FAQ – Second Shooting for Photographers

Let me start by saying this is the most I have ever written for my blog. Words and me like to fight it out.

When I was in Seattle for CreativeLIVE, I had a lot of people ask if I could give tips on Second Shooting. I never realized I second shot a crazy amount of weddings compared to most photographers…I thought it was normal.

But I guess me and normal will never co-exist.

I just want to start this by saying I’m just sharing what has worked for me…other photographers may have different opinions.  I might not be right, or even remotely pc, but its just the way it was for me.

To start off I want to explain the difference between assistants and second shooters. When people first start learning how to use a camera they feel the need to jump into second shooting. They think that’s how they should start out. But depending on who you’re working for, a second shooter is someone that could take over and shoot the entire wedding if they had to. If you aren’t ready you should assist.

(fyi…it really depends who you’re working for. I would schlep bags for Jasmine* orJose Villa any day and twice on Tuesdays.)

Assistant: A photographer with little to no experience with weddings. This person just wants to see what actually happens on a wedding day and try to learn from watching the main and/or second shooter. An assistant holds bags, watches bags and may shoot candids or details when they have free time.

I believe this is the only job at a wedding day that has the option of not getting paid for working. The main photographer doesn’t rely on the assistant to cover the wedding day or interact with clients. The assistant is there to learn as much as humanly possible. Sometimes the main photographer will pay for gas, but nothing is expected.

Second Shooter: This is when skill level comes into play. For me, a second shooter is an equally amazing photographer. I depend on them to cover parts of the wedding day that I can’t physically cover, and be just as social and fun and easy-going to my clients as I am. Basically, someone that second shoots should be able to take over the wedding and photograph it beautifully if anything happened to me at all. More often than not the photographers I hire to second shoot for me are the same photographers that hire me to second shoot for them. We both run businesses, so we know what is expected of a wedding day.

Ok, this might bring up some drama…photographers don’t like to talk about how much they pay a second shooter. I know because when I was first starting I had no idea how much I should of been making. I want to change that. I’m all about the knowledge up in here.

When I was first starting out I worked as a second shooter for free (really…I should of been an assistant since I really didn’t know much) and after about 10 weddings I was starting to make a consistent rate for each wedding. Between 10-20 weddings I made around $200. Once I actually started to photograph consistently and used professionally grade equipment I started to make $300+ for a wedding.

Sometimes photographers don’t pay for second shooters, to each their own…but I come from the school of thought that if you are being relied on to do a job, you should get paid for it. Even if that means being paid with Chili’s gift cards. 🙂

Kristien sent me a huge email filled with lots of questions (and N*sync references…but that’s besides the point), and I thought it would be easiest to answer them in Q+A format. 🙂 Because of her I will also have about 3-4 more FAQ posts after this one! Thanks hun!

When do you make the decision to have a second shooter vs. an assistant?

It might be because of my background, but I will always have a second shooter at all of my weddings. It’s another set of eyes and another set of equipment just in case. (if by any slim chance your main camera AND backup camera goes out). When I was second shooting I can’t tell you how many times I caught the first kiss because I was in the right spot at the right moment, or covered the first dance because a flash went out. A second shooter is an important backup.

When I chose to have an assistant depends on the wedding day. If I know the schedule is tight and an extra pair of hands will help, I will invite an assistant to come along.

What gear (lenses, flashes, etc.) do you require your second shooters to carry? If a second shooter doesn’t own a lot of gear, do you require them to rent it? If so, do they pay for it themselves?

For my second shooters, since they are already experienced photographers…I don’t worry what they carry. They know what it takes to get the job done, and if a wedding is going to have unique challenges (such as super-duper-dark church with a no-flash policy *insert sad face here*) I always make sure to give them the heads up.  They pay for their own equipment, so its up to the photog to know how much they can afford to rent or if they can work with less.

