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T4P – Second Shooting

Tips for Photographers (T4P) is a regular feature where I talk about a cool tip that I think will benefit my fellow photographers. For more T4Ps, click here!

One of the primary things I hear from new photographers just breaking into the biz is that they have a really hard time getting experience. They e-mail every local photographer in their area, and never get any response.  This isn’t surprising to me, considering that I receive 3-4 e-mails from “wannabe” wedding photographers every week asking to second shoot with me.  If I said yes to all of them, I would easily have 5-10 people following me around at every wedding!  Not only would this be a mess, it would be unprofessional and unfair to the client.  As a paid professional, I am at weddings to work, not to teach, so I only bring people with me who already have some experience and who are ready to do the job I assign them to do without me having to keep an eye on them.  This is why I pretty much universally say “no” when people ask me if they can shadow me.

Of course, there’s a catch-22 in there.. You have to have experience to shoot, but you have to shoot to have experience.  So what do you do if you have the desire but not the experience?  Well, mass e-mailing hundreds of people you don’t know telling them that someday you want to be their competition, but for now you just want to follow them around and take all their trade secrets probably isn’t the best course of action!

The first step is to form a personal relationship with your colleagues.  Become more than a face in a crowd.  Find out what forums they frequent and participate in active threads, provide feedback (honest feedback, not just empty praise), get involved in heated discussions.. Show your fellow photographers that you’re serious about this business and you have an honest desire to learn.  If your colleagues don’t participate in forums, arrange local get-togethers or join local guilds.  In Dallas we have several branches of the PPA that hold monthly meetings, and many of the non-PPA crowd  get together for lunch or poker every couple of weeks.  Someone is much more likely to give you a chance to work for them if they consider you a friend, or at least a colleague.

The second step is to be willing to pay your dues. Metaphorically speaking, you should be willing to do some of the grunt work – carrying bags, holding flashes, backing up cards, etc. – before you ever expect to take a photograph.  Think of yourself as an intern.. You have to do the crappy work for free before you can do the fun, skilled stuff for pay.   This is how it works in every indsutry, so wedding photography should be no different!  Literally speaking, you should also be willing to put your money where your mouth is.  If there’s one photographer in particular that you really like, e-mail them and offer to take them out to lunch at a fancy restaurant, or offer to pay them to do a day-long consultation with you.  If you truly value their advice, you’ll be willing to invest in such a great, personalized learning experience.

Remember, everyone’s time is valuable.  Before asking someone to spend time on you, you should be willing to spend either time or money investing in them, as well.  Good luck!  Here’s a photo of me and my second shooter (who has been a friend and fellow photographer since college, as well as one of my past clients) Jena at a recent wedding.  What can I say, we love our job :)


  1. Annette said . . .

    I’m glad to see T4P is back! As a newbie breaking in the business, I can identify with this post. Luckily, I have two very good friends who are photographers and let me shoot with them. People think I’m crazy to drive two hours to do grunt work for the next 10 hours, but I would rather pay my dues than show up at my first solo wedding unprepared. Thanks for the encouraging post and tips!

    Posted February 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Keri said . . .

    I love your tips too!! And although I’m not an aspiring wedding photographer, I think that you guys have tons of information to share that’s very relevant to all types of photography. Do you mind sharing what groups in Dallas that you’re a part of? It seems like there are so many available, and just as many BAD ones as really good ones. Does that make sense?


    Posted February 10, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  3. Tanya Plonka said . . .

    Great advice for newcomers!

    One thing I’d like to add… if you see a photographer advertising for a second shooter and you want to apply, make sure you apply with photos of people! They don’t need to be wedding photos, but you need to show you can handle portrait or candid work. Landscapes don’t show what you can do at a wedding :)

    How do you get these photos? Take some of your friends!

    Posted February 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Jena Miller said . . .


    Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  5. BenQ said . . .

    Well said! My fellow friend:) Looking fierce! We are going to miss you at WPPI:(

    Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

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