Becoming a Photographer: Finding second shooting experience – why you might not get the reply you expect!

Kat and Frank’s Hampstead Heath engagement shoot. Pop back on Monday to see more.

When I first started taking this seriously I had the idea that I’d offer my services for free, to get experience. I was in turn hurt, outraged, annoyed and frustrated when none of the photographers I approached leapt at the chance to have me along for the day.

I was offering to work FOR FREE for crying out loud. I would even stand in a corner and not speak to anyone. I only wanted to watch them at work. I really didn’t get their reluctance to have me along to a wedding.

What I didn’t think about at the time was the fact that what I was asking was for that photographer to do me a massive favour. A huge massive favour that could potentially backfire on them and have a negative impact on their business.

You see the photographers I approached didn’t know me from Adam. Ok so I sent them a nice introductory email and link to my portfolio but that didn’t really tell them much about me as a person and how trustworthy/reliable I am.

When you turn up on a job/at a wedding on behalf of another photographer, you are representing their brand. Every little thing that you do through out the course of the day can give a negative or positive impression of their business. Every time a photographer works with a new second shooter/assistant it’s a risk. Even if they’ve thoroughly interviewed you, there is no real way of knowing how you’ll work in the pressurised environment of a live photo shoot/wedding.

Up until very recently I’ve always worked with Pete, my other half, as my second shooter. I know his work and how it sits within the framework of my own work, he knows how I operate and it’s also really nice to have someone I know around to have a chat with.

As I’m getting busier and busier and Pete has a full time job, he wants to shoot fewer weddings with me this year, so I’m working with other second shooters instead.

Luckily there are a few people that I have an existing relationship with that I can ask and I’m a member of online forums where I can find second shooters, but the later still feels like a bit of a risk. A calculated risk but a risk none the less.

There’s also the small issue of insurance. Not every photographer will be insured to work with a second shooter so if you want assisting or second shooting experience and don’t have insurance, it’s something to think about as it may be a barrier to you getting work/experience.

Another thing to think about is what you’re actually asking for. As an aside, as I’ve been getting more and more visitors to the blog (thank you! I really appreciate it and the positive feedback I’ve had about these posts in particular) I’ve had a few photographers send me links to their portfolios recently but they haven’t really told me why they were sending it.

I’ve had a bit of a nosy and thanked them for sharing, but I didn’t respond with anything more detailed because I wasn’t really sure what they wanted me to say.

Did they want a critique? Were they asking me to refer clients on to them? Did they want to collaborate? I just don’t know.

If you are approaching someone because you want something from them, be sure to be clear about what you’re asking for and also try to think about your request from their point of view. What benefit is there to them?

If you’re asking someone to give you something, even if it’s just the time it takes to respond to your email, you should make sure that you ask in an appropriate way and consider offering them something in return.

Show them the courtesy of finding out a bit about them, tell them what you like about their work and why you’ve feel compelled to contact them and you’ll get a much warmer response.

Anyway, I kind of wish someone had told me all of this when I was emailing photographers frantically when I first started out.

Some photographers I approached were absolutely lovely and much more accommodating than I had any right to expect, so it is worth trying to work with the people you admire, just remember all of the above and the fact that they probably have tried and tested ways of working, so if the answer is no don’t take it personally.

Have you had much luck with second shooting? Or do you use second shooters you’ve never worked with before? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As an aside, my timing’s not half bad given that Lisa Devlin wrote a guest post on Rock N Roll Bride on the subject of second shooting yesterday.

6 thoughts on “Becoming a Photographer: Finding second shooting experience – why you might not get the reply you expect!

  1. Great post Laura 🙂

    I have only second shot around 4 times but I am keen to do more so that I can get a real feel for a variety of weddings and working styles of other photographers.

    Very true though about being clear about what you want!

    T x

  2. Great post! Some people seem to think they are doing us a favour by offering to 2nd shoot – despite the fact that they are really trying to get free training, lens hire and shots for their portfolio!
    The first guy I let come out with me “for the experience” used 140 of the shots he had taken to set up his own blog, website & Facebook page as a “wedding photographer” just days after the wedding.
    I have to decline all offers to 2nd shoot for the sake of my clients – I would rather pay a trustworthy person than allow someone to 2nd shoot for free.

  3. Really good points being made in this article. I think one of the most vital are the issues around representing your brand and the risk involved. Definitely a risk taking on board a second shooter. However, I think for anyone looking to gain experience they shouldn’t start out by approaching other experienced photographers to second shoot but rather to merely assist them. Carry bags and hold things etc., and watch….

  4. Very good advice Laura. I’ve second shot a few times and assisted and have learnt so much from the people I shot for, both good and bad – some photographers aren’t always very ethical about the way they treat the second shooters they allow to shoot with them, whilst others you can develop a relationship with and develop mutual ventures with 🙂

  5. Amazing advice! I’m a second year photography student looking to get into wedding photography, but there seems to be some kind of hierarchy within the course and wedding photography seems to be at the bottom and in a way frowned upon, I’m actually thinking of writing my dissertation next year confronting this and trying to challenge my tutors!
    The only way for me to get some advice and experience is to assist or second shoot with experienced wedding photographers so this post has definitely come perfectly timed and I will definitely be taking all your advice on board when contacting photographers! Thank you Laura!

    • It does seem like that doesn’t it? But I really feel that the tide is turning for wedding photography. The BJP now has its annual Wedding Photographer of the Year competition and I think there are a new wave of wedding photographers that completely challenge the old perception of what it is to be a wedding photographer. It’s brilliant that you have picked wedding photography as your path as it’s such a rewarding job and there are so many opportunities to be creative and develop if you want to find them.

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