Regardless of if you are just learning photography, or are a seasoned photographer who wants to dive into a new industry, shooting your first gig as a wedding photographer is always a challenge. Mastin Labs community member, Meghan Hess, says it well, “Regardless how long you’ve been shooting portraits, weddings are a whole different beast.”
With all this in mind, we asked our online community of Mastin Labs users to answer the following question:
Should you second shoot a wedding before you shoot your first wedding solo? Why or why not?
With a quick influx of responses, we found that the vast majority of those that answered believe that it is valuable to gain experience second shooting before booking your first solo wedding. With that in mind, many responders also brought up that, although second shooting in preparation is ideal, it’s not always possible or absolutely necessary. So if you are a photographer who is new to wedding photography, here are some various aspects you should consider before saying ‘YES!’ to (photographing) the dress.
LEARNING THE PHOTOGRAPHY TIMELINE OF A WEDDING DAY
Weddings are a once-in-a-lifetime event, with very little room for error. As a wedding photographer, you must be able to document an unrepeatable day, adjust your settings and equipment to accommodate for changing light and various locations, and you must be able to juggle all of this while managing the heightened emotions of the day.
Mastin Labs user, Melissa Soule, insists timing is everything, “No amount of preparation with any other type of photography can compare. What to wear, how to shoot in every lighting scenario, how to shoot under pressure with a tight timeline, how to create a timeline, what poses work and what don’t, what should be captured on a wedding day, these are all things I learned as a second shooter.” She continues, “A lot of the day is problem solving. [You have to] know the natural order of a wedding [and what to do] if things get behind schedule. You have to be able to think quickly on your feet and know the timing of a wedding day well.
PREPARING FOR THE UNEXPECTED IN A PHOTOGRAPHING A WEDDING DAY
Failure is often the loudest and most effective teacher. If you’ve ever been in a wedding you’ll likely agree that sometimes things do not go as planned, and sometimes everything that can go will go wrong. Perhaps it’s an unexpected rainstorm, misplacing an SD card, the cake melting in the hot sun, or a ring bearer dunking your camera flash into the punch bowl; sometimes, you don’t know what you need to prepare for until the worst happens.
Randy Kepple, a long-time photographer and a member of our online community believes it is essential to second shoot with a seasoned professional photographer for at least one season before flying solo. He points out, “There is so much that can happen and it’s important to be aware of all the things that can go wrong and how to be prepared. Not to mention being able to think on your feet and not lose your shit in the middle of chaos.” Kepple believes that every photographer should be an apprentice first so that you know how to prepare for the unexpected.
“Working with people can be tough, and learning from someone who does it regularly helps a ton.” - Christian Napolitano
LEARNING TO MANAGE PHOTOGRAPHY CLIENTS ON A WEDDING DAY
Socially, weddings can be overwhelming. And being a wedding photographer requires grace under pressure. The last thing you want as a wedding photographer is to add additional stress to a couple’s big day.
Community member, Christian Napolitano, considers the social aspect to be paramount to your capabilities as a wedding photographer. He supports second shooting before shooting your first wedding solo for this very reason. He believes, “It’s more about learning how to direct and work with couples than it is camera knowledge. Working with people can be tough, and learning from someone who does it regularly helps a ton.”
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS ON A WEDDING DAY
Although many in our Mastin Labs community group believe that it is ideal to be a second shooter before being a primary shooter, the truth is, it’s not always possible. Mastin Labs community member, Tiffany Matthews, shares that this was the case for her. After offering to second shoot weddings for a long time, she ended up booking her first solo wedding before ever getting that experience. “When the opportunity came around for a small, intimate wedding, I explained my lack of wedding experience, cut them a deal, and showed them my other portrait work. I was the right fit for their budget and they took a chance on me.” She adds, “Ideally yes, you second shoot […] sometimes you can’t.” She continues that if you book your first wedding without getting the chance to second shoot, “Honesty and a good contract are vital […] to managing expectations.”
Photographer, Luca Mercedes, echoes her, “I don’t see the problem in not second shooting prior if you have the right clients and they are aware of that.”
USING RELEVANT PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERIENCE TO SHOOT YOUR FIRST WEDDING
Although many of our photographers agree that there are some things about wedding photography that you can’t learn by shooting other types of photography, experience still helps. Mastin Labs community member, Luca Mercedes, shares that the first couple that booked her for a wedding was more drawn to her style than traditional wedding photos. Mercedes explains, “I knew my tools and how to use them […] my clients wanted documentary style photos, a few family shots, and some portraits. [If someone] is experienced with their cameras and different fast-paced shooting situations […] it’s not necessary to second shoot if they’re willing to do their homework.” Christian Napolitano believes that second shooting is valuable, but also believes in the power of experience, saying, “I shot my first wedding without [second shooting], but I prepared myself by doing music photography and working in a studio for years”.
Mastin Labs user, Nina Pease, brings up a different kind of experience. She points out that, while “[It’s helpful] to second shoot before taking on a wedding solo,” your level of experience and involvement in weddings as part of a wedding party or as a wedding planner, bride, or groom, can also help you prepare to be a wedding photographer. She concludes, “It helps if you’ve already planned your own wedding and know what shots and details are important”.
KNOWING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY LEARNING STYLE
Is second shooting always the best way for new wedding photographers to learn what they have to learn to be a solo wedding photographer? Mark Quinn believes it’s not an either/or question. “In my opinion, you’d actually be better just helping another photographer.” He explains, “If you’re literally carrying bags, changing lenses, and essentially shadowing the photographer, you’ll learn more.”
Sacia Listenbee advises that you should look inward before deciding if second shooting experience is the right path for you. “It depends on your hustle, drive, and learning style. For me, it was better to take courses and workshops and figure out what I like and disliked […] for others, second shooting is invaluable.” California photographer, Topher DeLancey agrees and adds, “I do not think one has to second on a certain number of weddings before taking on their own.” He continues, “In the end it all comes down to your individual personality, skills, confidence, social ability, etc.”
Mastin Labs community member, Jessica Bollen, believes that second shooting is an invaluable teacher. She shares, “There’s no way I would have had the confidence to take on a wedding solo without having assisted first. […] There’s too much at stake.” She then tells the group about her teacher, “The photographer I worked with went above and beyond to actively train me as we went, so it was probably closer to an apprenticeship.” Bolen admits, “There are several photographers out there that I would still leap at the chance to carry their bags on a wedding day, just to watch!”.
So, Should You Second Shoot A Wedding First Before Shooting Solo?
As a wedding photographer, you have a responsibility to your client to meet their expectations and preserve their wedding day through photographs. While there is a clear argument to second shoot before a wedding, ultimately, the decision is in your hands.
For those of you that decide to book your first wedding as a solo shoot, do your homework, learn as much as you can ahead of time, and do so with integrity by remaining honest with your clients. For those of you that have the opportunity to second shoot, make the most of that apprenticeship opportunity and soak up as much as you can.
To all our community members, thank you all for getting the conversation started by sharing your expertise, experience, and advice! What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.