Wedding Photography: Five Tips For Second Shooters

back stage with a wedding photograher
Karl Leopold sets up a bride and groom shot as video pro Bruce Reynolds works a separate angle

One of the most common ways to build up your portfolio as a wedding photographer is to start out as a second shooter for someone else. While you won’t make a lot of money, you will learn a lot about taking wedding photos.

If you want to work as a second shooter for the primary photographer there are a few things to remember both in terms of preparation and the actual shoot. Since it’s been a while since I shot a wedding, I decided to hook up again with Karl Leopold and tag along as the second shooter at a beach wedding in Cocoa Beach.

I’m going to be honest here and admit I made some mistakes, mostly because I haven’t done it in a while and because I use my DSLR a lot for video. My mistakes will help you avoid doing the same thing.

On this shoot Karl was using a Canon 5D MK II with a Canon 580 EX ii while I was shooting a Canon 7D and an off-brand speedlite.  One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to lock my ISO at what Karl was using for consistency.  A crop sensor camera with a long lens simply can’t shoot at the same ISO as a full frame sensor, which has much better response in mixed light.  That was one of those moments you ask yourself later what you were thinking.

What To Wear

Unless otherwise specified, you’ll almost always be okay wearing black slacks and a black button-down shirt. For an outdoor or beach wedding you can usually get away with khakis and lighter colors.

We were at a beach wedding and while the guests were barefoot, I don’t recommend that when you’re working. One stray metal scrap will put you on the sidelines. Wear shoes, but not dress shoes which don’t do well in sand.

Arrive Early

arrive early
Get there early and shoot some background if you've never shot that venue before

Arrive early, particularly if you’ve never shot at that venue before. Use the time to get your angles and exposure settings.

If you’re working with a top-notch wedding planner, the venue will be ready well in advance. Introduce yourself to the venue, support staff and other vendors but don’t take them off task. Everyone there has a job to do besides you.

In the off chance the primary photographer is late, be prepared to step in and shoot some of the preliminary shots. Traffic happens, accidents happen, so even as the second shooter you have to be prepared to do the entire job. If something happens to the primary, it’s all you. Hope that never happens, but approach every job like it could.

Focus On Your Assigned Coverage Area

Mine was crowd shots, candids of the wedding party and guests, and to shoot the diagonals on the ceremony because I had a longer lens.

candid photo
My assignment was guest shots and candids of the wedding party

There’s no point in having two good photographers shooting the same shots. I did a couple times on this shoot, only so I could show you the setups and resulting shots. Otherwise, as second shooter, be out looking around for other shots. If the primary is busy with the bride and groom, grab some shots of the family and kids. Take pictures of little details that can get lost in the rush, those shots can add a lot to the memories of the day.

You’re Not The Only Person Working That Day

There are a lot of people working at weddings, including other vendors. At this wedding we had a video guy besides the wedding coordinator. Give others room to work and try not to be banging away with a flash when the video people are trying to get their set shots.

Also be aware that the video shooter will likely have a wide covering shot running somewhere, try to walk behind that camera whenever possible. Give other professionals room to work and they’ll give you room to get your shots. It will all get done.

video guy
Try to avoid firing your flash when the video people are trying to get set shots, work cooperatively with other vendors

Remember Who You Represent

Keep in mind as the second shooter you are representing the primary photographer. Your shots are going out under their name and they’re responsible for you. This is not the time for showboating or self-promotion. I always carry one or two business cards of the primary photographer and if one of the guests asks for a card, that’s the one I hand out.

If other vendors ask for your card, that’s a little different. Then it’s okay as they usually already know the primary photographer.

Who Owns The Shots?

When you’re shooting second camera normally the photos belong to the primary and go out under their name. Don’t expect any residuals on the prints or reorders. If you need the photos for your portfolio or other uses, clear that in advance with the primary. After the shoot is not the time to try and negotiate ownership and usage rights!

The idea here is not to undercut the person you’re working for. In most areas the vendors all know one another and treating someone poorly will get around in a hurry. No person is an island in a small business and you may find yourself someday needing the people you treated badly.

On the other hand, shoot well, conduct yourself like a professional and be responsible and you may find a lot of photographers appreciate what a good second shooter can bring to the table. All the while you’ll be learning from the best and building a portfolio you can be proud to show off.

comparison shot
One of the mistakes I made was framing too tight in the camera. My shot is on the left. Karl's version has room for a decorative picture frame and recognizes that prints come out darker.

Five Tips For Choosing a Wedding Photographer

bride photo
This is not the time to find out you don't have rights to your wedding images - By iluvrhinestones

My nephew recently got married and I got a bad feeling about the photography from family snapshots that showed the photographer in the background. The equipment I saw concerned me and their engagement photos lacked anything resembling imagination.

Recently we got to see some of the actual pictures at a family event. For a second I thought it was a proof book, but those were the actual delivered pictures. I had to leave the room to keep from saying anything. The pictures were beyond merely bad, they were hideous and the photographer showed a peculiar fondness for the Topaz Photoshop plugin and I confirmed that if you’re a poor photographer, Topaz will not fix what’s wrong.

