The no-fluff guide to deciding: ‘should I get a second photographer at my wedding?’
The 2023 edit is that while I used to have a very cut-and-dried answer to this question (it was ‘yes’, unequivocally), nowadays things are a bit more nuanced. As I’ve grown in my ability to capture weddings and to get different angles all by myself, I want to make it clear that it’s totally your decision whether you would like another photographer or not.
Truthfully, all wedding photographers work differently. Some like to have a second there at every wedding, and only sell packages with seconds. Others, like myself, are not only super confident in being able to capture almost everything myself, but are so used to it because my business specializes in intimate (small) weddings.
So that’s the slight caveat, but I hope that doesn’t negate the very real points I have to share in this article I wrote a few years ago.
What does a second shooter do, and should you have one at your wedding? Is it necessary, is it going to be intrusive or change the dynamic of your wedding? And then there’s the extra cost – is it worth it? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.
Defining what a second photographer at a wedding is
A second photographer is a professional photographer contracted by the lead photographer to take photos at your wedding.
They are able to work independently, sometimes capturing different scenes or groups of people than the lead, such as the groom’s getting ready while the lead photographer is with the bride and her bridesmaids.
Other times, they work right alongside the lead photographer, taking ‘insurance’ shots or those that add more variety of key moments such as getting wide or tighter shots of the first kiss or grand entrance, for example.
The second photographer ONLY works while the lead is also contracted to be shooting, meaning their coverage time must exactly span the booked photography coverage hours.
There are minimums in place too. For some photographers, they only offer second photographer coverage for the same duration as the lead is there. For Zoe Larkin Photography, we currently offer a 3-hour minimum for weekday weddings and 6 hours for weekend weddings for the second photographer (it is higher than this for the lead). We also offer this for San Francisco City Hall ceremonies, which start at just 2 hours.
Note: a second shooter is not to be confused with an ‘associate photographer‘. To understand the difference, please visit the in-depth guide linked below:
This is also not to be confused with an assistant, that doesn’t photograph but is there to serve the lead photographer with anything they might need throughout the day.
What size wedding needs a second shooter?
The received wisdom is that guest counts of over about 75-100 may benefit from a second photographer. Guest lists over ~100 – 120 warrant a second photographer.
However, as I’ve gotten more experienced in the wedding industry, I’ve learned that the determining factor is not the number of guests but whether there are overlapping events.
I’m perfectly comfortable shooting a group of 160 guests by myself, if the events are sufficiently spread out both in time and space. Here are the typical scenarios however that necessitate a second photographer:
- Each partner is getting ready in different locations
- You are doing formal photos during cocktail hour
- You prioritize details (ceremony set up, tablescapes, floral displays etc) and want a clear shot with nobody wandering in. This NEEDS a second photographer, as there might only be 60 seconds where everything is fully set up and the room is clear, candles lit with no guests spilling in. The lead photographer might be in the middle of shooting the family or the couple at this time.
- You want certain shots such as the bride’s dress from behind when she walks down the aisle. The lead photographer will only be capturing the processional from the front, not the back.
If you’re already budgeting a decent chunk for your wedding photography, it can be a worthwhile investment to secure a second shooter – one that won’t break the bank.
Here’s what having a second shooter can do at your wedding.
1. Capture more moments
Your wedding day will go by in a whirlwind. This is just as true for a 9-hour extravaganza as it is for short City Hall ceremonies.
When I look through the images shot by my second shooter, I’m often amazed at just how many things happened at the wedding that I wasn’t even aware of, and the couple wasn’t either.
Little interactions, grandparents shedding a tear, kids hamming it up for the camera. Given the option, it would certainly be better to have those never-to-be-repeated moments than not!
2. Capture parts of the day that would have been missed
Having a second shooter means that more of the day’s events are actually covered. Your photographer can magically be in two places at once.
I’ve photographed weddings where I wouldn’t have been able to capture two things. While I was capturing the couple’s romantic shots, this was the ONLY time for my second photographer to capture the reception space which was lavishly decorated with an all-start vendor team. These were both incredibly important facets to capture.
Another time it comes in handy is where each partner is getting ready separately rather than in the same building. For example, one’s in the hotel or at home, and the other is in the venue.
Another example: One captures the posed family portraits and the other shoots cocktail hour candids. It would be a real shame not to get any cocktail hour coverage since this is the main time to get beautiful candid portraits of your guests in great light!
Also during the first look, you’ll get two angles, one for each partner.
3. Back up
In the extremely unlikely event of your photographer getting into an accident or having some issue with their gear, their back up gear, and backups of the backups, the second photographer will save the day.