When I second shoot I would rent/bring the same equipment I would need for my own weddings:

  • Full frame camera (for Nikon d700 or d3)
  • back up camera (d300)
  • 24-70 2.8
  • 70-200 2.8 (must for the ceremony unless you want to be up in everybody’s grill)
  • Three flashes (one on camera, one off camera and one backup)
  • Light Stand
  • Two Pocket Wizards
  • Enough batteries to power a small town
  • 40+ GBs of cards

Bonus Stuff:

  • Nice hanger for dress shots (just keep it in your trunk)
  • Bottles of water and granola bars
  • Extra change of clothes….seriously…I’ve split my pants before…you just gotta have backups of everything.
  • Reflector (yeah….don’t use it much…keep it in my car)
  • Tripod
  • Backup light stand

Depending on who I was working with I would also rent:

  • 105 2.8 (macro lens for ring shots)
  • 50 1.4
  • 85 1.4

I also have about 3-4 lens that are siting in my bag that I haven’t used in about a year. They are my oh-shoot-oh-shoot backups.

What is the biggest and most important piece of advice you would give to someone who’s just starting to second shoot, while also shooting/practicing on their own?

Ooooh, that’s a big question. I just got all nervous all of a sudden.

I think the biggest advice I could give for second shooters is to not think about your own business while you’re working for someone else. You’re not there for “portfolio images”, you’re not there to find new clients, vendors or anything for your business back home. It doesn’t exist that day. Don’t bring your business cards, rather….hand out the main photographers cards with a smile and talk about how much you love working for them.

I’m gonna get real right now….If I saw a second photographer handing out their card to a guest at the wedding I would give them a mental death glare and probably not invite them back. It’s just very rude.

The whole reason of second shooting is to gain experience and see how another photographer works. That alone is worth so much more than an image you can put on your blog or website.

If you are really respectful of the main photographer….and work as hard as possible it will get easier and easier to get second shooting jobs. Your name will spread while making friends in the industry.

When you were second shooting, did the photographers allow you to use the images you took on your own blog or website? If so, did you give credit to the main photographer? Do you allow second shooters to blog about your weddings on their own sites?

Some photographers allowed me to blog after they blogged the wedding, and other photographers gave me no online rights at all. It’s different for each photographer. Since I never really looked at second shooting as a way to get portfolio images, I never really minded image usage ether way. I would rather take what I learned from them and create my own images.

Since I also worked full time, it would of been impossible for me to edit all of the weddings I helped shoot. When I did blog weddings I 2nd shot, I would always give credit to the main photographer (it’s a respect thing peeps…).

For my own second shooters, I’m much more relaxed. They can blog after I blog, and if they are close friends I allow them to even use the images in their website. Its kinda a respect thing…if I spent 10 minutes setting up a shot…then the second would know that they should probably not use it on their website. But if I threw the reigns to them as I changed lenses…knock yourself out.

When they do blog the wedding, I do ask that they link to me…that’s just how I started so I’m continuing the tradition.

Oh. And Facebook is always a no-no for 2nd shooters. It’s too easy for people to get confused with who is the main photographer.

At what point did you make the decision to have your own second shooter in your business?

After my first wedding in 2009 I decided that if I was ever going to shoot again I was going to have a second set of eyes. I also started second shooting like crazy in 2010, and that kinda reinforced the point for me.

When you hired a second shooter, did you raise your rates?

Nope. I work it into my fixed cost.

What parts of the wedding day do you usually delegate to the second shooter?

Depends on the timeline of the wedding day. Normally the second shooter will cover the guys getting ready as I’m with the girls, details throughout the wedding day (like when I’m doing family photos) and reception coverage when I’m trying to put together a slideshow. I like to keep the second shooter with me throughout the day so the couple can get a different perspective.

I just wanna say that nothing is really set in stone, especially since every wedding day is so different.

What qualities do you look for in a second shooter?

The person has to be Awesome. 🙂 With a capital A….And can quote How I Met Your Mother or Firefly on a moments notice. (just kidding….kinda)

But really, I look for someone that is talented with a camera, professional so I wont have to worry about what they are saying/doing…and fun & easy going. Trust plays a huge part for me, so I like to know the person, or get a great referral from another trusted photographer.  Also, like I said before…the photographers that hire me to work for them are usually in my second shooting pool.

For some reason I just pictured a BBQ filled summer party with all my photog buddy’s...that needs to happen now. Anyways…

In your opinion, what is the best and most essential lens for a second shooter to carry?

If you could only have one lens….I would have to say the 24-70 2.8. It covers pretty much everything and you can work around not having the other lenses in your arsenal.

I just gotta say though….please for the love of sweet baby be-jesus…have more than one lens when you’re second shooting.

