Doug Levy is a Sharon, Massachusetts photographer and former professional baseball umpire. You can see his wedding photography at douglaslevyphotography.com, and his portraits at douglaslevy.com. He also blogs at dougblogs.com and spends way too much time with his Blackberry updating those sites.
With the wedding season quickly approaching, Seshu and I thought it might be helpful to put together a blog post of suggestions that might help second shooters this summer.
Since I first assisted Rob Brown at my first wedding in the fall of 2007 I've assisted and second shot for nearly a dozen Boston-area photographers. Some have been amazing, inspiring learning experiences. Some, well, I'll just leave it at I've only worked with them once.
Second shooter Do's and Don'ts
If I could give you one bit of advice, I'd just say, “be cool.” It really should be that simple. Wedding days are long, and when I'm the lead photographer I'll hire someone I want to hang out with who takes OK photos before someone who takes amazing photos but is a pain in the ass and I have to baby-sit all day.
A little more practical advice (what, “be cool” wasn't clear enough?)
Rob prefers me to wear a tie when I shoot with him. I don't wear one for my weddings, but I certainly don't mind wearing one for Rob's – remember, you are a representative of the lead photographer's brand and business, if you show up in unshaven in cut-off's, it's the lead photog's brand you've just damaged.
Treat Clients As Your Own
As an extension of that brand, it's important to treat the client as though they are your own. If possible get some information from the lead photographer about the couple beforehand. How does the couple envision their day? Is photography the most important element or just one part of a much bigger plan? Are there any family issues you need to be aware of? Is it OK to use flash during the ceremony? Are there any explicit do's and don't during the ceremony (many venues are specific “Don't stand here, no moving once the ceremony has started etc..”
But, Your Business Is No One's Business
Don't sell yourself to the client or their guests. This is probably the number one no-no. This should be painfully obvious, but don't pass out your business cards either (unfortunately I've heard of this happening). It might even be a good idea to ask the primary photographer for some of their cards, that way if guests asks you can have them at the ready.
From a technical standpoint, second shooting can be a great opportunity to use some gear you don't own (especially if you both use the same brand), but, and this should be obvious, it's not a good idea to go rooting around in another photographer's bag without permission.
Commit To Making Great Images
Be fully committed to the photos, not just your photos. I've probably missed dozens of portfolio quality moments while second shooting. But the thing is, it doesn't matter. This may be the most important thing I say here – it's not your show.
This means that there will be times during the day when you have to give up “your” picture because time is tight, or the primary photographer has a different vision, but that's OK. There will be times when have to fall-back into the role of an assistant. Usually this is during the family formals, when time is tight, or during couples portraits when additional lighting may be necessary.
The Experience Of Being Photographed Counts
The important thing to remember is while good primary photogs will want to hear your ideas, as my friend Ned Jackson has said numerous times, giving the clients a great experience is just as important as giving them great photos. If formals run 30-minutes long and the couple misses cocktail hour because of the photographers, they'll remember that, no matter how great the photos are.
(A quick aside: After I attended one of my best friends' wedding as a guest this fall I was at his apartment a few months later looking at their proofs, and while the photos were amazing (and the couple loved them), they also remembered by the end of the couples portraits, “We were totally exhausted and sick of photos.” I never want my clients to reach that point of exhaustion.)
Don't Just Shadow The Primary Photographer
Don't simply make your version of the lead photographer's photo. I think we've all seen this happen, there's great light, a great moment, and you obviously both want to capture it. The thing is, it's not your show, so it does the lead photographer no good to have two versions of the same image. So, don't stand next to the lead photographer and shoot with the same lens.
One of the best parts of second shooting is the ability to take risks. If the lead photog is making the “safe” image, it's your job to find the “hero” image. (Some lead photogs prefer to work the opposite of this. I know Joe Buissink hires a second photographer to take the safe shots all day so he is free to roam. This goes back to why it's important to game-plan the day before).
That said, I know if the lead photographer is shooting long, I'll shoot wide. If they're shooting available light, I'll crank up the flash. The best second photographers will give an entirely unique perspective to the day, without being intrusive.
No one wants to go through 3,000 images with minute variations. Get the shot, then look for the next one.
This Is Not A Workshop
Don't forget this is not a workshop. One of the best parts of second shooting is the window into someone else's creative process. Literally no one I've shot with does things the same way, from formals to how they approach the ceremony. So while it's important to not be afraid to ask questions, make sure you pick the right time. Generally this will be in the car in between locations or toward the end of the reception once things have slowed down a bit.
Publish & Perish
After the wedding day, don't blog/publish the photos before the primary photographer does. And when you do blog the photos (and make sure the other photog is OK with it), don't try to play the wedding off as your own. Make it clear you were the second photographer and link to the main photographer's site/blog post in your own post.
If you want me to edit my take, I'm happy to, but should be compensated. (I'm talking about a full edit here, color correction, culling etc.)
Don't ask me to sign a work-for-hire-agreement.
This type of agreement typically states that any images made for the primary photographer's studio become the copyright of that studio. Many second photographer are new shooters with minimal portfolios. When I first started, the only images in my portfolio were from second shooting, don't take that away from me.
Don't show the second photographer's photos as your own.
I had a friend recently call me after second shooting for the first time for a more experienced photographer. A few weeks after the wedding she was on his website and saw some of her photos from the day in his portfolio. While it's expected that my photos will end up in the client's gallery from the day, don't show them on your site as your own.
Don't ask the second photographer to put your logo on their photos.
I know this may sound a bit funny, but when I was first starting out (and didn't have much of a portfolio) one photographer asked me to put her logo on photos I shot while working for her. Photos that were on my website. I'm still scratching my head about this one …
I'm sure I've forgotten some things, but I hope this helps some people going forward this season. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail me at email@example.com