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?
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