Modern & exceptional wedding photography.

What I Look For in a Second Photographer

If it’s your first time shooting a wedding as a second photographer, it can be stressful to know what your primary photographer needs in a pinch. On the flip side, if you’re a seasoned primary photographer, you know how difficult it can be to communicate your needs to your team, especially if the day begins with an already-rushed timeline. Today’s post is a summary of what I look for in a second photographer and my expectations of them as a team member. It’s taken several years of shooting events and working with over 100 people to learn what I like and don’t like, so my hope is that this information is helpful to you as you begin to learn about what makes an excellent team member.

I love working with people who are overall kind and possess a great personality. This person is also professional, friendly, and fun! He/she should be comfortable being separated from me during some parts of the day as we typically split prior to shooting the First Look. I prefer to seamlessly match my own film and digital images to those of my team, so it’s best if my seconds use the same Sony system. The best complimentary lenses to my work are the 85mm, 35mm, and 135mm. I typically keep a 50mm lens on my camera the entire day, so having those complimentary focal length lenses is a huge bonus!


1. Getting Ready & Details

Whether with the bride or groom, there’s certain photos I expect to see captured by my second photographer. If second shooting in the bridal suite, smiling and laughing candids are wonderful storytelling images. I don’t typically deliver photos in the final gallery of a person who isn’t smiling or laughing. These photos usually look great shot with an 85mm lens because you’re able to capture the moments without being intrusive.

Candids of groomsmen smiling or laughing

Moving on to the groom, I typically shoot a styled photo of his details before he puts anything on or gets dressed. If he’s already dressed by the time you arrive, don’t worry about it. Do try to capture any unique details, such as a gifted watch, suit embroidery or monograms, etc. as he is dressing. Don’t insist that he take everything off and put back on, simply for photo’s sake. If you’re a bride reading this, head over to my post, ‘What Details to Bring in the Wedding Day‘ to get an idea of what items your groom might have!

Groom’s details and putting on cufflinksGroom's wedding day details as he gets ready in Washington, DC.

Next, the groom should get dressed. Once he has his pants, button-down shirt, and belt on, we begin shooting. We’ll shoot through the groom putting on his cuff links, tie or bow tie, shoes, and putting on his jacket. It’s great if there’s another person around to help, but don’t worry if you can’t find anyone. He’s typically just fine doing everything himself! 🙂

Groom putting on jacket

All the groomsmen should be dressed at this point, and may want to celebrate as a group. If there’s alcohol involved, this is a great time to capture a toasting photo.

Groomsmen toasting with custom whiskey glasses

And finally, I ask the groom for a few classic portraits in the getting ready space. This sitting down pose is one of my favorites!


2. The First Look & Couple’s Portraits

Everything we’ve photographed so far as a team has come to this! The bride and groom will see each other privately and take a few moments to themselves, so I like to give them a little space. It’s great if my second photographer puts on a longer lens (such as the 85mm or 135mm) to capture the groom’s reaction, while I capture a wider perspective with a 50mm lens.

Primary photographer’s perspective

Second photographer’s perspective

Moving into couple’s portraits, I look for varying angles from my second photographer, both up close and full-body vignettes of the couple smiling and/or laughing at each other whilst not looking directly at the camera.

As a special note, I don’t ever use my second photographer’s angle if I have the couple look directly at the camera. I will only ask my second photographer to shoot this photo directly behind me if I’m shooting film and specifically ask for a digital backup.


3. The Wedding Party

For the entire party plus bridemaids and groomsmen group photos, I look for shots from any long angle (85mm or 135mm) with smiling or laughing faces facing towards the camera (examples below). These are best taken when I ask the wedding party to smile and laugh back and forth at each other. I also love detail images from the sides when I ask the group to smile at me. These wouldn’t include faces and are best taken when I ask the group to smile directly at my camera. Again, I never use photos from my second’s perspective if the entire group is smiling at me.

Close-up of bridesmaid’s bouquet from an angleGray bridesmaids dresses pose for pictures at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Blue mismatched bridesmaids pose for portraits at Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

Wedding party walking together in a groupPink bridesmaids walking for portraits at Stone Tower Winery near Leesburg, VA.

Bride and groom walk together with wedding party at Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore Inner Harbor.

If we’re running low on time and I need you to photograph the groom and groomsmen separately, here are the key photos I look for:

Formal shot of all groomsmen, both horizontal and vertical

Individual photos with each groomsman

4. Ceremony

Capturing the ceremony is simpler because we cannot step in to control the situation. I shoot 50mm the entire ceremony on two cameras (equivalent on my film camera), so I ask my second to stick to a 35mm and 85mm/135mm until the end. Here are the shots I look for:

Wide photo of bride processing from back of aisle

Groom’s face between bride and her father, during processional

Wide photo of the ceremony

Shot from side angles during vowsWedding couple exchanges vows during ceremony at Inn at Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield, NJ

Close-up exchange of rings

Close-up of first kiss


5. Cocktail Hour

After the ceremony, I typically jump straight into photographing extended family portraits. I don’t need my second during this time, so I ask them to document cocktail hour. You should first capture vignettes of any escort cards, table numbers, bar details, d’oeuvres, cocktails, etc. before guests arrive to consume those.


Next comes photographing the guests themselves. It takes a very outgoing, experienced photographer to capture great groupings at cocktail hour, so if you’re on the shy side, this is a great opportunity to work on stepping out of your comfort zone!

For groups of 2, I prefer portrait orientation. For groups of 3 or more, landscape orientation looks best. Leave plenty of room around the edges of the frame so as to not crop out heads, arms, or hands.


6. Reception

What I look for in a second photographer at the reception is fairly simple – time for a little break from the guests! While my second photographer is covering cocktail hour, I’m finishing up sunset portraits with the couple and film photos of the reception space. If for whatever reason I run out of time to photograph reception details, I may ask my second to take the lead on reception room photos. Here are the key shots I shoot to include with reception details:

Wide room shot

Individual table vignettes

Close-up details

Towards the end of photographing details, guests will begin to filter into the room. I like to set up my off-camera lighting during this time. After introductions and dinner is when we can relax and go on autopilot, as the curated and formal parts of the day are done and we capture the reception from a photojournalistic viewpoint. Hooray!

Thanks for following along as I outlined what I look for in a second photographer on a wedding day. Hopefully these tips and ideas help you to improve your craft and hone your skills. Not just for me, but for other photographers, as well! Best of luck!!

Venues Pictured in this Article:
Stone Tower Winery – Leesburg, VA
Chesapeake Bay Beach Club – Stevensville, MD
Inn at Fernbrook Farms – Chesterfield, NJ
Sagamore Pendry – Baltimore, MD
Inn at Perry Cabin – St. Michaels, MD
Bretton Woods – Germantown, MD
London Town & Gardens – Edgewater, MD
Maritime Museum & Park – Baltimore, MD