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Photography

Second Camera: A Photographer's Guide to Working in a Team

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There are times when wedding clients require more than one photographer to cover their day. Other events such as parties, conferences, theater, and sports may require multiple photographers to provide comprehensive coverage.

Whatever the job may be, being a second photographer requires communication, teamwork, and the requisite skills to be successful. This guide will help you on the path to being a good, smart second photographer, whether you're breaking into an industry or looking to supplement your income.

Have Relevant Skills

As a second photographer, it is important to have the skills and experience that are relevant to what you'll be photographing. It will not only help you get hired, but also enable you to do your job well. Having the gear isn't enough.

Skill trumps Passion - Juhan Sonin
Image credit: Juhan Sonin

In addition to having the skills and experience relevant to your field, you ought to have the appropriate equipment for the job. This usually means professional cameras and professional lenses. Ask the primary photographer about the gear required for the assignment.

If you don't own the gear, renting is always an option. Some studios provide gear so that they avoid the risk of someone bringing sub-par equipment. Other times you'll be provided with cards, which you must return at the end of your time.

Get lots of relevant practice and experience in the kind of photography you plan to do in order to reasonably advertise yourself as a second photographer. For example, a primary wedding photographer will look for other wedding photographers. If you don't have the relevant images, skills, or experience, you'll need to start out as an assistant or study independently until you do.

Knowledge Is Power

When you're being hired as a second photographer, ignorance isn't bliss. Ask the primary photographer for details about the day, the subjects, and the approach you'll be expected to take. Your aim should be to be as informed as the primary photographer so that you can support them and anticipate their needs as well as the client's.

Whenever I'm being interviewed as a second photograhper, I ask about how the primary photographer approaches the event, for the timelines, and the 5 W's (Who, What, When, Where, Why). In many ways, I'm interviewing right back so that I can get a good sense of how we'll work together.

Having this knowledge beforehand gives you a lot of self-confidence and will give the primary photographer confidence because of your detailed approach to the job. Asking questions and getting clarification is as crucial as the technical skills in photography. It will help you be in the right place at the right time.

Contracts. Always.

Since there's usually a lot riding on an event, you'll want a contract. This agreement is between you or your company and the primary photographer or his/her company. This agreement should be signed by both parties before any work is done, no matter how new you are.

Second Shooter Contract
Read and understand this carefully. You might want your lawyer to review it as well.

Terms and conditions vary greatly but these are common in Secondary Photographer Contracts:

  • Event Information (location, date and time, type, etc.)
  • Statement of Work (scope, deadlines, deliverables, etc.)
  • Liability and Limits of Liability
  • Payment (when and how you'll be paid)
  • Intellectual Property (copyrights and licensing)
  • Exclusivity, Non-Compete, and Non-Disclosure
  • Business Relationship and Taxation
  • Jurisdiction

The above points ought to be addressed and clarified before signing. The contract is there to ensure both parties do their parts, and becomes the hardline agreement should things go wrong or change. You're agreeing to perform specific tasks on a specific date/time at a specific location to be delivered at a specific time for specific purposes. Performing tasks outside your contract could open you up to unforeseen liabilities and extra work without pay.

Professional Shot - Daniel Sone Photography
This image of the same burst from the same spot is the result of professional gear and good skill.

Match Styles & Skills

This was something I overlooked once because I ignored my gut. It turned out to be a big mistake. The primary and I were on two very different levels of skill, equipment, and photographic style. Our combined work risked lacking continuity in appearance. I got a very angry email about two weeks after the event saying my photos were unusable, and was accused of taking liberties with his clients.

Even though I received no implicit or explicit instructions to emulate his style, the problem was still there. If the primary hadn't shown my images because of his claims, nearly half the wedding would have been missing and the client would've likely sued. Not fun and not good for business.

During evaluation, look through the primary photographer's portfolio and compare it to your own work to judge if you're a good match. These gaps can go both ways: you might be a lot better, or the primary might be a lot better. Significant differences in technical skill, creative composition, personal approach, or post-processing are red flags and should be avoided.

Represent Their Business

When you're a secondary photographer, you're representing someone else's brand and business. This is where you apply your personal expertise and the knowledge you gained about the primary's attitude and approach to the event. Being friendly, on time, and prepared are all part of the professionalism you need to have.

