The Importance of a Second Shooter

My very first wedding was back in January 2010. It was a destination wedding in Lake Tahoe. It was the first wedding that I ever shot, and also the first wedding that I ever shot without a second shooter. Consequently, it was the last wedding I ever shot without a second shooter. It only took one time of not having someone there to back me up in order to understand the importance of having another photographer with me on a wedding day.

Nowadays, having a second shooter isn’t a choice for my couples. Every single one of my collections has the cost of a second shooter already built into the price. I do not offer my couples the choice to not have a second shooter, and I do not apologize for not allowing my couples to remove this option in order to lower their collection price. In fact, I have lost a wedding over not budging on this stipulation.

Here’s why:

1. Many people think that by having a second shooter there will be two people in two different places shooting two different things… thus more ground covered, and more photographs. To this, I answer… yes and no. For the most part, my second shooter stays with me for the entire day. Yes, there are situations when we have to separate, but I try to plan the wedding day timeline in order for this not to happen.

My role as the lead photographer, and the role of the second shooter are clearly divided, and the images that we capture are worlds apart.  I am the lead photographer; therefore, it is my job to know what needs to happen when, and how/where we will shoot each situation.  I shoot safe first, making sure to get the shots that I know my couples expect from me, and then allow myself to try new things, while Janelle spends her time acting like a fly on the wall to capture interactions between people, emotions, and different angles of the things that I am shooting.  So yes, more photographs are taken and delivered to the client, but it doesn’t mean that there are two people in two different locations. Throughout the day, Janelle and I work together nailing each point of the day in the timeline starting with the getting ready portion all the way through to the reception.  We work in tandem to fully document both the goings-on of the day, and the intimate relationships/emotions the inevitably take place during a wedding.

Below, while I was fully focused on photographing the family portraits for Andrea & Brian’s wedding, Janelle snapped this moment on the right when the groom’s brother and best man kneeled down to give the ring bearer and flower girl some much needed kudos for a job well-done… an adorable moment that I would have otherwise missed because I have a shot list that I have to nail in a very short period of time.

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2. Your wedding album will thank you. And when your wedding album thanks you, it can also mean that your future children thank you… your future grandchildren will thank you… your legacy thanks you.

My job is to tell the story of the wedding day. Almost all of my couples order a wedding album, which is the perfect vessle used to document this story. As I mentioned before, the second shooter can be in charge of the small “people details” that Janelle is so great at documenting. Often times this comes in the form of the couple’s parents watching on during the first dance, a grandmother wiping a tear during the wedding ceremony, and a photojournalistic view of the emotion of the day. Without these images, the wedding album can’t tell the full story.  For example, my main focus while photographing the first dance is making sure that I have “the shot”… how could I ever steal a moment away from Crystal & Jared below in order to survey the room and notice that the parents of the groom have their arms wrapped around each other while they watch their son dance with his for the first time? I can’t. And if I did, then I would be taking my attention away from the couple, which wouldn’t be fair to them.

In theory, yes… I could make sure that I have “the shot” and then take a second to look away, but what if… in that second… the groom dips the bride for the finale of the dance?  Or what if while surveying the room I didn’t notice that the father of the bride is taking a moment to steal his daughter back by cutting into the end of the first dance in order to begin his father/daughter dance?  I would miss that shot, which is a key moment in the wedding.  So, for me, I don’t feel like I can afford to turn away from the couple.

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So, in order for my couple’s future children and grandchildren to really understand the love that was shared on their parent’s wedding day, I need a second shooter there to document those moments. This way their wedding album can truly represent their love story.

This isn’t to discount any of the images that a lead shooter takes (obviously, duh…. that’s me…), but only show how a second shooter can add to the story because the pressure of nailing “the shot” isn’t on their shoulders.

3. This is a boring point, but a neccessary one. Technology. In this day and age, most photographers shoot with digital equipment. Our images are stored on compact flash cards in digital format. No matter how much a photographer prepares for the failings of technology… there is always a chance that a camera could quit in the middle of a ceremony. A CF card could fail. A lens could stop focusing… the list goes on and on. Yes, I have back up cameras, back up lenses, back up everything… but what I can’t back up is the time that it takes me to get to that equipment. My gear bag is not always right next to me while I’m shooting… or even if it was… could I get to my gear grab a new camera body, attach a lens, insert a CF card, and get my settings dialed in before the end of the first dance? Maybe. But more likely, no.

So, I view my second shooter as a safety net against technology. If a mishap were to happen with my gear, I can simply tell Janelle to take over lead shooting for the moment while I get to my back ups.

If I ever had to call a couple to tell them that I had lost their wedding day images from my CF card; I would likely vomit straight into the phone. But, I might vomit a little bit less if I could tell them that we still have Janelle’s images, or vice versa… depending on what type of malfunction took place.

I know that there are photographers who don’t shoot with a second photographer, and they do a phenomenal job. They could probably come up with a list of reasons why they don’t want to shoot with another photographer that would rival my list here… but my point of this blog post is to talk about what works for me and my business, and most importantly what I have found is most beneficial for my couples.

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  1. Rissa

    March 24th, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I feel like I know when I see Janelle’s photos now! While going through the family portraits it was easy to see what Janelle was capturing while you were focused on formals. Great moments.

  2. Kacy

    May 14th, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    salv · domenica, 16 dicembre 2012, 5:06 pmGrande iherom! Una cosa è versare quattrini a uno Stato che ne fa buon uso, un’altra è darli via per sovvenzionare bande di ladri e tane di parassiti! Altro che rezodtribusiine della ricchezza!