Oh I have a reason why…last year when I was first starting to second shoot I was working with a new photographer that actually flew in for a wedding in my area. I was very excited to work with them, but my bank account couldn’t take me renting a whole lot of stuff.  So I used my d300 and rented a 24-70 2.8 and owned a 55-200 + 12-24 (cheaper lenses that I really never used). I was planning on rocking the 24-70 the entire day with no problems.

Guess what? About 5 minutes into the wedding the 24-70 dropped from my camera. I’m 6 feet tall….so that’s a long fall.

After almost fainting on the spot (the 24-70 is a $1,700 lens and it wasn’t even mine…it costs more than my car!)…I scrambled to pick up the lens and put it back on my camera. I looked though the viewfinder and everything looked good. –> happy face 🙂 Then I started shooting a detail shot and tried to zoom in. Tried. It was locked in place and wouldn’t move at all. –> end of world face 🙁 To make it even better, I planned on using that lens to cover an entire wedding day…so when I didn’t have it I had to get really creative.

…the whole experience taught me two very important lessons.

1. Have equipment insurance….even if you’re just second shooting.
2. Have backup-backup-backup equipment.

I hope my ramblings help, and if anyone has any questions feel free to email me at info {at} candicebenjamin.com.

(Kira Grinberg and I had a really fun day taking photos of each other a few months ago in San Clemente…thanks for the awesome photo Kira!)


  • nice info. guess everytime something goes wrong we wish we had insurance. thanks for the price info too.

  • MY BRAIN IS ON OVERLOAD!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am SO glad you posted this! HUGE help. Huge. You are the QUEEN of the camera...especially second shooting, so this was just in time for me! :) You covered all sorts of bases! I will totally still have more questions though. ;)

    You had me crackin' up with your sentenced punctuated with your very candice-esque humor. & that photo of you at the bottom is BEYOND GORG.

  • John Payne said:

    Great post, Candice. Tons of great info! Nice work.

  • Annessa Baker said:

    Loved it! thank you so much for the info... so helpful :)

  • Matthew K said:

    Fantastic post! Thank you very much. You are helping remove the mystery of what a second shooter does! Please keep sharing all your wonderful knowledge to make everyone better.

  • ashleigh said:

    love it candice! i wish all photo peeps would read this!!

  • love it! love it! love it!
    you've totally inspired me to 2nd shoot my brains out and with this info i'll feel confident doing so.
    thank you for taking the time to school us all in the biz! this is so awesome.

  • Kaysha said:

    Great post! I think there can be a lot of misunderstandings involved with 2nd shooting. So when all expectations and guidelines are clear, everyone wins!! :)

  • Neil Patel said:

    Thank you, for sharing tips with us. educational post for all of us.

  • Thanks for a great post and thanks for using those portraits - it means a lot to me :) I had a blast working with you, cutie!


  • Kristin said:

    What an awesome post Candice! I'm so glad I could help and thank you so much for all of your amazing insight. I can't wait to see your next FAQ post!

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  • Hey Candice!
    I stumbled across this post by accident, and boy was I glad I did! It's always super helpful to get a fellow photog second opionion on things! Oh and also, your work is LEGEND......wait for it.....DAIRY. ;)

  • Well said Girl, well said. The next time somebody starts asking me about second shooting, I'm sending them to this post. I completely see eye to eye with you here. Pretty relaxed overall, but respect is a big issue in any sort of creative industry. You really do learn SO much while 2nd shooting. When I shoot as a second, I really try to do what I can to make the main photog's job easier while still making them look good. If that means using an opposite lens to make sure all our shots our different or focusing on some specific details the main can't get to, I'm there for that person. I don't even bring my business cards when I second shoot. I think anyone who tries to hijack another artists client/work will quickly be outcast in this industry. Integrity is so important! Working with people you trust is important too! I'm the same in that those who shoot for me are usually the same people I shoot for. It's a great little network we have and treating other photographers like friends instead of competition actually gets me MORE of my own work. There are only so many days in the year and since we all trust each other, we refer clients to each other when we're already booked. It's a beautiful thing. Sorry, getting off topic but I think many will benefit from this info! Go you.

  • SUCH a great post! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

    P.S. My husband is a huge fan of Firefly. We almost named our son Malcolm because of it! We ended up going with Malakai...but at least we still have the "Mal"! :)

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