Do you need a second shooter for your wedding?
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What is a 'second shooter' or 'second photographer'?
A second shooter (or second photographer) is an assistant photographer that your primary photographer hires or contracts out for either the entire duration of your wedding day or possibly just a portion of it.
Generally speaking, a second shooter is not a point of contact for questions or concerns, and is not involved in image editing or delivery. In fact, other than a simple introduction on your wedding day, you’ll likely have no communication with your second shooter should you decide to hire one.
Responsibilities of a second shooter
Now, I will say this (and some may disagree with me, but that’s okay) — it doesn’t matter how many photographers are at your wedding (one, two, five, ten…), your main photographer (the person who signed your photography contract) should be the person responsible for capturing all the highlights of the day.
If the primary photographer doesn’t feel like they’ll be able to meet your expectations on their own, it is completely fair for them to suggest bringing along an assistant photographer for at least a portion of the day. Your photographer probably loves what they do and wants to service you as best as they can!
Whether or not you decide to hire a second shooter, your primary photographer is likely going to be responsible for any and all actions listed on your photography contract, including logistics such as timeline configuration, payment collection, liability, back up coverage, etc.
Because a second shooter is typically sub-contracted by your primary photographer, the second shooter would likely hold no responsibility for anything listed on your photography contract, nor should they be held responsible for obtaining any “must have” shots that you specifically request.
Okay, so now that we understand the role and responsibilities of second shooters, it’s time to share some insight on how they can benefit both you and your main photographer!
Benefits of a Second Shooter
A lot of couples are told that they should have two photographers at their wedding. However, depending on what type of wedding celebration you’re having and what your budget and priorities look like, having a second shooter may actually become more burdensome than helpful.
Conventional or Traditional Weddings
For those having a traditional or conventional wedding celebration (usually greater than 50 guests), deciding whether or not to hire a second shooter or photographer really comes down to how you want your day set up and how your main photographer feels they’ll be able to capture the important moments.
One of the main reasons couples elect to hire a second shooter is for the “getting ready” portion of the day when the couple is typically split up between two separate and distant locations.
Choosing a getting ready location can sometimes determine whether or not a second photographer will be needed. Obviously, your primary photographer can’t be in two locations at once. Therefore, in the instance where it’s important to the couple that a photographer captures both parties getting ready at the same time, a second shooter can be incredibly valuable.
Depending on how far apart the two of you will physically be, it may be possible for your main photographer to bounce back and forth. However, I say this with caution. You should never go into the planning process assuming your primary photographer can be in all places at once.
If your getting ready photos are a priority to you, and you genuinely care for both parties to be photographed, I would personally recommend hiring a second photographer. However, if two two of you are getting ready in the same building, or even in different buildings on the same property, you may want to ask your photographer if they feel they can fairly execute the day without an assistant.
The first look is often the most emotional part of the day and therefore requires an atmosphere filled with calmness and intimacy. The more people you have involved with your first look, the more it takes away from your ability to be vulnerable and honest with your emotions.
Think about who you are as a couple and how you want the moment to feel. For some couples, having a second shooter can make the moment feel congested, busy, and more stressful. If you and your partner are more reserved and prioritizes a sense of privacy, I would say that having a second photographer could be more burdensome than helpful. On the flip side, if you and your partner are more outgoing or wish for your first look to be captured from multiple angles, then having a second photographer is the way to go.
For most traditional or conventional weddings where the ceremony is brief or the guest list is greater than 100 or so guests, having a second photographer can be super helpful. While the second shooter can focus on capturing the reactions of your guests from different angles, your primary photographer is able to focus more heavily on the couple getting married.
If you are planning on a brief ceremony (less than 10 minutes), its going to be very difficult for your primary photographer to capture the emotions of both the couple and the crowd. In this instance, your photographer is going to prioritize the couple getting married as to make sure they don’t miss key moments such as the ring exchange or first kiss. This means you’re likely going to end up without photos of your guests and their reactions, so if this is a priority, I would recommend a second shooter.
On the flip side, if you’re having a longer ceremony, your primary photographer will have more time to move around the room and capture guest reactions, meaning that a second shooter may not be a necessity.
Okay, so I’ll be honest here – a second shooter is rarely truly needed at any reception.
Even if you’re doing formalities such as speeches, dances, cake cutting, etc., your primary photographer can likely handle all of this on their own. This becomes especially relevant once the dance floor opens – no matter what kind of reception you’re having, all dancing photos will start to look the same after awhile so there’s usually no need for two photographers to be on the dance floor at the same time.
