Being a second photographer is not only a great opportunity to hone your skills...
As a photographer, it gives you the chance to dip your toes in the big giant wave pool that is the wedding industry and it's also a lot of fun.
You get to be part of capturing a beautiful day between two people, you get to see all the myriad surprises that can spring up on a wedding day, you get to be the quiet lurker that is allowed to capture a unique perspective.
Although I have shot a great deal of weddings as lead or solo photographer, and I truly love it, I still love to shoot second. It's that fun!
I've shot at over 100 weddings in the last four years and through my experience I have learned what makes an awesome second shooter. Here are some of my best tips and explanations as to why I think they are important for you as you wade into the wedding industry. They're not necessarily in order of importance but they are all just little goodies to keep tucked away for future use.
1. Learn how to tie a real bow tie, fold a pocket handkerchief and properly fasten a boutonniere. These are things most guys don't do in real life every day. While tying a bow tie may once have been as second nature as tying shoes and hipsters now days may have been born wearing an ironic bow tie that they tied on their own for the occasion of their birth, it's just not something every guy automatically knows how to do. It's one of the most common reasons for guys running late. Learn how to do it. Buy a bow tie. Spend some quality time on YouTube. Tie it both on yourself and on a willing guinea pig. You need to know how to tie it for someone and how to explain tying it to someone who really doesn't want you doing it for him! Here is my favorite "How to tie a bow tie" tutorial on YouTube. Here is another one from The Art of Manliness. In the heat of the moment when 8 guys don't know how to tie a bow tie, it helps to have this video opened in a window on your phone so you can pull it up and play it for one group while you are helping another group personally.
The same goes for folding pocket handkerchiefs and fastening boutonnieres. Unless there is a mom present that has always envisioned doing this for her son, it's usually up to whomever is nearest. Most of those nearest have no clue how to fasten a boutonniere, so that leaves it up to little old YOU. I can't tell you how unnerving it is to see boutonniere's drooping or hanging upside down (yes, I've seen this) just when formals are starting. I have fastened more boutonnieres than I can count now. It's worth learning how to do this. You'll be somebody's hero.
2. Be okay with being a little bossy but always in a fun way. Weddings are notorious for not going perfectly according to timelines. People often don't leave enough time in their plans for how long it takes to lace up a dress (it's longer than they imagine usually!) or what traffic will be like, or whether a limo driver will get lost. But sometimes timelines suffer (and this often translates into a quickly setting sun, leaving less and less time for the fabulous bride and groom photos they are accustomed to delivering to their clients.) As a second photographer, you will most likely be shooting the groom's getting ready photos. There is often confusion over the aforementioned bow ties, the location of important wedding party members... not to mention some pretty common groom and groomsmen antics. They are usually a fun bunch but they can lose track of time, particularly if a certain fellow by the name of Jack Daniels is amongst the guests in the room! Sometimes you have to be bold and encourage forward movement, reminding people gently (inject some humor whenever you can!) where you are on the timeline and how we're doing on time.
3. Know your camera gear. Your primary is BUSY. They cannot be teaching you how to use your camera when you are second shooting a wedding. This is not to say you can't ask advice on exposure during a down-time. But do not ask your primary photographer how to use or adjust major features on your camera or flash. Know your gear well enough that you can use it without instruction. Malfunctions sometimes happen and you're obviously going to talk to your primary if something is going wrong and you need to troubleshoot but you should have the basics down pat before second shooting a wedding. It never hurts to carry your camera's quick guide (not the whole manual!) with you somewhere in your bag.
4. Find unique angles. When the primary is doing head-on shots, look for unique perspectives. Unless your primary has told you exactly where to go, get creative. Second shooters have a unique opportunity to get creative angles that primaries are not always at liberty to get.
5. Don't compete with your primary for attention to your lens. Always prioritize your primary's shot over yours. You are the second photographer. Therefore the photo that you envision is always secondary to hers, even if you have a great idea. Hold onto it until the right moment. This is where finding a unique angle can be really wonderful. Find the angle where it looks purposeful that the subject is not looking at your lens. When your primary asks someone to look away from the lens for a stylized look, you can sometimes be in a position where they are then actually looking at you (if it's feasible and won't ruin your primary's shot.)
6. During family formals, put your camera down and help with directing unless your primary has specifically asked you to shoot behind her or at the same time. Nothing is more frustrating than editing a run of family formals than seeing that half of the group is looking at your secondary photographer, rather than at you. In this era of "everyone's a photographer" the primary generally has enough competition for eye contact from the flurry of iPhones and iPads that make an appearance during formals. (That's another topic for another post!)
7. Don't be shy with your primary! Ask your primary if you can get the bride and groom to look your way when they are done with the shot she's working on. Most primaries are more than happy to allow this, unless things are in a real hurry. Your primary wants you to get great shots because it gives them that much more assurance that they will have a great selection of images to deliver to their client.
8. Be indispensable. Pay attention to the needs of your primary. Be one step ahead of the game. Does she look thirsty? Get her a drink? Does she need you to run to her car to get anything that she may have left? Offer to get it for her. Is she about to step on the bride's train? Grab her by the arm or quietly point it out. Is she about to fall off of her perch where she's getting an amazing shot? Hold her up!
9. Be a duck. Okay, don't be a duck. But be ready to duck or stealthily move out of her line of focus during the ceremony. Basically, get ready to give your quads and glutes a good workout! Your primary needs you to not only be getting all the awesome shots you can but also she really needs you to not be in her photos. Working well with a primary photographer is like learning to dance. Watch her movements, learn to predict them, pay attention to where she is and if you she has placed you opposite her directly, duck for a few seconds here and there so she can easily, without moving get the shot she is trying for without you in it.
10. Lastly, remember, it's not about you. You may be thinking, "This is my chance! This is how I'm going to rise to awesomeness! I need to prioritize MY photos above everything!" No. This is not about you. This is first and foremost about the bride and groom. It is their wedding day. Everything you do with this opportunity, you need to do for their good. Your second priority is your primary. You are there to help them. You are there to make THEM shine. You are not there to promote your own business. You are not there to hand out your own business card. You are representing your primary. Speak highly of your primary in the presence of her clients and their guests, make them know how much you enjoy working with your primary, that you wouldn't work with her unless she was certifiably awesome. Work to increase the love the clients have for the photographer they have chosen. Representing your primary well lets them know how thankful you are for the opportunity to shoot with them (even if you are not a beginning shooter but just a photographer who enjoys second shooting and working with other talented professionals) will almost certainly work to your benefit as well.