I always use highly skilled second photographers that can confidently and calmly take control if the worst happens.
My shooters operate their own businesses independently as wedding photographers. Many have been shooting longer than me. Their work, equipment, style, and skill is comparable to mine, or even better.
Contrary to what some may think when they hear of ‘a second photographer’, we are peers, not trainees trying to break into the business.
4. A different perspective
A secondary perspective will so beautifully complement the lead shooter’s work. Here the lead is positioned next to the groom and photographs the bride walking up the aisle, and also the groom’s face.
The second photographer captured the bride’s nerves and interactions with her parents before her processional, then follows her from behind to capture the back of the dress as she walks.
5. A happier photographer
I think I speak for most photographers when I say we like to show up to a wedding with someone that’s on our team.
We feel more confident and professional knowing that someone has our back and can assist us, grab the shots we need and give us peace of mind.
We strive to be cheerful, smiling and free of stress at all times during your wedding day. Our team member will help us with this goal. As artists this is very important, but a good photographer will not overly rely on their second.
6. A helper for the lead photographer
Following on from this point, a second photographer can help me in so many ways which again contributes to the feeling of wellness.
There are times when I’d ask them to grab me a glass or water, hold an off-camera light or take over while I use the restroom. They might help out during the formals as they would know exactly what to look for arranging groups and setting up rows of chairs, as we’ve done it countless times before.
At times like this, I’m able to lean on them rather than enlist a male guest to help me move chairs or furniture when needed for the photos.
7. A little more investment, a lot more photos!
Ultimately you are already spending a good chunk of change on your wedding photography.
It may not exactly be an ‘investment’ in the truest sense of the word, but it is a palpable thing that will continue to bring you joy for the rest of your lives. It pays dividends, as the joy increases with time.
For just a comparatively small amount extra, you could get almost twice the pictures from another skilled, experienced photographer.
8. More creativity – another photographer’s own unique vision
We are creative types and love to share our unique way of picturing things.
We use the camera as the tool to realize the creative vision we see in our mind’s eye. I love to encourage my second shooters to run with that.
It’s much more fun this way, and so inspiring for me to see what they come up with. Also as the lead shooter, I am more concerned with nailing the must-get shots. They can be a little freer and more creative as the pressure is off them.
What are the disadvantages of having a second photographer at your wedding?
The downsides to having a second shooter are:
- It may be slightly disruptive or change the dynamics if the wedding is a tiny group, or if the space is super cramped.
- It can represent an extra cost, depending on whether it’s already bundled with a package or not.
- If anyone at the wedding hates being photographed it could add some stress for them, as some people are just extremely wary when they see a camera.
- It doesn’t happen at my weddings, but I’ve heard stories of teams of two having a bit too much fun, taking headshots of each other, doing selfies and TikTok videos and sometimes even missing key moments because they’re busy chatting!
What about using a guest to get those secondary angles?
I do see some couples who have either commissioned a wedding guest to take photos – or that person takes it upon themselves without the couple’s knowledge. That is something that cannot be avoided, even if you ask people not to do it.
The way I see it, these friendtographers may be doing you a favor, but there is no way I can get them out of my shots. They are not under my control as my contractors are, when we are very used to the flow of working as part of a photography (or videography) team.
If this person decides to spring up and take photos while I’m taking mine, they’ll likely be in a lot of my shots.
As they are not professionals, they have no idea about the delicate dance that a lead and contracted second photographer do. The dance takes years to perfect, the goal being that we cover the event flawlessly and never appear in each other’s shots.
This friendtographer is an honored guest of yours, not a hired vendor. So, it isn’t my place to gesture at them to sit down and get out of my shot (though I often really want to!). They’re there to have a good time with you, and will be captured as part of the genuine experience of the day and the people you chose to be there.
It’s really up to you to ask amateur photographers to leave their cameras at home. We are not there to police the guests. If you are concerned about getting secondary angles, never hesitate to book an official second photographer through your hired photographer.
The Knot also has a great article about having a second photographer at your wedding. So, think about it and make sure you make the decision that’s right for you. When you book with me, you can always add a second shooter on as little as 2 weeks before the wedding, at the same price as you’d have paid earlier on. My pricing is all a la carte with no penalties for booking items later vs earlier on.
I hope you can see that one of the most valuable add-ons you should consider for your wedding photography is a having a second photographer. Unless your budget is super tight, or you have some particular concerns about the idea, you are unlikely to regret it! Find out more about my photography services for weddings in the San Francisco Bay Area here: Bay Area Wedding photographer – Info, pricing, about & portfolio