Getting Uncomfortable With Jasmine Star
October 1, 2011
When I first ventured into the world of wedding photography, I needed to get experience and learn things on-the-fly. But there isn’t really a way to learn about wedding photography other than being at a wedding. I quickly became involved with online photography forums and met great people along the way. These people became friends and soon invited me to second shoot weddings with them, each one providing a unique experience and learning environment.
Along the way, I learned second-shooter etiquette (both by instruction and trial-and-error) and have come to believe it’s tantamount to a person’s success, as well as to the frequency in which another photographer invites a person to shoot alongside him or her. During my first six months of starting photography, I was lucky enough to be shooting 3–4 times per month. I know this isn’t the norm, but I quickly defined myself as a proactive second shooter, and not reactive.
During my first few weddings, I found myself doing things in reaction to what was going on throughout the day. My job was to shoot the groomsmen as they got ready so I would do just that. If asked to shoot cocktail hour, I would do just that, shoot cocktail hour. But later, instead of only doing things I was asked to do, I found ways to diversify the wedding portfolio as well as do things that would benefit the main shooter at a later point in the day. In order to explain my thoughts further, here are five tips to being a proactive second photographer on a wedding day:
1. Photographing ceremony location and ceremony details, while first shooter is photographing family portraits. I always found myself gathering members for family portraits, and after, would stand and watch the main photographer shoot the 10–20 different variations of the family. However, after realizing how much help I could be by dividing and conquering the photographs the first shooter needed, I used that valuable time to photograph candid moments in between the formals and then would quickly walk to the ceremony site and shoot detail photos before guests showed up. I knew the main photographer needed an overview photo of the ceremony site as well as detail photos of undisturbed chairs, programs, and floral decor, so I’d get a jump-start before his arrival.
2. Photographing groomsmen individually, and collectively, with the groom. Shooting the groomsmen hanging out and getting dressed was always on my to-do list when I first arrived. Once the groom and groomsmen were dressed, I’d continue shooting the groomsmen while waiting for the bridesmaids to get ready. Most of the time, I like to shoot photojournalistically (candid moments), but there were times (especially when the wedding schedule was packed tightly), when I’d ask the groom to pose with each groomsmen. This saved the main photographer time so he didn’t have to take those photos later in the day, when time was stretched and precious.
3. Taking reception photos in advance. Once inside the reception site, we normally didn’t have very much time to photograph the room before guests arrived. I made it a point to look for the table best illuminated (be it with natural light or pin light) for the first shooter. From there I’d begin to move the less desirable items from a table (i.e. salt/pepper, butter, water/iced tea pitchers). This saved the first shooter valuable time and allowed us to focus solely on table details.
4. Assessing lighting situations in advance for first shooter. Finding ways to compliment ambient lighting in advance is always helpful. As a second photographer, it’s common to carry around a lot more equipment than the first shooter. I made it a point to always carry a variety of lights in case I needed to set up artificial lighting to enhance photos for the first photographer at a moment’s notice. When time was of the essence, the ability to use a light source in a pinch was priceless.
5. Creating a mental checklist of all detail photos and going over each look with the main photographer. In a sea of details throughout a wedding day, it’s easy to forget one or two photos. Making a mental checklist of certain photos—(Did you photograph the rings? The ring bearer’s pillow? That picture of Uncle Tom and Aunt Susie that the bride’s mom asked for?)—and discussing it with the main photographer during dinner was a great way to tie up any loose ends that might have been overlooked.
In 2007, I officially started my business on my own and there were moments I worried I didn’t have the chutzpah to pull things off, but I somehow made things work. A large part of my success was, in part, due to my business partner/husband, JD. We started shooting together and navigated weddings as a team, which made the main photographer/second shooter dynamic slightly different, but as the years passed we developed a synergy that was beneficial both to me and the client.
A while back, I asked JD for tips for second shooters. Here’s a list of things he’s learned throughout the years:
10. Dress Appropriately: Don’t be afraid to ask the main photographer what to wear on the wedding day. Some weddings are casual, others more formal. The most important thing is to always be a reflection of the main photographer’s attire and blend in with guests as much as possible. I always dress according to the Three Piece Rule: Wearing a tie/jacket/pants or tie/vest/pants...and I guess a jacket/shirt/pants works as well, but Jasmine definitely prefers a tie!
