Photography by Steve O'Donnell » Clermont and Orlando award winning professional wedding, portrait, senior and family photographer serving central FL

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Second shooter / Photographer…lets discuss!

“Does your wedding packages include a second shooter?”  Well…let’s discuss what the words or title ” second shooter”, what it means or what it implies for most.

My go to second shooter..Wesley Finch of Finch Photography thinking through a shot….anticipating a moment.

I get this question quite frequently from newly engaged brides-to-be who inquire about my wedding photography services.  Over countless face to face consultations I’ve discovered that for most brides and grooms the term “second shooter” really doesn’t go much further than the reassurance that I will show up to their wedding with a second person who is operating a camera.  You see, in most scenarios the future bride is most likely thinking “great….all angles will be covered and nothing will be missed if we have a second shooter”.   Sounds awesome right?  For me….the idea that “all angles will be covered and nothing will be missed” is quite frankly close to the bottom of the list of reasons why the bride and groom will benefit from having a “second photographer/ shooter”.

What is concerning is when a potential bride and groom does inquire about a second photographer there has never been any further questioning in regards to that second photographer / shooter.  Nothing about the second photographers years of experience, who they are, how many weddings the second photographer has shot,  etc..  NOTHING, NADDA, ZIP!  That concerns me and it should concern any bride in the process of vetting photographers for their special day…because the words ” second photographer / shooter” in the brides eyes most likely implies that the second is assumed to be a professional photographer.  Case closed right?  NO…..not so fast.  It is an assumption and in some cases it is far from the truth.

You see…..when it comes to second shooters I’ve seen “second shooters” who were teenage relatives of the official wedding photographer, wielding consumer grade cameras or mid range point and shoot cameras yet they were labeled, billed, and sold as “second photographers”.  I’ve seen interns present at weddings operating as assistants to carry gear, hold lighting, running to get coffee, who were handed a camera at crucial moments and instructed to shoot all the while most likely learning on the job…..ON YOUR WEDDING DAY!  Imagine that!  There you are thinking you are getting two professional photographers for the price of one….unbeknownst to you that the second photographer was someone just getting their feet wet in the photography world and learning on the job….your job I might add….your wedding day!

As the bride and groom you may never know if those “learning on the job assistants” shots were included in the final delivery or omitted because they shot out of focus badly composed garbage that wasn’t worth delivering to the client.  I’ve also seen second shooters present only for the ceremony, the family formals and bridal portraits ( usually assisting with lighting gear at this point, not shooting) and the beginning of the reception when the announcement of the wedding party happens and the first dances traditionally take place….and then they’re gone.  I’ll dive deeper into the second photographer who is only present 2.5 hours of your 8 hour wedding day in just a short while.  But hey…they were billed as a second photographer as the words imply…so what’s the big deal.

Now, let me be clear before I go any further.  There are, and I know of many photographers who do offer legit second shooters as part of their wedding coverage packages.  Many are husband and wife teams who have spent years training and shooting together.  I personally don’t have this luxury in my business model as my wife wants nothing to do with photography other than sharing her personal opinion with me if she loves a shot or not.

As for me….I do offer a second photographer, but the ” second shooter” is offered as an a-la-cart add on to my wedding packages and they are professional photographers who I have worked with in the past and most importantly someone I trust enough to represent my brand.  As I mentioned earlier having all the angles covered is a benefit….but not such an important one in the grand scheme of a second photographers role.  For me there are many crucial requirements that are much more important and beneficial to not only the bride and groom, but to me as well as I am about to explain.

My philosophy and standards for my second shooters:

Frame of mind

Second shooting is not a job opportunity to learn something new, or learn the way the primary shooter approaches the wedding day, or an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks.  Sure, there will be times that while second shooting you will pick up something new and there will be times to try techniques you’ve been meaning to try, but the frame of mind that I require and look for in a second photographer to have is to not only serve the primary photographers needs, but more importantly serve the clients needs.   There is no room for ego or self promotion at a wedding or need to out shoot the primary photographer.  Teamwork is essential and the clients needs are what is most important and why we have been hired.  For my second photographer and I, it’s a matter of shake hands, high five, and knock this wedding out of the park for the bride and groom.


A second shooter should actually be a second primary shooter.  They should have the experience of shooting full weddings on their own as a primary photographer.  On a perfect wedding day they are there to compliment the primary photographers work and bring a vision and ability to the table that is close to or equal to the primary photographers work.  On a not so perfect day and hypothetically speaking, if the primary photographer arrives to the wedding and happens to trip and fall over an obstacle while crossing the street lugging gear which results in breaking a wrist or spraining an ankle, or ever worse hitting their head on the way down to a degree they become unconscious.  What happens next?  Do you think the intern is going to save the day and your wedding photos?  Probably not.   Well in that unusual but quite possible scenario my second photographer calls 911, takes an embarrassing picture of me on the ground, posts it to Instagram and Facebook with some cheeky caption, ships me off to the hospital and continues on with the wedding day.  Your wedding day isn’t compromised.  Your delivered images will still have a professional quality and creative style that you’d expect and you’ll be proud to share them with the world.  Furthermore, you, your bridal party, and your parents won’t be stressed out the first two hours of your wedding day contacting every photographer in a surrounding 30 mile radius asking if they are available to drop everything and come shoot your wedding for any price they see fit.

