Second Shooter Secrets: From Securing Gigs To Expert Techniques

By Kyle Wilson

Working as a second shooter is the best way to hone your photography skills. Think of it as a backstage pass to the world of professional photography. You get hands-on learning, insider tips on running a shoot, and networking opportunities - all without the pressures of being the lead photographer.

Here’s everything you need to know to secure gigs as a second shooter and how to be an outstanding second shooter.

Benefits of Being a Second Shooter

Experience. Working under an experienced photographer gives you firsthand exposure to a variety of shooting scenarios. Weddings are special events with varied lighting and scenarios, so it’s like boot camp for photographers.

Networking. You’ll meet other industry professionals, which can lead to more opportunities in the future.

Shoot and walk away. You don’t have any of the extra responsibilities of culling, editing, or delivering galleries or the risks associated with running a business.

How to Get Second Shooting Gigs

Securing second shooting gigs requires a proactive approach. 

The #1 Tip to Secure Second Shooter Gigs

The hottest tip we can give is to create a dedicated page on your website with all the relevant information the lead photographer needs. Presenting the details upfront cuts down on back-and-forth communication and puts you a step ahead of other photographers. When someone is looking for a second shooter, you can send them the link to your page straightaway.

What to include on your second shooter page:

  • Where you have worked (if you have had photography-related experience)
  • Awards and accolades if you have them
  • Photographers you have worked with who can be contacted as references
  • Creative projects you’ve worked on
  • A portfolio that shows the range of your work - portrait work, architecture, outdoor shots, etc
  • What gear you have
  • Your rates

Here is my second shooter webpage that has helped get me a volume of second shooter work - feel free to use it as a guide:

As a second photographer, your job might involve shooting detail shots, building and property photos, or photos of the guests during the reception. Communicating the variety of work you have done, the gear you can bring, and what you charge will immediately let the main photographer know if you are a good fit.

Do It For Free (Sometimes)

If someone you look up to is willing to bring you on, the experience and knowledge you gain will outweigh the money earned at an hourly rate. Chefs often work in other kitchens for free to learn other styles of cooking, whether they are just starting their careers or are professional chefs. Note that you should only do free gigs that you offer for free - if someone asks you to do it for free, you’re open to being taken advantage of.

Reach Out to Your Network

Use established Facebook groups to find photographers whose work inspires you. (To grow your network, check out our guide to networking for beginner photographers.) Let them know you would love to be their second shooter for free to learn how to serve your clients better. A little flattery goes a long way. 

As An Established Photographer

If you already have a body of good work, it’s easy to sell yourself to go along as a second shooter. You can always benefit from seeing how someone else runs a shoot. You will either pick up new tips or reaffirm that the way you do things is best for you. Plus, a little extra cash never hurts.

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How to Be a Second Shooter

Your responsibilities will go beyond taking photos. Put yourself in the mindset of working in service to the first photographer. 

Before the Shoot

Every second shooter experience is unique because it depends on what the lead photographer wants. So before the shoot, discuss what the expectations are: 

  • What are your responsibilities?
  • Are you required to travel?
  • Do they want your memory cards, or will they provide them?
  • What is their style and tone like? 
  • How many images do they want?
  • When do you need to be there, and how long do they want you to stay?
  • Will you be allowed to use the photos you shoot?

Always get a contract. Contracts protect both you and the first photographer and ensure your rates and responsibilities are clear. 

During the Shoot

Here are some ground rules so you behave in a way that will make the lead photographer want to ask you to second shoot in future.

  1. Remember, this is not your gig. You are working for the first photographer. 
  2. Do not take pics for your own portfolio.
  3. Leave your business cards at home. It’s not your gig.
  4. Help carry equipment.
  5. If the first photographer needs water or a snack, get it.
  6. Bring your own gear, even if you have to rent it.
  7. Go in with low expectations. You might not get fed or offered water.
  8. Give it the same importance as you do your own shoots.
  9. Stay out of the way. IT’S NOT YOUR GIG. 

Second Shooter vs Associate Shooter

An associate shooter is an on-hand resource for a studio or photographer with repeat bookings throughout the year. As an associate shooter, you might be the lead photographer, acting as an extension of the brand you are working for. In contrast, a second shooter works in one-off gigs as an accessory to the lead photographer.

In his Masterclass on scaling up your studio, Ryan Browne talked about his two studios, Forged in the North and After It All. Both studios utilize associate shooters but in different ways. It’s worth a watch to get some insight into what it’s like working as an associate shooter. (Check it out here). 

Whether you work as a second or associate shooter, the benefits are the same. You don’t have to worry about the overheads of running a business; you gain experience and knowledge and can network with other photographers.

Wrapping It Up

Working as a second shooter is an invaluable step in your photography journey, especially when starting out. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals and gain experience shooting without the responsibilities of a lead photographer. 

By following the tips in this guide, you can maximize your second shooting experiences and set a strong foundation for your future career in photography. Embrace opportunities and stay curious as you progress toward becoming a better photographer.

Like what you read? Check out “The Photographer’s Problem: A Narrative Podcast” on Spotify or YouTube for more tips like these from expert photographers around the globe.