how do you become a second shooter?

Again, you could use local Facebook groups.

However, the best approach is to send a personal and tailored email to the photographers in your area you’d most like to work with.

In your email you need to do two things.

Most importantly you need to explain how they benefit from using you. How you’re going to bend over backwards to help them with anything they need. All the things we discussed earlier.

Secondly, explain why you’d like to work with them specifically. It doesn’t hurt to boost their ego!

If I didn’t hear anything after the first email I’d send a follow-up about a week or two later. This shows you’re serious and not flaky.

If you still hear nothing then keep working down your list of favourite local photographers. As you know, every town has hundreds of photographers, so someone will eventually say yes.

How did I get my second shooting gig?

Funnily enough the more established photographer emailed me to ask how I got so high in Google and I met up with him to see how we could help each other. I subsequently became his second shooter and helped him with his SEO. We’ve been friends ever since.

Finally, if you live near Peterborough in the UK then maybe you could be my second shooter. Send me an email to and we can take things from there.