Alissa Zimmerman – The Second Shooter: The Real Talent on Wedding Day
For me, wedding days are my time to do what I love most. I’m not a quiet person, by any means, but I hate being in any kind of spotlight—especially when it comes to directing people to execute a vision. This is why Sal and I make the perfect team on a wedding day. When I have an idea for a shot, I can nonchalantly whisper it in his ear, have him direct the clients, let me focus on fine-tuning the details, then, of course, let him take all of the credit when one of those images scores at print competition.
As second shooters, the “moments” of the day rely on us. The moments when we capture raw emotion from the day that are able to bring the family to tears when they see their images for the first time (and time and time again). These images are the ones they will cherish forever, even if they buy them only as 5×7’s or 8×10’s. It’s not about overshooting and praying you just happen to capture that one amazing shot. Being an awesome second shooter really does require skill.
Let’s dive right in. There are three basic steps to conquering a wedding day as a team.
Step 1: Get in sync with each other.
If Sal and I are not in sync on a wedding day, guaranteed chaos will ensue (nothing a client sees, of course, but our internal process will be a mess). Put aside your ego and understand that as a second shooter, you also play the role of assistant. This means carrying the bag, running to grab a different lens for your primary (even if you are seconds away from getting the shot) or simply getting a plate of food and a Coke Zero the second you walk into the reception so your primary can start downloading images for the slideshow while you take care of the detail shots of the venue before the entire wedding party arrives. Phew!
Step 2: Establish a process and don’t abandon it.
When things go sideways (and there’s always something that does), we have an established process to default back to as a safety net. Know the shots you need to get as a second shooter, and then experiment. I made the mistake of getting fancy at a wedding about a year ago, and abandoned the process completely. Unfortunately, what I saw was not what the rest of the team saw. None of those shots was usable. Luckily, these experimental shots of mine were taken during the ceremony and Sal had everything he needed to make up for my momentary lapse of judgment. It’s all about the 80/20 rule Sal talks about over and over and over. Engrain it into your brain and never get away from it.
Step 3: Understand and master your role as the supporting character in this crazy, chaotic production known as wedding photography.
Any movie you see, there is always a lead character—the one with the charisma, the star of the show. Then there’s the supporting character—the one who gets shit done. The one who sacrifices everything to make sure the duo is firing on all cylinders at all times. It’s important to establish this dynamic from the beginning between you and the primary shooter so there is no battle for attention. I am always able to joke with our clients while on shoots assisting or second-shooting for Sal. It lightens the mood to be able to laugh about calling Sal a diva or making comments like, “We all know who really does the work around here.” But it is important to never undercut your primary shooter for the sake of a few laughs with your clients. This comes across extremely unprofessional, and creates unnecessary tension between you and your primary shooter that your clients can always sense.
Next up, you need to know where you belong throughout each key part of a wedding day: groom prep, bride prep, ceremony, creatives and reception. It is crucial to know where to be and when to be there for every scenario—this is something Sal and I have worked very hard to master as a team. Let me break it down for you from the second shooter’s point of view with a few questions I constantly answer from each portion of the day.
Walk into the room, find a place to stage your gear that’s out of the way and start gathering details. During this time, your primary is making small talk and letting the group get comfortable with him so they are able to loosen up in front of the camera. For us, once I have everything gathered for Sal to start shooting, he will let the group know they can relax for a bit while we focus on getting the detail shots. This is actually the second shooter’s time to shine. Get a zoom lens and transition into sniper mode. The group is in its element now—this is when you get the best candid shots of the bride and groom interacting with their best friends and family.
Question: Where is the best place to stand while the bride and groom are getting ready?
Answer: Out of the primary shooter’s way. I always get the shots I need to complement Sal’s (i.e., when he’s tight, I’m wide, and vice versa), but I always know to stay out of his shots while still capturing the supporting people from that scene (Mom zipping up the bride’s dress, etc.).
This is the easy part of the day, but one of the most high-pressure moments for the second shooter. During the ceremony, there is one main shot that you can’t miss: the groom’s reaction when he sees his bride coming down the aisle. I always stand right up front by the altar, opposite the groom, so I can get a nice shot with him in the left third of the frame. This is perfect for the album to complement the shot of the bride looking back at him (something that comes off of the primary photographer’s camera).
Question: Where should the second shooter go after getting the money shot of the groom at the altar?
Answer: Make sure to get the handoff between the bride and her father, then hustle to the back of the room while all the guests are still standing up so you don’t draw any unnecessary attention to yourself.
For Sal and me, this part of the day is when everyone gets to watch our well-oiled machine in action. It’s important to have a plan of attack ready beforehand (locations planned, understanding of available time in each spot, specific shots needed, etc.) so you’re able to move at a fast pace and keep the wedding party energized for the reception. This is the perfect opportunity for us to show the bride and groom that they are in good hands, that they can actually enjoy this time with their friends instead of worrying whether or not their day will be properly documented.
Question: For the group shot, where should you stand when your primary shooter is standing dead center with a wide-angle lens?
Answer: Directly above and behind him/her to grab the tight and mid-shots of the bride/groom, or off to the side with a zoom lens getting tight on details (bouquets, garters, the bride and groom holding hands, etc.).
Question: When you arrive at a location and your primary is cracking jokes with the group to get them warmed up, what should you be doing?
Answer: Shooting! Sal tells the same stupid jokes at every wedding. They’re not funny anymore. But for some reason, our clients and their friends and family members seem to think he’s the funniest man alive. This is prime time for genuine, candid interaction. Don’t kill the mood by shoving a camera in their faces, though—just like during groom and bride prep time, put on a zoom lens and go into sniper mode.
The reception, with our internal process in play, is all about the second shooter (especially in the beginning before guests arrive). Like I mentioned earlier, once Sal and I arrive at the reception venue, it’s game time for him to start downloading images to build the slideshow. This is when I make sure to nail the detail shots—these shots are nice for the bride and groom to have for memories of their day, but most importantly, these are the shots we send to the vendors (for free) to build relationships.
Question: Where should you be when your primary shooter is using a macro lens to get a detail shot of the rings?
Answer: Right by his/her side with some sort of light source to make sure you’re helping that person get the best shot possible.
So now that you understand the power of the second shooter, get out there, own your No. 2 title and give your clients the best experience and supporting imagery that will last a lifetime.