You may think that hiring a second shooter is about finding somebody that fits the exact mold you’re hoping for, and then never having to tell them what to do – and that’s just so rarely true. Having assisted dozens of different photographers, I’ve found no two are exactly the same – and some have hired me over and over again, and others refuse to answer my emails anymore. The key to molding a great second shooter is to communicate with them effectively.
Being a good main photographer to your assistant completely depends on being able to outline your expectations, and give the second shooter direction on what it is you’re hoping to get as results. Even the most experienced photographers may struggle to assist you if you have no idea what is it you want from them, and what you want the images to look and feel like.
Here’s a few things to communicate with your second shooter. While over time you will become accustomed to working with each other and this conversation will be had less and less, always make sure to overcommunicate the first few times you work with somebody. Even if they’ve been in this industry for years, catering to your brand will be more effective when you give them the details to do so.
Outline exactly what their role is
Every photographer works with their second photographers differently. There’s different versions from just holding equipment and being a cheerleader to giving the second photographer free reign on an event. Discussing with your assistants beforehand exactly what their role is will lead to a better execution of their role.
Are they meant to help you, or fill in the gaps with photographs you aren’t there for? Being clear on their purpose will help you to not only hire the right person, but to make sure they do their job effectively for you.
Have a gear discussion beforehand
Some photographers will just use a 24-70 and 70-200 all day at events, and others will only use a 35 and 85 (like myself!). Besides making sure their gear is high quality, have the discussion about what focal lengths they like to use and when. A good assistant will typically be shooting the opposite focal length and angle from where you are, so make sure that’s possible with their gear and the way they typically work. If they shoot the same focal length as you in every situation and are always over your shoulder, you’re going to be disappointed in the lack of usable results.
Guide them on WB settings and aperture expectations
Some photographers are comfortable shooting on AUTO white balance, and others adjust their Kelvin continuously all day. What are the expectations of your assistant? Do you want them to shoot on the same Kelvin temp all day? Adjust accordingly? This process directly ties into your effectiveness at editing their photographs, so be clear on what you want them to do with these settings.
This is especially relevant if they’re using a camera with a different sensor than yours. Many photographers have brand presets that are customized directly to their camera bodies, so if your assistant is shooting on something different than you, you’ll have to accommodate those changes as well.
In addition to white balance, you’ll want to communicate with your second shooter on what sizes of aperture you expect them to use. While you may think this doesn’t matter, it actually plays a huge role – if you typically use an aperture of 2.5 but your assistant set theirs to 1.4 ALL DAY, you’re going to have widely ranging results (and likely a lot of images with missed focus). Remind them of the settings you expect them to change and utilize, and you’ll find the results are more pleasing.
Give them direction on off camera flash
Many receptions go into the dark hours of the night, and as much as you may love and prefer ambient lighting, there are sometimes situations where a flash is necessary. Different photographers have different approaches to off camera flash, so make sure your assistant understands how you want them to use it. If their method of off camera flash is drastically different from yours, you’ll have trouble editing the images to look the way you want – and may ultimately end up not using them, and choosing not to hire that assistant again.
Any photographer experienced in off camera flash will be able to bend to your request, so have the conversation about what you choose to do at receptions, and whether you expect them to do the same.
Give them details on what YOU look for when taking an image at a wedding
The best second shooters are the ones who’s images look like something you’d take, and fit seamlessly into your client’s galleries. Looking for an assistant that has the same shooting style as you is far more important than finding one with the same editing style! Do they focus on candids? Will they perfectly pose people into groups? Will they only take images in good light, or do they embrace the messy to get the emotion? Have a conversation with your assistants about what it is you look for on a wedding day, and ask them to explain the same. When your values align, you know you’ll make an exceptionally good team.
BONUS: Send them feedback after the wedding
There’s nothing worse than sending off a wedding gallery only to never hear how your client likes the images – imagine having that doubled because you worked for another photographer, but never heard back how they feel you performed! Even if it’s a quick email, always be sure to follow up with your assistants with what went well, how many images you used, what you wish was different, etc. Even a little bit of feedback can start the process of training them to be the perfect assistant for you at events, and it helps them grow as a photographer as well (or to know why you won’t be hiring them again). When you communicate with your second shooter what they did well and didn’t do well, they can improve in the future.
Are there any procedures you take when hiring assistants that has yielded positive results? Share your process below!
Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN.
I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.
This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.
Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.
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