How to Maximize Your Second Shooter on a Wedding Day with Alissa Zimmerman

How to Maximize Your Second Shooter on a Wedding Day with Alissa Zimmerman

How to Maximize Your Second Shooter on a Wedding Day with Alissa Zimmerman

Having a consistent and well-trained second shooter on a wedding day plays a huge part in the success of your process and quality of your imagery. Maximizing that extra body during each part of the day allows you to focus on your workflow and take time to let your creativity flow.

The 80/20 rule is something Sal teaches constantly. Wedding photographers should understand and implement the rule. Create a workflow that allows you to focus 80 percent on capturing the must-have shots. If time allows, the other 20 percent of your time can be spent more creatively, trying new techniques and getting shots a little more outside the box, allowing you to focus on unique images for your portfolio.

Groom Prep

We find that starting our wedding timelines with the groom and his groomsmen getting ready allows for a more relaxed flow throughout the rest of the day. We need only about 30 minutes with the guys before we head off to the girls.

Walking into a room full of rowdy guys can be intimidating. This is the first interaction you have with the bridal party, so it’s important to establish your roles immediately.

After you’ve established who you are, have your second shooter work with the groom or best man to gather his details for you. The upside of working with a rowdy group of guys is the endless opportunities for candid shots your second shooter can capture while you are taking the isolated shots of his details.

Once the details are photographed, it’s time to get your groom dressed. Never work with the same focal length in your lens choice between primary and second shooter. Remember, the images coming off your second shooter’s camera should always complement the primary. If you are shooting wide to get all the groomsmen in the shots, your second should be shooting tight, getting close-up shots of hands or over-the-shoulder images of the best man or dad helping the groom with his details (cufflinks, watch, tie).

Don’t leave the room until you’ve taken an isolated groom portrait. This is where your second shooter can do one of two things, depending on your situation. If the room is tight and there are a lot of distractions around where you have the portrait staged, your second shooter may not have a good complementary wide-angle shot. Your second shooter puts the camera down and goes into assistant mode—fixing details on the groom to make sure your tight portraits look perfect. If you are working in a room that lends to two well-composed images, stick to the normal primary/secondary tight and wide shot balance.

Bride Prep

Just like the groom prep, when you walk into the room where the bride is getting ready, your job as the primary photographer is to introduce yourself to the bridesmaids and family, and establish a relationship right away. Introduce your second shooter to the maid of honor so the two can gather details while you chit-chat with the bride for a bit. Get her comfortable by letting her know you’re ready to create some incredible images.

Once all of the bride’s details have been gathered, start shooting and send your second shooter to capture the candid moments with the bride and her friends, finishing up makeup, etc. This is also a good time to capture the group shot of the girls in their robes or matching t-shirts before sending them off to get in their dresses.

Use your second shooter to keep things moving while you’re shooting the details so you don’t get behind on the timeline. If makeup is running late, have your second shooter work with the makeup artists on a realistic ETA so you can adjust accordingly. If the bride wants everyone in the background of the “getting ready” shots but no one is dressed, use your second shooter to stress the sense of urgency for them to get in their dresses or they won’t be in the photos. Having your second shooter handle all of this allows you to focus on getting the creative shots of the bride’s details (the things she spent a lot of money on), and then go right into the bride getting into her dress without having to sit around and wait.

The same getting-dressed process applies for bride prep—while you are shooting wide, your second should be shooting tight (and vice versa).

For the bridal portrait, the process is also the same. Nailing this shot has a little more weight tied to it than the groom portrait because of all the details that go into making sure your bride looks perfect. Your second shooter should be in assistant mode first for these shots—make sure the veil is laying perfectly, sweep away any hairs in her face and make sure there are no wrinkles in her dress.

Get the shot right for the primary, and if there’s time and a well-composed shot for the second shooter, hop in and get additional images to complement the scene. I like to shoot tight shots of the veil or the dress, or the bride holding her hands in front showing off her ring.


Before the ceremony, we allow at least 30 minutes to get to the venue or church to reserve our spot (claim a seat with our camera bag about halfway up the aisle), take the detail shots and get dialed in on each other before people start arriving. The beginning of the ceremony is a bit of a scramble for must-have shots, so it’s important that you and your second understand your roles and work as a team to ensure none of these unrepeatable shots is missed.