I felt bad for not being able to make it. Even in the role of “Uncle Bob” I might have been able to get some decent shots. Few photographers could have done any worse. Yet when I looked at the photographer’s web site I saw a portfolio that any photographer would envy. It was gorgeous. So what happened? And, more importantly, how do you keep that kind of “bait and switch” from happening to you?

Don’t Be Fooled By a Web Site

Anyone can put together a decent web site, the photos don’t even have to be theirs. Any photographer in the business long enough will have actual photo books you can sit down and page through.

You may not be able to completely trust photos in any medium, but you can ask to see proofs from recent weddings, particularly if you’re trying to arrange a wedding out of town.

Also keep in mind that sometimes web sites are actually produced by a front company that does nothing but refer jobs to vendors in particular areas.

Read That Contract And Check References!

Don’t sign anything until you know exactly what you’re getting and the terms and conditions attached to it. Understand exactly what’s included for the price and the itemized costs.

Read that contract carefully and don’t be afraid to make changes. If any photographer tries to tell you the terms are non-negotiable, leave. Everything is negotiable.

In most countries and jurisdictions in the US, if you make margin notes on a contract, the hand written notes take precedence over the typed copy, but don’t count on that. Don’t be afraid to X through anything you don’t like.

A reference check is a no-brainer.  Pick one or two brides from the portfolio pictures and call them directly.

Don’t Allow Substitutions

One of the clauses to look for is the one that allows the photographer to send someone else. Now, you don’t want your photographer showing up sick or not having a substitute lined up if they end up under a bus. What you can do then is modify the language to say that in the event of serious illness or injury, the photographer can select from an approved list of alternates. That means screening the portfolios of each of the alternates and being able to live with the substitute but it will prevent a complete stranger from showing up on your wedding day.

Think Carefully About Exclusive Agreements

One of the bigger trends in wedding photography today is having two photographers. It costs more, but the peace of mind is priceless.

This is one point that will chaff many professional photographers, most of whom try to slip in language that says they’ll be the only pro working the gig. Many will pass on jobs where they have to work with another photographer, so you might have to keep looking until you get the people you want.

It is a pain to work around another photographer and it adds time to the job, so you can decide on how important this is, but having two photographers helps insure at least one of them will be competent.

Understand Your Image Rights

Make sure that as part of the deliverables you get full resolution images and that you have the rights to republish and reprint them. If you’re going to be a bridezilla about anything, make it on this point. Make sure your wedding photos are your images and that you can have them printed anywhere you want.

The most common reason photographers give about not releasing print rights is that they want to control the print quality, which is 90 percent horse manure. The real reason is they want to keep the rights is to make you go to a web storefront on a site like Zenfolio that returns a portion of the print cost to the photographer. That residual income is a big part of their salary, so don’t be surprised if you get a fight on this point.

With all of these issues, understand that some photographers may pass on the job. You can either hold out or negotiate a compromise to get the photographer you want. But if you do compromise or give in, at least you do so knowingly and it doesn’t come as a rude surprise 72 hours after you sign the contracts.

Notice the dress shot in this video that the dress is on a cheap plastic hangar?  That’s why I always carry a spare decorative hangar for the dress shots!

The Trend Toward Real Time Photography

wedding photos
Brides waiting three weeks for photos is a relic of the past - by Joxemai

Justin Ng is a photographer with over 130,000 people on his Facebook page, numbers that would make some Fortune 500 companies blush with envy. What’s funny is that Justin didn’t even start out life as a photographer, he started out as a Windows developer and PHP programmer.

Now he’s getting between 50 and 60 inquiries a month to shoot weddings.

But Justin managed to hit on a trend in wedding and event photography that has been building for some time; the trend toward real-time display of event images, as the event is happening.

Justin Ng developed a smart phone app that guests and those unable to attend the ceremony can download and watch the wedding photos pop up in real time. There’s even a feature that allows guests to download high resolution copies of the images they like.

The trend is not a surprise and anyone in wedding and event photography should be educating themselves about the technical realities of how such a setup might work. While you may not be able to develop your own smart phone app, you could still use an assistant with a laptop and wifi connection to do almost the same thing.

Other options may include gadgets like Eye-Fi’s wireless SDHC cards. There are also attachments for your camera that will transmit files wirelessly. The tech pieces are out there and the market will belong to those adaptable enough to figure out how to use them.

The trend is making itself known in subtle ways. One feature many brides are opting for are monitors at the reception that play slideshows of the wedding photos. Other services, such as having a CD or DVD with wedding images ready for guests by the time they leave, are gaining popularity.

Social media options are also gaining popularity. Having at least a few of the wedding photos up on Facebook and other social media sites the same day, is almost an expectation with many tech savvy couples today.

All of these real-time inroads will put pressure on everyone in wedding and event photography to step up their tech game, both in terms of real time photos and turn-around times for image processing. The days of waiting three months for wedding photos are a footnote in history, even waiting three weeks is out of the question for many brides. Many are calling about their photos in three days and are annoyed they have to wait that long!

Regardless, the time to start exploring your technology options is today. Waiting until the services are pre-bundled and available commercially could well be too late.

