HOW TO: Start Second Shooting

...Plus 4 Things You Can Do to Start Off as a Wedding Photographer

Stepping in the wedding industry for the first time can be very scary, we get it and guess what? We’ve all been there. After all, the wedding photography world evolves quickly.

So how do I start photographing weddings? To help beginner photographers, we have asked the SNAP community to provide a few insights for wedding photographers just starting out.

The Truth About Second Shooting

If you are an experienced photographer at some point you might have received an e-mail from someone asking whether they could shadow you. Unfortunately, these requests cannot always be accomodated and there are several reasons why.

While second shooting can be a great opportunity to gain more experience and experiment with your style, it’s not always a good starting point. A second shooter is often an established professional hired to cover some parts of the day and fill in what the main photographer might miss. It’s not unusual for example for the second shooter to cover groom preparation, while the main photographer is busy photographing the bride. This means that they are paid, experienced and expected to perform alone and completely independently by the main photographer. 

 Photo of a bride and a groom in the golden light taken by a wedding photographer
Most wedding photographers are so busy come wedding season, and most weddings are pretty high-stakes. Couples have invested in you significantly, and so real weddings often don't feel like the place to have someone you barely know come and shadow you for the day. Reach out to other local photographers, but be thoughtful of their time. If you admire them and their work, maybe enquiry for a mentoring session rather than just ask to shadow them. Many people in this industry are eager to share generously what they know. The other thing is, plenty of the emails I receive are fairly identikit. Why should I take a chance on you if you haven't addressed me by name, or that you say you are maybe interested in weddings or you don't tell me why you'll be an asset to me. Contact us in the quieter months, charm us, tell us nice things, maybe offer to take us for a coffee and we'll be much more open than receiving an email that you've sent to 10 other people in the middle of summer. Ellie Gillard Photography
 A professional photo of a couple's first dance on their wedding day
As a rule I’ll only use seconds who are experienced photographers in their own right; I need someone who I can trust. I’m firmly of the opinion that you can be a successful wedding photographer without shadowing other photographers first, I didn’t second shoot until I’d been shooting for over a year for myself. - Hannah Hall Photography

4 Things You Can Do  Before Second-Shooting

So, if second shooting is not always the first thing to do, what can I try to improve and get started?

1. Master your craft

Photograph everything everywhere. It doesn’t have to be weddings, it can literally be anything as long as you work on your photography and on gaining confidence in shooting in every possible condition. 

When aspiring photographers complain that they don't have any wedding work to show because no one will book them for a wedding without a portfolio, it really confuses me. Go and photograph every person you know! All the better if they're married and still have their outfits, but if they don't, just do a couple shoot! I photographed my sister and her husband in their wedding clothes in the veld near my house, my parents in the garden and the streets, my sister-in-law in a borrowed wedding dress in a graffiti-filled area, another friend in a borrowed wedding dress at a museum, and quite a few others! - Kat Forsyth Photography
 Photo of a wedding couple with confetti after the ceremony

2. Invest in Training

One of the perks of being a photographer these days is hands down the easy access to plenty of shared knowledge. Training comes in any form you like: workshops, 121 mentoring sessions in person or on Skype, webinars and so on. Investing in training is of pivotal importance if you want to improve as a photographer and learn how to run a business. Remember, one cannot have a business without being ready to invest in it.

What massively helped me is to pay an experienced wedding photographer to have mentoring sessions. I just paid a photographer I really admired to teach me the ins and outs via Skype - Alice Lodge Photography
How to become a professional wedding photographer: top tips

3. Network

Whether you are just starting now or you have been a photographer for a while, you cannot do this alone and will need some sort of network of support around you. The benefits are countless.

Build a community of other photographers around you. I've benefited hugely from other photographers, including: advice on gear and software, support with challenges, inspiration, buddies to have a drink with and wedding referrals that turn into bookings. 
Conferences and workshops are a great way to meet other photographers. As are social meet ups. - Matt Badenoch Photography
 Professional photograph of a crowd singing during a wedding reception

4. Styled Shoots

Styled shoots can be an extremely helpful tool to both practice and build a portfolio in the style appealing to your ideal client. You can either attend a styled shoot organised by another photographer for a fee or organise your own.

Go on styled shoots! When I first started a group of new photographers put together a styled shoot and we all paid a little fee and spent the day shooting together. It’s fun and you make friends with other photographers
Plan a styled wedding shoot. Get a dress and a couple and go shoot. I borrowed a dress from a dressmaker (I now shoot lots of styled shoots with her) and got some models from Purpleport with a little portrait portfolio. I then used those images to start a website. - Megan Elle Photography
 Engaged couple hugging

BONUS TIP:

Do you know that at SNAP we offer all of these things? You can literally have it all in one place! Read all about Snap 2019.