How To Be THE BEST Second Photographer

December 7, 2022

Second-Shooting Tips and How To Get Hired Again

I’ve been second-shooting weddings for over 5 years and have had the opportunity to shoot alongside many talented photographers. After photographing 50+ weddings, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a trusted, dependable second photographer that gets hired again and again. Even though I am now a lead photographer myself, I love to add second shooting jobs to my calendar because I get to take some time away from these crazy kids, do something I love and not take all the editing home with me. 🙂

My hope is to share my years of second-shooting knowledge to help YOU grow as a second photographer and get hired for more second shooter gigs. Let’s get started!

photographer wearing all black taking photos during outdoor wedding ceremony at stone manor country club in maryland


First and foremost, be honest about your experience as a second photographer. I know the idea of getting to photograph a wedding is exciting (even I get excited as a lead). One of the worst things you can do is embellish your experience or “fake it til’ you make it”. Trust me, the truth will come out. The lead will surely be disappointed if you said you were comfortable with off camera flash but your reception images show otherwise. If this happens, you won’t be hired again by them or anyone else they share your name with. So being straight forward is beyond important when communicating your experience.

If you have little or zero experience as a second photographer, offer to shoot for free. If the client only paid for a single photographer, it shouldn’t be a problem to offer your services for free to gain some experience.

If there’s a photographer you admire and really would love to learn from, ask if they offer mentoring or job shadowing for a wedding. You may have to invest in some mentoring before you can start making money as a second photographer.

If you’ve done some work for free, practiced, practiced, practiced and decide you’d like to offer your services as a second, great! Let’s move on.


If I’ve never worked with the lead photographer before, I will ask them to send me a gallery or two of their recent or favorite work. This helps me get a better understanding of what’s important to them on a wedding day. Are their galleries full of emotional or candid moments? Do they shoot mostly editorial, formal and posed? Their clients booked them because they loved THEIR style so being able to take note of the things the lead typically prioritizes is important. As an experienced photographer, I feel comfortable adjusting my shooting style to the lead’s style. This comes with practice and experience—You’ll get there!

Ask ahead. Some leads may have you shoot a reception with one on camera flash while they shoot with multiple off camera flashes. Sometimes there’s just not enough room in the reception space for multiple photographer’s gear. Simply ask ahead, “What reception lighting or gear would you like me to bring?”.

From my experience, the main photographer will send you a wedding day timeline to prepare you for the day. Read it thoroughly and print it out to bring with you! You can also set your apple watch to keep the timeline (which I love!). There are so many tutorials for this but this one is my favorite. So much easier than fumbling around with a bunch of papers!

If the getting ready location is different from the ceremony site or the reception is in a separate location, be sure to check the travel time. I always input the addresses beforehand to make sure I have enough time to travel between locations. On occasion you might find you need to bring something to the lead’s attention to provide a bit more time.

TIP: The night before, I always use the Waze app and select “Plan a drive” and choose what time I want to arrive to the getting ready location. I typically choose to arrive at least 30 minutes early in case of traffic. 

I ask the primary photographer to send me a photo of the couple so I can easily recognize the bride + groom upon arrival. It’s more personal than arriving to the groomsmen and saying, “Who’s my groom?!”. Although I’ve had to do that if I don’t seem him anywhere. 😉

Technical Stuff

Do not let your shutter speed fall below 1/200 during the day. Unless you are proficient with strobes (flash) and trying to do some fancy light trails during the reception party, there’s no reason your shutter needs to drop below 1/200. I know, I know, motion blur is back. And this kind of artistic take can be done for an occasional image if it’s in line with the lead’s work. However, 99.9% of your images from the day should be sharp and in focus. 