9. Same Day Slideshow: If the main photographer creates a same-day slideshow to display at the reception, make sure to find a nearby work station (i.e. chair and outlet). I usually find a place just outside of the reception so we can hear what’s going on and be easily accessible.
8. Gather the Family: It’s so important to help the main photographer during family formal photos. There’s a really short amount of time to execute the photos, so be sure to find grandma and Uncle Kevin (who’s usually at the bar) so the entire group isn’t waiting for one person.
7. Taking Care of Vendors: During a wedding day, I usually don’t have time to cultivate friendships, but I always make sure to include every vendor throughout the day. If they need anything, I offer assistance. If the vendor dinner is served, I try to make sure everyone knows. It’s small things that ensure everyone feels like we’re on the same team...and we’re likely to work together again in the future, so make sure to have everyone’s back.
6. Offer to Carry Bags: I’m particular about this because it reminds me of my role as a second shooter...to make life easier for the main shooter. I’m not saying every second photographer MUST carry the bags, but it’s nice to offer. I always carry and maintain the main photo bag on wedding days and I know Jasmine appreciates it.
5. Get Water: Here in Southern California, peak wedding season is during the hottest time of the year, so keeping ourselves hydrated is very important. I always make sure Jasmine has a cold glass of water waiting for her before the ceremony, after the ceremony and after cocktail hour. Usually these are the hottest (and most stressful) times outdoors because there’s so much juggling going on for her. Every time she finishes her glass, she’s recharged (and in a better mood!).
4. Smile: Jasmine usually has to remind me of this one...and when she does, I usually give her a sarcastic smile. In all honesty, I know she’s right. Jasmine reminds me that guests are looking at us even when we don’t realize it and we’re a reflection of the bride’s desire of have us document her dream day. If we look hot, unhappy, tired, or annoyed, it’ll be a poor reflection on our brand. I’ll admit is sometimes hard to smile after hearing “We Are Family...I’ve got all my sisters with me!” for the thousandth time that month, but then I smile knowing Jasmine’s probably off dancing with the DJ! (Just kidding!)
3. Find New Angles: Don’t shoot over the main photographer’s shoulder! When I first started shooting with Jasmine, I shot behind her and captured—basically—the same photos she did. Okay, just not as cool. She finally explained that she didn’t need another version of her shots...she needed an entirely different photo of the same moment. I’ll admit this is harder than it seems, but I know she appreciates creativity and a range of perspectives from the exact same moment.
2. Never Pass Out Your Business Card: During one of the first weddings we photographed together, we had another photographer tag along with us. The night was flowing nicely until I overheard the third shooter pass his/her studio name and business card to a wedding guest. I can’t explain how rude this is. On a wedding day, a second and third photographer is just that—an accompanying photographer to the main photographer’s studio. If a guest asks for a business card from a second shooter (which happens often!), the second shooter should always pass along the main photographer’s business card. Period. The end.
1. Leave Ego at the Door: This one doesn’t need much of an explanation as it’s more a rule for life in general. Just remember, as a second shooter, your number one goal is to shoot the best you can and make the main photographer’s life easier...even if it means missing the best photo opportunities at the wedding. Yes, everyone prefers to shoot the bride getting ready, the bride and groom portraits, and getting the First Kiss standing in the center of the aisle. But chances are, it ain’t gonna be like that. So own what you got and make it work. In the words of my main photographer and mentor, “Just be FABULOUS!”
When I first ventured into the world of wedding photography, I needed to get experience…and I was lucky enough to get it. Wait. Let me change that. I was lucky enough to earn it. And I firmly believe anyone is capable of a similar trajectory if they adhere to proper second shooter etiquette and grow into being a proactive photographer. I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Jasmine Star is an international wedding photographer based in California. She likes to run on the beach, write on her blog, and eat too much chocolate. Jasmine stays away from coffee for fear of stunting her growth and recently realized she can’t spell rhthym…rhythum…rhythm on the first try… Exactly.