Primary shots:

  • Bridal party walking down the aisle (mid-shot, depending on the venue).
  • Flower girl(s) and ring bearer(s) walking down the aisle (mid or tight shot).
  • Bride and father entering the ceremony (wide, dramatic shot).
  • Bride and father walking down the aisle (from the side; tight shot).
  • Bride and father walking to the altar (from behind; wide, dramatic shot).

Secondary shots:

  • Groom’s expression as he sees his bride for the first time (mid or tight shot).

As you can see, there is a lot of pressure on the primary photographer to get the main shots from the opening of the ceremony. The one shot that cannot be guaranteed from the primary is the groom’s expression as he sees his bride for the first time. That’s where the second shooter plays a crucial role.

The second most important shot from the ceremony is the first kiss. Train your second shooter to shoot wide for this so you can focus on getting the tight shot (this is the one the bride and groom typically like the most, but it’s important to walk away with both). To this day, Sal and I post up in the middle of the aisle as we wait for the first kiss to be announced. I get the shot dialed in and show him for approval. Once we’re ready to go, I don’t change my settings until after I have captured the first kiss.

After the bride and groom exit the building and the guests are being escorted out, your second shooter should grab your camera bag and head to the altar for family pictures. Your second shooter’s job is to set up your camera and flash while you are capturing the bride and groom’s exit. Once you come back in from that, get dialed in on your second shooter so you’re ready to go as soon as the bride and groom and their families are back in the building. Family pictures should take no longer than 30 minutes if done correctly. Use your second shooter as an assistant here, making sure everyone is where he or she needs to be so you can work through your progression as efficiently as possible.


There are two roles for your second shooter during the creative portion of the wedding day: assistant and photographer. We start our creatives by taking the individual portraits of the bride and groom with each of their bridesmaids and groomsmen. During this time, your second shooter can either help with the details or focus on capturing candid moments of the bridal party.

Once you start working on the groups (all of the girls alone, all of the guys alone and the full group shot), you and your second should be working with the normal primary/secondary tight and wide shot balance again. As the primary, make sure you set up your second shooter for success. Have your group all look in different directions for a more editorial group shot. When you give this direction, tell the bride and groom to kiss so that your second shooter can get an isolated shot of the kiss.

During the creatives with just the bride and groom, have your second shooter go back in assistant mode so you can get a few signature shots using off-camera flash. Have your second shooter make sure every detail is perfect on the bride and groom, then ask your second to hold the flash for the shot. If you’re able to get a signature shot without off-camera flash, have your second shooter perfect the details, then hop in and start shooting with you. (Make sure your second shooter is right next to you—do not have her take shots from the side unless they are specific tight shots of flowers or isolated expressions.)


Help your second shooter throughout the reception, especially if it isn’t your regular second. If this person is not familiar with on-camera flash, set up their camera for them so they don’t go into panic mode and miss the shots.

Always play it safe and ensure you’re in control of your own destiny. Receptions are where the magic happens for vendors and where you have the opportunity to build vendor relationships that could be the source of new business. Get to the reception with plenty of time before guests are allowed to enter the room so you can get shots of the empty room. Know your strengths and understand the shots you’ll need to send to vendors after the wedding—shots that showcase their work, ones they will want to post online with your photo credit.

Have your second shooter stage the gear, get your lighting set up for the night and help get everyone out of the room for that one big room shot. If there is enough down time, this is a good opportunity to challenge your second shooter to see the world a little differently—push each other by creating competitions to see who can make the centerpieces look more interesting. This keeps the night fun in an otherwise slow part of the day.

Once the bride and groom are announced, the rest is all about the tight and wide balance between the primary and second shooter.

Work as a team and communicate constantly throughout the day. Maximize your second shooter so you can put together a process that allows you to focus on your job and create the best images and experience possible for your clients.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the September 2016 magazine.

Leave a Reply

Want more content like this?

Check out our recent posts

yt thumbnail how to mix flash and ambient light

How to Mix Flash and Ambient Light

Attention all you “natural light” photographers, now is the time to expand your photographic skill set by adding flash photography to your tool kit.

It’s not difficult. With a few rounds of experimentation your photography will elevate itself to new levels and your work will stand out. These photography lighting tips will work for all genres of photography – wedding photography, portrait photography, senior photography, fashion photography, boudoir photography and more.

In this step-by-step flash lighting tutorial I will explain techniques like dragging the shutter and how you can use that technique to allow more ambient light into your portraits and add more depth to any shot.

Read More »