The Day Of

The morning of the wedding, I will text the lead and let them know, “Hey! I’m up and at ‘em! Looking forward to working with you!”. This helps eliminate some of the stress on the lead because on occasion, the second doesn’t show. I KNOW, CRAZY RIGHT? But unfortunately it happens and some photographers have PTSD from no-show second photographers which makes them very hesitant to hire new photographers they’ve never worked with before. If I can put their mind at ease with a “Hey! I’ll be there. You don’t have to worry about me!”…I will.

Upon Arrival

Upon arrival, I will meet up with the lead and meet the bride right away. I typically wait for the lead to finish chatting with the bride and then introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Karly! I’m working with ____ today!”. Usually followed by “You look so beautiful. Congratulations!”. Just be genuine and kind and let the lead well…lead. 

Once settled, I will sync time/date with the lead. If you’ve never done this, look up how to set the time and date on your camera online or in the camera instruction manual. Setting the exact same time and date allows the images to be in order from the day. So when it’s time to cull and edit, it will be easier for the lead to group images in the correct order of the day.

Photographing Getting Ready

Usually the second photographer’s job is to photograph the groomsmen getting ready while the lead is with the bride. Double check with your lead that they don’t need anything before you head over to the guys. I could write an entire blog post just on photographing the groom and groomsmen (which I will) so stay tuned for that!

Being Helpful

Sometimes the lead needs you to run to and fro during the day—Whether to grab a lens, a bag or the bridal party. Oh, and you might be the veil holder or tosser at some point. Be ready to help!

I once sewed a groomsmen’s pants from waistband to mid-thigh 25 minutes before a ceremony. Weddings are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get!

Thank you Brittany Thomas Photography for this true-to-life image of being the designated veil thrower.

With experience, I’ve come to anticipate where and when I’m needed during the day. Many times a lead will ask me to scope out a spot with great light for a first look. If you feel comfortable doing that, go for it! Or if I find I have a few minutes to spare before I’m needed for groomsmen getting ready, I’ll go photograph the outside of the venue or any details around the venue that are already set up for the day.

Sometimes if the schedule is running behind, a lead may ask me to cover the reception space and details while they photograph the couple. Another reason being honest about your experience and what you are comfortable shooting yourself is IMPORTANT. Because those might be the only images the lead has from the day.

Second shot for Anna Kardos Photography

The Ceremony

Find out what lens the lead will be shooting with for the ceremony. This will help you decide what you need to throw on your camera because you don’t want to use the same focal length they’re using. If they are shooting close with a 50mm, shoot wide with a 35mm, 24-70mm or 28-70mm. I also like to take out my 70-200mm for up-close reactions of the parents, grandparents and guests during the ceremony. For more intimate moments like those, you don’t want to have to be too up-close and personal. Sneaky sneaky is the game!

I have found that the lead typically stands at the front of the aisle to capture the groom’s reaction as the bride comes down the aisle and then quickly moves to the bride and her father walking. As a second photographer, you’ll want to stand at the back, capturing the bridal party as they walk toward the aisle. Snap a picture then squat down or move out of lead’s frame as they capture the bridal party coming down the aisle. As the bride and her father reach the end of the aisle, capture them from the back (This is such a beautiful image to have as Dad gives her away, usually with a kiss). 

Second Shot for Anna Kardos Photography

During the ceremony, move around. Don’t be afraid to try different angles, go to a balcony or squat down for a different perspective. Always be weary of where the lead is as you do not want to impede their vantage point. Being in a different spot than the lead helps create more variety overall in the client’s gallery. I typically grab details of the guests’ reactions, holding hands, arms around each other, holding the wedding program.

These are all small details that tell the story of the entire day. Right before the first kiss, I will move behind the lead and shoot above/around them to get a wide angle of the first kiss. This is really the only time I like to be near them during the ceremony. Everyone wants more first kiss pictures!

During the recessional, typically the lead follows the bride and groom down as the second photographer grabs the bridal party, parents and grandparents leaving. In the excitement of the recent “I do’s” this can be easy to forget so don’t put your camera down yet!

