Martin Sheen Photography | Second Shooting Experience

Second Shooting Experience

April 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment


I recently had my first opportunity to second shoot at a wedding thanks to the support of two exceptional photographers, Rebecca Frost and Emily Hancock (I can highly recommend their photographic services based on their perfect combination of photographic skills and all-round wonderful personalities). Anyway, much of my photography to date has involved either studio or location portrait work but I was itching for the opportunity to shoot at a wedding. I have always regarded wedding photography as a unique skill that needs to be learnt through experience. Getting the opportunity to second shoot is not always easy as many established professional photographers either have a permanent second shooter or choose to shoot alone. The best advice I can give (and what I am still doing) is to contact as many photographers as you can, join some websites and hopefully you will eventually reach the right person at the right time. As tough as it is to find second shooting opportunities I do think that this is the only entry a photographer should make into the world of wedding photography. A wedding is a very special occasion and not the place for a photographer to make mistakes, there are no second chances. Aside from the possibility of being sued I am sure it is just not something any photographer would like to have on their conscience. No one said this was going to be easy but like my maths teacher used to say “if it were easy it would not be fun”.

Understandably I was marginally more nervous than the bride and groom on the “big” day. My main priority was to ensure that I was helping and not hindering the main photographer at all times. Of course my second priority was to get some great shots from a different perspective to the main! Once the day officially started it was like entering a time warp. Hours felt like minutes and one activity immersed into another without a break. My mind raced with ideas for shooting from different viewpoints, angles and how to use the available light creatively. I wanted to capture the detail but also get the photos that told a story of the day. In the bustling environment there was always something happening around me that was worthy of a photo. The challange was "seeing it" and then capturing the image with correct exposure settings, framing and composition. As I shoot purely in manual mode (and you really should at a wedding) I quickly appreciated that I was going to have to be seriously quick adjusting camera exposure settings. For example, when I was taking a photo of the bride in a dark room lit by a window I needed to be instantaneously changing my settings when I turned around to shoot the bridesmaid peering around the door in a darker section of the room. This would be my first technical tip to others – shoot in manual mode and practise changing camera settings quickly, almost instinctively. Further to that point, be aware of your surroundings and where you think possible shots are going to present themselves have an idea of what exposure setting will be required as this will save precious time.

One of the things I was trying to do on the day was predict what was going to happen next. This allowed me to preconceive an idea of the shot I wanted, know the exposure settings I would use and then just wait for the bride/groom to walk into the frame. This was a lot easier said than done! On a few occasions I had a great vision for a shot only to have the bride walk out of a different door or a guest to block the view. I still think this is a good practise to follow but probably worth being prepared for events to not always go the way you expect.

It should be remembered that a second shooters photos are primarily meant to add a different perspective to the photos of the main photographer.  In many articles on second shooting you will see advice on using a different lens and trying to remain at an angle of 45 to 90 degrees to the main. This really does work well and allows for a nice variety of photos from the same scene. For the formal group photos try to get close-up shots of individuals as they will generally be very natural in between the photos being taken by the main.

As I mentioned before, time does seem to pass incredibly quickly so wear a watch, make a note of the wedding schedule and know what you are required to shoot before the opportunity is lost. For example, a second shooter will generally be required to shoot the table layout and details so make sure this is done before guests start taking their seats.

After the wedding shoot I would also recommend making a list of things you learnt and what you would like to improve. Remember that experience is what you get when you did not get what you wanted so going through your photos after a day of shooting is a good opportunity to review what worked and what didn’t.  As an example, the first bullet point from my notes was that I should have taken a few more photos of the “special” moments. What I mean by that is some of my really great photos were ruined by the bride/groom blinking or having an unflattering facial expression at that instant. Instead of taking 1 or 2 shots I could have fired off a few more frames to ensure that I had captured it “perfectly”. I don’t want to advocate machine gunning away with your camera as this would not be professional but when a great photo opportunity presents itself make sure that you have captured it so that it will end up in the album. Further to that point always make sure you are at an appropriate shutter speed to avoid motion blur (the particular shutter speed setting will be dependent on a number of variables such as focal length – if you know your gear then you will know what’s the “safest” slowest shutter speed ). I would recommend increasing ISO or aperture before reducing shutter speed to dangerously low levels (assuming no flash is being used).

Prior to second shooting at my first wedding I was not sure what to expect but I can honestly say that I loved the experience. What’s not to love about spending the day with great people, doing something that I love and providing a visual medium that will invoke memories for generations to come? However, it is also a seriously fast paced, exhausting and highly pressurised day but these are all things that I thrive on and believe will improve my photography exponentially. For this particularly wedding I shot for seven hours without a break for food or toilet! This was purely due to being so absorbed in the events of the day and constantly wanting to get a better shot than the last.

For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to second shoot but truly believe that it is something that you want to do then all I can say is keep trying and never, ever give up. If you want to develop you confidence more before second shooting then doing a course is also highly recommended. 

Here is a list of tips for second shooters that I have summarised from my personal experience and various other resources:

  • Always remember that priority number one is to assist the main in any way possible.
  • Have the right camera equipment so you can be on a different lens to the main (I personally think a 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 are priority).
  • Don’t shoot next to the main but be at an angle of 45 to 90 degrees.
  • You can also face in the opposite direction to the main to capture what is going on "behind the scenes".
  • As gorgeous as you are try avoid being in the photos taken by the main.
  • Have an idea of the progression of the day and keep track of time.
  • Memorise the names of the bride, groom and their parents.
  • Shoot in RAW unless told otherwise by the main (be aware that you will give your memory card directly to the main so there is no opportunity to post-process any “mistakes”).
  • Know how to operate your camera’s settings quickly and then practise to get even quicker.
  • Have plenty of memory cards and batteries easily accessible.
  • Carry some high energy snacks and a bottle of water.
  • Be friendly but try and blend into the background.
  • Be aware that the main photographer might not want you to use the photos publicly (agree terms beforehand).
  • If you think that something “great” is going to happen in a particular area then try and remove any distractions (I got a great shot of the bride… right next to my camera bag – oops).
  • Don’t mess up a great shot by inappropriately cutting off hands and feet – even though this is quite an amateur mistake when you are under pressure you can slip-up.
  • Consider increasing ISO or increasing aperture before reducing shutter speed to prevent motion blur.
  • Make sure you capture the great moments perfectly by taking a few frames.
  • You will be nervous on your fist shoot but try and appear confident as this will relax those around you.
  • Take it seriously but also have a smashing time!

Finally, a couple of books I found useful:

Wedding Photography - A Guide to Photojournalism

Wedding Photography - A Guide to Posing






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