The Future of Digital Photography Is Connected

picture of telephone poles
The future of digital photography is connected

Whether you’re shooting snapshots of friends and family with one of the new wifi-enabled Panasonic Lumix FX90s (review) or professionally with your trusty Canon 5D MKII, the biggest trend in digital imaging right now is connectivity. Whether your camera is set up to enable real time connectivity or not, it’s a trend that’s going to influence both the selection of cameras and how you do business as a professional.

You can blame improving camera phones for raising expectations for immediate sharing, but the trend has been developing since the world wide web came into being.

Another part of the equation is the trend toward social media and the democratization of news reporting. People expect news and information almost as its happening.

With the digital camera market basically saturated at this point, everyone who wants a camera already has one. From here on out the deciding factor for many consumers will be the features of the camera. As cell phone cameras get better, the impact will be most immediate in the point-and-shoot market.

I think the big picture impact on the low end of the camera market has been overstated. Camera phones have been getting better for a long time and sales of point-and-shoot cameras have remained fairly healthy. What will make the difference for consumers is connectivity. Phones have that feature built in, cameras will need to catch up to stay competitive.

These trends will combine to put pressure on professional photographers to start looking for ways to satisfy the customer’s desire for immediate gratification. While it’s unlikely the low end of the digital camera or cell phone camera market is going to make a dent in high end camera sales, there is already a push for more immediate delivery of product.

In the highly competitive market of digital photography, I believe this presents an opportunity for the technically savvy to set themselves apart with value-added services such as live blogging weddings and trade shows and packaging content quickly so guests can make product selections on the spot.

If you wait until the systems are pre-packaged so anyone can use them, it will be too late. The opportunity is there now, you just have to figure out the technical details.

Five Requirements For Getting Started In Wedding Photography

Wedding photographer
Wedding photography is a tough business - by Lee J Haywood

Wedding photography is often the first paying job for many interested in a career in photography and the bread and butter for most professional photographers. It’s also the one facet of photography that you’re most likely to fall into by happenstance.

Many times a career in photography has started with a friend or relative getting married but are too poor to afford a photographer. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a professional photographer, that’s probably where your journey will begin as well: As the unpaid photographer for someone you know getting married on a tight budget. That will be in spite of many good reasons not to take that job.

If you’re still determined to pursue this career option, here are my tips for getting started in the business.

Expect Fierce Competition

While you may be able to luck your way into a decent portfolio, luck will not keep you in the business. Wedding photography is a brutally competitive field, more so now than in times past. As full-time employment becomes harder to find, more people are looking for ways to start their own business and, for anyone with a decent camera and good eye for taking pictures, one of those ideas will inevitably be wedding photography.

Complaining about people new to the business is a part-time occupation for professional photographers, but what I’m hearing lately from my associates in the business is a level up from the normal background griping. Many are having a tough time making ends meet right now, bookings are down across the board. Competition is one of the the greatest challenges you’ll face getting started in the business.

Learn About Running a Business

On top of being able to sell yourself and compete, you have to understand cash flow, advertising, billing, collections, taxes, insurance, licensing, liability, and incorporation; the basics of running any business.

Take general business classes at night and see if your state or county has any programs to help new businesses get started. This will be a lot easier to do if you still have your day job.

Learning about contracting is absolutely crucial. That can be the difference between making it and getting sued for everything you’re worth. You don’t have to become a legal expert, but you have to know and implement the basics.

You can also think about investing in some books specific to wedding photography, like this one by Dane Sanders.

Get Insurance

Organizations like Professional Photographers of America (PPA) can help with training and connections but the most valuable aspect to joining is the insurance coverage. Memberships now come with $15,000 in equipment coverage and E&O insurance. They also offer group discount rates on liability insurance.

Good insurance can save you when things go wrong. When you’re holding the broken components of your Nikon D300 with a wedding to shoot that weekend, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Study The Industry Tirelessly

My friends in the wedding photography business are fantastic photographers. Not just good, scary good. On top of that you still have to stay on top of the trends and expectations in your own business.

Many of those trends that more brides want require a substantial investment in equipment or partner companies to supply that gear. That means rental equipment, contracts, and extra time and effort moving gear around. Does your liability and theft insurance cover rented equipment? Better know the answer to that before you pick it up.

You can’t just learn about the industry, you have to live and breathe it and that includes the technical aspects of the business, the expectations of your customers, and any value added service you can provide to give yourself a leg up on the competition.

Avoid Debt Like a Plague

Being in photography requires a continuous balancing act between cash flow, eating, and investing in equipment. The biggest mistake I see people new to the business make is going into debt to get started. All it takes is one mistake, one bad month where you miss that payment, and you’re out of business.

In wedding photography, cash flow is going to be a big deal. You’ll be slammed for four months out of the year, sometimes double-booked on some weekends, covering morning and afternoon ceremonies. It’s critical to get in the habit of putting away a cash stash to last through the fall and winter when there will be fewer bookings. Learn this skill or die your first year.

Some photographers slip into the habit of borrowing money during the slow season and pay it back over the spring and summer. Don’t do that. One bad year, one accident where you can’t work, and your business and financial future are dead.