Second Shot for Anna Kardos Photography

Family Formals

Along with the wedding day timeline, the main photographer will send me the family formals shot list. I will ask what they prefer but I have found the best method is for me to call and cross off names while the lead photographs family formals. This keeps things moving quickly and efficiently. If you are an introverted person, having to yell out names you’ve never read before might make you feel like vomiting. But it’s part of getting the job done so be bold, my friend! 

Couples Portraits

If the lead has you photograph couples portraits along side them, the same rules apply. Use a different focal length than they are using to give a variety of images. Move side to side and around them, don’t stand in the same spot. Many times couples portraits are during cocktail hour so the lead will send you there instead.

If you’re a people person, this is your time to shine! If not, this is another vomit moment. 😉 I will walk through cocktail hour and find groupings of families or friends and ask,  “Can I get a photo of ya’ll?!”. Guests have always been kind and easy-going about it so don’t worry too much. That’s what you’re there for! 

Second Shot for Caitlin Gilbert Photography

Don’t forget to take some snapshots of appetizers and specialty cocktails. These get shared with other vendors to build relationships so take pictures of the food and the people enjoying them.

If the couple has time to join their cocktail hour, follow them around like their personal paparazzi just waiting in the wings for a photo-op! I usually just ask if I can take a photo with the person or people they are greeting/chatting with.

Second Shot for Caitlin Gilbert Photography

Attitude & Professionalism

Another biggie. It’s a big deal for a lead to have you represent their business so take it seriously. Dress appropriately. Read their contract and see if they have anything written about what they prefer you to wear. Typically it’s all black or neutral colors but ABSOLUTELY no white. I even steer clear of cream or anything that could be mistaken as white. The goal is to not stand out. 

Be positive, kind and genuine toward the couple and their guests. It is truly a privilege to be invited into their lives for such a special occasion. Treat their guests with respect, using appropriate language and gauge the room on energy levels. 

DO NOT—I repeat—DO NOT hand out your own business cards to guests. This is incredibly disrespectful as you are there to represent the lead’s photography business, not yours. If asked about photography services, simply say, “I’m working for *So and so* today. They are the lead and they’re right over there! I’m sure they have a card for you.”.


If you have a few minutes during couples portraits or throughout the day, take some behind-the-scenes images and videos of the lead working so you can send it to them for their socials. I try to take a few images on my iPhone and on my big camera too. This is an extra bonus and they’ll be so grateful to have some content to share showing them in action!

Post-Wedding Image Sharing

Ahhh, this is a touchy topic but an important one. Every lead has a contract that clearly defines their parameters for sharing wedding day images. READ IT. OBEY IT. GET INVITED BACK TO SECOND SHOOT. Understood? 🙂

If the lead allows you to share images on social media, ALWAYS give proper photo credit:

Second Shot for: @Karly Forsyth Photography or however the lead defines they would like to be credited. Avoid using any language in your posts that make it sound like you were the lead or it was your couple.

This goes for most second shooter contracts but DO NOT tag clients, friend clients, follow clients or tag venues/vendors or locations when sharing images from the day. I understand the desire to build relationships or find connections to build your own business but this is not the proper way to do so. Please respect the lead’s business and clientele by following the outlined sharing rules.

I hope this tried and true information helps prepare you for your next second-shooting gig. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the lead if you’re unsure about something. Always keep communication at the forefront for the best working relationship.

If your goal is to be the best second photographer, PIN THIS for later! If you’re a lead, add it to your workflow to send to second shooters upon signing their contract. It’ll help set the expectation for the wedding day. 

Here is an easy-add excerpt to add to your email: 

“This post has a lot of really great information on what shooting with me is like. I’d love for you to read this and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks!”


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I'm Karly! A Virginia Wedding & Family Photographer based in Martinsburg, WV. Originally from the Old Line State, you can find me dipping fresh-cracked crabs in melty butter, wrestling my three babies and impatiently waiting for my husband to get home from work everyday. 

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