Let me tell you about the time I was the 2nd shooter for a Wedding at Hall of Springs in Saratoga NY. Photographers who want to shoot more/better weddings, use this as the Ultimate How-To Guide to 2nd Shooting a Wedding. How can I say that? What qualifies me as the ultimate wedding photography expert?
Let me tell you.
I have photographed more than 500 weddings.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve trained a dozen 2nd shooters for my luxury wedding photography studio.
I’ve written and had two books published on wedding photography.
I’ve spoken numerous times at international photo conventions to more than 2500 photographers.
And recently, I was a 2nd shooter for my photo BFF, JP Elario in Albany NY.
Honestly, I’ve been the primary shooter for so long that I was unbelievably excited to be a 2nd shooter for this Wedding at the Hall of Springs. Like, kid on Christmas morning kind of excited. I mean, I knew without a doubt that JP was going to crush it per usual, so I literally had no pressure in performing.
If you’re 2nd shooting for a luxury wedding photographer, make sure you know your luxury brands. For example, it’s obvious that the watch is a Rolex and the groom would love to have it photographed. However, did you notice that the cufflinks are Salvatore Ferragamo? Those are some really nice cufflinks to wear on the wedding day. When couples spend money on nice things for their wedding, they likely want them photographed. Having that eye for detail, and the knowledge of what is important to the couple is important.
As a second shooter, it’s also often your job to photograph the groom getting ready, as well as a few portraits. I like to find some nice, soft window light. If the room he is getting ready in has windows that face north, I use that. But on overcast days, which is what we had this day, it’s a pretty easy task to find soft lighting. It also helps when the groom is as handsome is Paul.
Here is what happens when I feel no pressure to get great shots. The creativity flares up and I get great shots.
My next tip for 2nd shooters is to be hyper-aware of what the primary photographer is shooting: which angles, which lenses, etc. JP was getting the over-the-shoulder shot with a “long” lens, so I shot from the side (check out this symmetry!) with a medium telephoto lens to capture her face in addition to his.
Along those same lines, if JP shoots wide, I’ll shoot telephoto, and vice versa. The last thing a primary photographer wants to do after a wedding is cull out your shots that look exactly like theirs. Vary your focal length and vary your perspective.
Bonus tip for wedding 2nd shooters: capture some behind-the-scenes photos of the primary photographer. The can be used for social media, bio pages on websites, etc. You want brownie points with your lead photographer, capture them in action.
As a lead shooter, I wouldn’t typically have the bandwidth to capture shots like this. The bride’s face is usually in 99.9 percent of my photos, so this pair of images that show the bridal dress details are fun and fresh. I love the veil action, and this designer wedding dress deserves to be photographed from every angle imaginable.
Depending on your photographer, sometimes it’s appropriate to take the lead at certain points in the day. For this shot, I knew I would take them under the weeping willow at Congress Park in Saratoga if I were the primary shooter. I mentioned it to JP and he had me take the lead on this series. That gives the lead shooter a moment to decompress, stir their own creative juices, or take a breather. All are great for a wedding day.
Here is another example of shooting at a different angle and different lens to supplement (not duplicate) the lead shooter’s images.
You should also be ready to photograph anything the lead shooter requests. I make sure to have the maximum focal range (15mm to 200mm) for any situation. JP asked if I could shoot ceremony details (before guests arrive) while he photographed some action shots with the couple. This Wedding at Hall of Springs was so beautiful and had so many gorgeous details. I wanted to be sure and include the architectural detail the Hall of Springs has so using my super-wide was key to the image below.
It’s also the 2nd shooter’s job to be the primary shooter’s 2nd pair of eyes. The lead shooter is concentrating on capturing the must-have shots, so I spent time looking for things JP wasn’t able to see given where he was set up. That meant capturing the flower girl looking all sweet off to the side of the couple, and also shooting alternate angles of what he was photographing.
If you’re good at communicating with your lead photographer, you are going to make a great team and have really happy clients. On our way out to these trees, JP and I planned what type of shots we wanted to get. He had mentioned getting a more motion-blur collection of images (which he did incredibly well), so I got classic, beautiful portraits to play off one another.
You’ve heard me give this advice before if you’re a regular here. But it’s the best advice I can give on shooting storytelling photography: “shoot tight, medium, and wide.” That means you should photograph portraits and events throughout the day using wide angle lenses, medium focal length (i.e. 50mm), and telephoto lenses. Spice up your photography with some variety.
I think it’s also the 2nd shooter’s job to capture the “party pics” or “table shots” – or whatever you want to call them. Group shots and couple portraits are great to capture during cocktail hour.
Just like with the ceremony details, JP asked that I shoot some reception details before the guests entered. This wedding at Hall of Springs is Saratoga had really beautiful details. It was easy to photograph because everywhere I looked there was something picturesque to focus on.
During the wedding reception, most 2nd shooters think it’s break time. On the contrary, this is a great time for wedding 2nd shooters to try new things, work on their craft, or even just give the lead photographer a break.
Some photographers like to shoot everything themselves, and others like to divide and conquer. For the toasts, if JP was shooting the speeches during the wedding reception, I was shooting the reactions.
Finally, we ended this reception at the Hall of Springs with some more portraits of the wedding couple after the bride changed into a short dress. For this, JP took a sexy approach to the images, and I took a more cutesy approach. Again, we shot two different ways so he didn’t have double of every shot. They all came out so well, and it definitely made it easy to have a gorgeous couple that is crazy about each other.
I hope this was helpful to photographers who are new to the wedding industry. Being a 2nd shooter is a great way to get experience photographing weddings. It’s also a great way to hone your craft and stir up your creativity. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to finally get to shoot a wedding with one of my all-time best friends.
Talk to you soon,
Dale Benfield is a Northwest Arkansas Luxury Wedding Photographer serving Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville, and Destination Weddings / A Fine Art Wedding Photography Studio. Benfield Photography is a staple in NW Arkansas and has photographed luxury weddings, Italy weddings, celebrity weddings, private estate weddings, Crystal Bridges weddings, Carnall Hall weddings, Weddings at Osage House, Bachelor Nation Weddings, and more.
He has photographed every style of wedding you can image: intimate weddings, Catholic cathedrals in Italy, church weddings, elopements, destination weddings on the beach in Mexico, and so on.
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