However, if you are not doing a first look and instead are planning on capturing all formal photos during your cocktail hour, a second photographer can be pivotal. Your main photographer can focus on getting those group photos during cocktail hour and then the second photographer can stay back at the cocktail hour and capture guest candids.
Intimate or Micro-Weddings
Intimate weddings are different from conventional weddings in that your guest list is much smaller (often less than 50 guests), meaning there aren’t a ton of opportunities for people to spread out and be in multiple places at the same time. I would say that for most intimate weddings, one photographer is going to foot the bill.
One of the only instances where you might want to consider hiring a second photographer for your intimate wedding is if it’s very important for you to get ready separately and you want a photographer to be in both places at the same time.
In an instance like this, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask about hiring a second photographer for only half of the day as opposed to the full day. This is an option I’m happy to offer any of my couples depending on their timeline and priorities.
Elopements are a completely different ball game. More likely than not, couples choosing to elope deeply value an intimate experience and don’t want anything feeling to busy or hectic. They are likely choosing to elope so they don’t have to be pulled in a million different directions at the same time, giving them more quality time with each other or their tiny guest list.
Keeping things intimate
When it comes to elopements, hiring multiple photographers and videographers can strip the day from its intimacy.
Having a full crew surrounding you can make things feel like you’re on a stage acting in a production as opposed to the private and vulnerable atmosphere you were likely hoping to achieve.
In fact, if you plan on hiring a videographer for your elopement, I would definitely ask them if they plan on bringing along a second shooter or assistant. If both your photographer and videographer have assistants, things are going to get loud and overwhelming very quickly and it’s no longer going to feel like that cozy, intimate, private experience you were likely desiring when you decided to elope in the first place.
Keeping a seemless photo gallery
On final thing to consider is the increased number of perspectives that naturally occur once second shooters are involved. One of the beautiful things about elopements is that because there aren’t a ton of guests and formalities to capture, your photographer is able to really get in tune with all of the things are happening and therefore create a gallery that tells a cohesive and continuous story. Once you invite second or third perspectives into the mix, your gallery is going to loose a sense of seamlessness. While it may be nice to see things from different perspectives, the gallery will start to feel more like a collection of stories as opposed to one continuous and cohesive story.
Benefits for the main photographer
From the perspective of the primary photographer, the biggest benefit to hiring a second shooter is that it eases the worry of having to be in multiple places at the same time in order to capture all of the in between moments that the couple is going to want documented. With two photographers, the weight of capturing all of these moments is no longer put on a single person.
A second photographer is appropriate in certain times in certain places, and inappropriate at other times in and other places.
If I’m being honest, second photographers are a service I down sell more than I promote. Maybe it’s my preference for photojournalism photography, or maybe it’s because I’ve been a budget savvy bride before, but I often feel that second shooters are more of a luxury than a necessity.
If you come to me and tell me that you’re having a small and simple wedding, or you’re watching out for your budget, or you really just want the day to be intimate and cozy, I’m going to advise against hiring a second photographer.
On the other hand, if you are coming to me with a larger wedding or you want all the bells and whistles, I’m going to ask you “what are the moments that you really want to remember about your day?”. If I feel that I can’t capture all these moments on my own, then you are essentially telling me that its a priority for you to have two photographers. In this case, we can talk about whether you need a full day coverage for a second photographer, or maybe only just a portion of the day.
Ask yourselves the following questions:
- How do you want to feel when you look at your wedding photos — would you prefer a more consolidated documentary approach, or something more eclectic with a variety of angles and perspectives?
- What is the size of your wedding and how do you want the day to unfold – is it going to be a huge celebration, or something more romantic and low key? Are you inviting a long list of guests, or keeping it exclusive and intimate?
- How do you want to remember your wedding day feeling? Be sure to think about the duration of your ceremony and the moments that will be most important for you to remember years down the road. Keep in mind a brief ceremony will not allow one photographer to capture everything.
- What is your budget, and what are your priorities? — hiring a second photographer is another expense to consider when planning your wedding day. Some couples would rather put that money towards other aspects of their day. But if you have it in your budget or photography is your top priority, a second shooter is definitely a luxury.
I hope this has been a helpful read for all the couples out there deciding whether or not to hire a second shooter for their wedding. My biggest takeaway is that there’s no right or wrong answer – it really just depends on your priorities, your budget, and your vision for the perfect wedding day.