Nothing-Else-Matters-1BMBGuest post by James Russo.

I am not a wedding photographer, I just shoot weddings.

What do I mean by this? Unlike some photographers, I enjoy being the second shooter.

As an event photographer, I like to move with or against the tide as I see fit, unless asked to do otherwise. I look for opportunities. I enjoy the freedom of mingling with the guests, introducing myself, and helping where I can.

If the primary wants me to hold up a light, or move an errant distraction out of frame, I am more than happy to. Need some water? It isn’t demeaning; we work together as professionals. It is part of what I enjoy about being a photographer.

Allow me to explain.

People invest a lot of work in choosing a wedding photographer. They are like under-valued artists wielding brushes. They hone their craft, invest countless hours and dollars into it, and often fight hard for what they rightly deserve. The slightest mistake could ruin a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I tip my hat to them. Almost thankless, being a primary feels to me like punishment.

As the back-up photographer I enjoy the opportunity to practice my preferred branch of the visual arts: candid photography.

When given the opportunity, I like to sneak up on my prey. I spot it; perhaps as I notice sotto voce conversations laden with smiles, and then I freeze. Peering through my lens, I await the inevitable laugh, and…


I move on.

The Benefits of Being the Back-up Photographer

The benefits of taking this type of work are plentiful. Aside from the obvious monetary gain, as a back-up I benefit from the tricks the primary photographer has already supplied. Lighting techniques, software tips, information about new equipment.

I can incorporate this new knowledge and ideas into my own skill set.

Also consider this: I can mingle with the family, the guests, the venue proprietor, the caterer, the DJ, the wait staff, the bartender…

Can you say “networking”?

Each and every one of these people is a potential client or referral source. They provide me with the opportunity to increase my network. They may ask for my business card, take a photo of my business QR code or visit my website on their cell phones. And we get to know at least a little about each other, as opposed to smiling briefly at the un-named star of the photography show.

As I said, being the primary photographer is a thankless job.

Working as a Second Shooter

Now, before you start to balk at what I am doing, I should point out that I make no secret about how I will perform my job before I agree to work the event.

First, we agree upon whether or not I can pass out business cards or otherwise promote myself.

I will not however, agree to take a job if it means that I cannot give away my web address by at least some means; digital, when possible. After all, if the primary is often underpaid, so is the help. I must benefit in at least some meaningful way.

And so I take my new-found skills, my lighting and software tips, and my new contacts, and I happily wonder off to my computer to sort or edit the photos. The work is then handed off to the primary, who will do their part.

You probably already know how the story goes.

Perhaps one day I might choose to move into wedding photography, with the gusto that so many already enjoy. In the meantime, I am happy to wander through the streets of the city, roam the hills, forests, and lakesides and take photos of the sun as it sets.

The events that come my way keep me happy, and the clients are usually laid-back. Their praises each come naturally, and my enthusiasm feeds on it.

Being a second may appear to some as menial, but to me it is happy work.

Photographers, what do you think about second shooters?


James Russo

About the Author:

James Russo is a freelance photographer, engineer, trainer, and communications professional. He has enjoyed living in Iceland and throughout the US. A USAFveteran, he has liaised to VIPs, celebrities, and political leaders, has mediated union disputes, and has regularly fed tigers. You can follow him on Twitter @EffStopp


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Stephanie Padovani

Stephanie is a Hudson Valley wedding insider, blogger, writer, and wedding business coach. Want to book more weddings at higher prices? Quit dealing with price shoppers? Transform your wedding business so that it supports the life you really want? Look her up! They don't call her the Wedding Business Cheerleader for nothing. :)

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4 thoughts on “Why It Pays To Be The “Second Shooter””

  1. As I read through your article, I thought how could this really be playing out? A primary who has no problem with a second shooter mingling with the banquet managers? He’s not to talking about the studio the bride booked, but his own endeavors? I had to know more. An examination of James web site shows the depth of his work. For all of his talk of great wedding work, there is ONE web site wedding photo to show for it. This one appears to have been taken in a public place where anyone who just got off the escalator has assess to.

    In 10 years and 300 weddings, I have had a second photographer 10 times. In video mode where every minute of the ceremony needs to be recorded I always bring 2 shooters. You never know when the minister is going to make that key point that the whole wedding film will hang on.

    I don’t understand the need for 2 photographers. When groom who is a mechanic asks for one, I ask when was the last time you needed a second person to install brakes. I show them a complete album and ask them if I missed anything. They soon understand my point that doubling the shots doesn’t double the memories.

  2. Danny Snook says:

    If my second shooter ever handed out their own business card at one of my weddings, that would probably be their last wedding with me. I have spent to many years educating myself and building my reputation to have an upstart try to steal my clients.
    I train my shooters to shoot like me so there is consistency in look and quality throughout the brides album. When you get your second trained to shoot the primary the way you do, you are now free to be the second shooter and shoot whatever you want, how you want with no one demanding your time. My biggest problem has been as soon as I have them trained, they leave and start their own studio.

  3. Krissy says:

    Great post! seeing pictures that truly capture candid moments is the best 🙂 nicely written.

    1. James Russo says:

      Thank you, Krissy.

      For me, candid photos are some of my favorites. They reflect the world around the person, capture genuine emotion, and reflect the people as they really are. It exposes the true beauty within.

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