Present the entire time.

Is the second photographer really needed the entire day.  Maybe not though I am willing to bet there are images worth capturing in those hours leading up to the ceremony that you will want to remember later.  I’m willing to bet there are details that you will want to look back on and moments you didn’t realize were even happening while you were getting your hair or makeup done.  To quote a previous groom after he viewed his finished wedding photos for the first time, “dude….where was I when all this was happening?  I had no idea any of this was going on.”  Which leads me to another benefit of having a professional second shooter.  While the lead photographer is hanging around documenting one half of the bridal party there might be emotional moments that are happening with the other half of your bridal party.  Your parents might be arriving, or putting their loving touch on decorations at the ceremony site or reception location.  Much like you can not be expected to be in two places at once, nor can your primary photographer.

Professionalism, artistry, reliability.

As a primary photographer I have no time on a wedding day to help train or hand hold a second shooter that is learning on the job.  I also feel it is a disservice to my clients who expects someone who has been trusted to document such an important day.  Weddings are dynamic events with many moving parts including other vendors, guests, weather and lighting conditions, and schedules to name a few.  Personally speaking I look for someone who can adapt with changes and roll with the punches of the day no matter what may happen.

There are many times throughout the day the primary and second photographer will split up into different areas to cover different events of the day.  When that happens I can rest assured that my second will remain respectful to everyone involved, act in a professional manner and represent my brand well.  I certainly don’t worry that their photography will be lacking in quality or artistry or that they will say something rude to a parent, guest, or client.  If I am covering the bride getting ready and my second is covering the groom getting ready at the same time I don’t want a visible quality change between the two sets or photos and either do my clients.  If the quality and artistry is vastly different, editing style is not always the answer.  Nothing beats a good quality photo before the editing process begins.

Personal Examples from past experience:

#1. During a wedding where the ceremony ran roughly one hour late due to important family members who experienced travel complications on the day of.  It began to rain as soon as the ceremony ended.  The ceremony  was in the middle of a horse pasture and there was really no cover except for a small tent.  The entire bridal party ran towards the tent for cover and I followed.  In my head ….I now had 15 minutes to take 45 minutes worth of family and bridal formals shots in an attempt to get the wedding back on schedule as best I could and I had to stick with everyone to make sure they didn’t split up in different directions or run off.  While I kept close to the bridal party the bride and groom took one lap around the pasture in a horse drawn carriage while my second photographer held steady in the open rain and captured the following shot.

wedding horse

Luckily the rain lasted for only 5 minutes.  This is the point where the the primary takes over and the second photographer assists with keeping those needed in line and on deck for the next shot or assist in lighting if needed.  This time we had 15 minutes to get all the family formals and bridal shots done….game on!  We were both prepared with a list of what shots were requested….we split the wedding party up…girls on one side, guys on the other and shot simultaneously side by side.  It worked out great and we managed to not only get all the requested shots, but also remarkably got the wedding back on schedule due to our quick thinking.
#2.  I was brought on board as a second shooter for the reception only portion of a wedding.  The ceremony and formals took place in Melbourne FL while the reception was in Orlando.  That is a two hour drive between locations for the primary photographer and guests.  So while the primary photographer would be the last person to leave the ceremony location in Melbourne, he needed me present and ready to document table settings and reception details and atmosphere as well as being ready to receive the wedding guests and possibly the wedding party if he couldn’t catch up on the road.  I arrived on location an hour early and received a call from the primary that the wedding was delayed due to bad weather and everyone including guests were an hour behind schedule.  Great….so in reality I’m now two hours early, but experience in weddings is more than just photography.  There was no wedding coordinator to handle the situation in this instance.  My first thought after receiving the news was if everyone is an hour behind does the kitchen know this?  They are expecting and preparing meals for 100 guests. I immediately informed the kitchen staff of the situation that everyone was an hour behind.  The kitchen couldn’t thank me enough and I just saved the guests and kitchen staff from a dinner disaster.

3.   Another instance where I am the second photographer.  Minutes before the announcement and grand entrance of the wedding party to the reception the primary’s off camera flash equipment suddenly stopped communicating.  It was a dimly lit reception and having all the lighting equipment working was necessary.  It was working previously when we had preset our lights….but something was misfiring to which we later suspected was radio frequency interference from something in the reception hall.  With no time to spare the primary photographer ran over to me and informed me that his flash equipment stopped working and the entrance of the wedding party was all on my shoulders.  Good to know…..carry on and figure it out.  I got this!  On a off topic note….think about how dark your reception will be before considering a “natural light photographer” for your wedding day.  There is usually no natural light to be found in a dimly lit wedding reception.

I could go on-and-on with real world examples supporting the importance of seasoned experienced photographers who are worth their weight in gold to me and the bride and groom as second photographers.  Next time you see the words “second photographer”  be sure to inquire about their experience level, how long they will be present and if they have shot full weddings on their own.

I can’t praise my main second photographer and the others who have shot along my side and the stunning images they have delivered and provided for my clients.   I appreciate their professionalism and hard work to make sure each and every wedding went not only smoothly, but lived up to the bride and groom’s expectations of what it means having a “second shooter” present at their wedding.







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