As part of professional courtesy and likely part of your non-compete terms, don't promote yourself at the event to guests, the venue, or other vendors, even if they ask. Leave your business cards and sales pitch at home. In fact, ask for a few cards from the primary photographer precisely for these situations.

Finally, throughout the course of the event, if you find out important or helpful information that could be useful to the primary, pass it on. You're working as a team and communication is key.

The Benefits of Being Second Camera

I used to think that being a secondary photographer when I was usually the primary or solo photographer was a loss of status until I looked closely at the benefits. The benefits of landing a good streak of gigs as a secondary photographer are really great.

No Post-Production Time

That's right! Post-processing accounts for the bulk of a wedding photographer's time-cost. Culling 2,000 to 3,000 images into a few hundred, perfecting them, and providing album designs takes up a lot time. As a second, you don't have to do any post-processing. You deliver the RAW images and get paid.

If your contract allows you to use your shots in your portfolio or blog, you only need to work on a mere fraction—10 or 20 photos—rather than the hundreds you'd normally need to deliver. You can do this at your own pace.

Perhaps the best part is not having to deal with clients before or after the event. No consultations, no chasing payments, no album design revisions. While you're not making post-event sales dollars, you're not having to work to get them either.

Portfolio & Network Building

You're able to build your portfolio, gain experience, and build valuable relationships all in one swoop. If your contract allows, you can add your photos to your portfolio, which can help you get more second camera jobs and even your own clients. If you need more experience in a particular field, you'll gain it. And you'll build a valuable network of photographers who can help you when you need it.

Lighter Workload

Since you're not the lead or on your own, the burden of the day isn't as heavy on your shoulders. You're playing a supportive role, and not only is your percentage of coverage usually lower, but your gear load is also lighter. Many times primary photographers will ask you to simply photograph the places they cannot be or the secondary moments/action.

In two weddings where I was a second photographer, I was mainly tasked with documenting the groomsmen and detail shots. We doubled up on the ceremony and part of the reception. The primary had to cover the bride, and do the formals, portraits, and the "must have" shots of the day. It was still hard work, but it didn't feel burdensome.

Even if your workload is really light, be sure to do a stellar job, because you're responsible for capturing moments and angles that the primary couldn't.

Potential Pitfalls of Second Photographer

There are some downsides to being a secondary photographer. If you get a good relationship and reasonable contract, these limitations aren't really that bad, but simply part of the business. But you should be aware of them nonetheless so that you can avoid or mitigate them.

Limited to No Image Rights

This depends upon your contract, but usually you're not allowed to sell your shots, enter into a competition, or publish outside your own portfolio/website. Typically, you sign over sales and distribution rights and even transfer copyright/ownership to the primary photographer. These are usually "work for hire" jobs and as such provide the employer a lot more rights than freelance work.

However, the more rights they demand, the higher the pay usually is.

Excessive Non-Compete

Wrestling photo demonstrating being trapped
An excessive non-compete clause can trap you for a long time. Prevention is the best remedy. (photo: Daniel Sone)

Aside from the image rights and payment terms section of the contract, this is a portion you really need to examine closely. Even though you're a secondary photographer, some studios will try to eliminate you as competition altogether with an excessive non-compete clause. This can prevent you from operating locally, working with other vendors, or even advertising similar services for miles and years, even if the rest of the contract is terminated. Agreeing to excessive non-compete terms could put you out of business. Don't do it. Period.

No In-Event Leads

Since you're not allowed to advertise your own business or services while working as a secondary, potential clients and vendor relationships could slip by and be redirected to the primary photographer. This can be a tough pill to swallow, especially if a guest, a vendor, or even the client really likes you and how you work.

The temptation to provide your business card or business information can increase if you're trying build up your business, really need the money, or you're much better than the primary. However, doing so could violate your contract, get you sued, and lead to being blacklisted by other photographers. Sometimes a vendor will ask for your business card to test your integrity. It's not uncommon for event planners/coordinators to be friends with other vendors, including photographers.

Conclusion

I used to think that being a second photographer was a little degrading since I'm already a successful professional. But after a few assignments, I quickly saw the benefits. It was great to find out that some of the primary photographers who hired me wished they could be second photogreapher more often. Some even preferred it.

This guide should give some good ideas to help you get into an industry, advance in it, or supplement your income if you're already an established professional. I've found it to be a valuable avenue to build myself in new markets and have a little more freedom to play with my images. Give it a shot and become an asset to other professional photographers where you live.

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