Second Shooting: What to Expect

Second shooting is a GREAT way for a photographer to gain experience in wedding photography without the risks that a full-time wedding photographer must take on. A wedding photographer can also benefit greatly by hiring a second shooter. However, there seems to be much confusion among photographers about the role and rights of a second shooter. This article is meant to clarify a few things and hopefully educate photographers on the risks and benefits of using or working as a second shooter.

I have worked for several years as a second shooter for various photographers, and have also hired second shooters myself a few times.



Have a contract!

  • It is ALWAYS recommended that a second shooter sign a contract and/or independent contractor agreement of some sort provided by the primary (hiring) photographer. Every photographer will have different terms in their contract. The potential second shooter will have to decide if they are willing to work under the terms of the contract. It is important to define the payment and when payment will be made, transfer of copyright, rules about making contact with the client, etc. It is advisable that a contract be put in place every time- even if between photographers who are friends.

Contractor or Employee?

  • A second shooter generally is not an employee of the primary photographer (though they can be!) Most of the time, a primary wedding photographer will hire a second shooter on an occasional or one-time basis, as an independent contractor. An independent contractor arrangement does not constitute an employer/employee relationship, and therefore, not subject to most of the laws regarding employment. They are hired for a specific day/job only. An independent contractor is generally expected to supply and use their own equipment, must carry their own insurance policy, and is responsible for filing their own taxes properly related to the job(s) they were hired to do.


  • The role of the second shooter generally is to simply show up and shoot, then hand over the memory cards. The second shooter should be expected to take direction from the primary photographer and even assist in other ways as needed (such as rounding up family members for the formal portraits, carrying light stands, etc.) A second shooter is hired to provide additional or alternative photo coverage so that the client may receive more in quantity or variety in their finished images. Remember, the primary photographer is the one who did all of the work prior in booking the client, planning the photography coverage, and then doing the editing and final delivery of images. The primary photographer also is the one who ultimately carries the weight of all the risks and responsibilities that go along with wedding photography.


  •  A second shooter is effectively acting as a representative of the primary photographer’s business during the time they are contracted for the job. It is in bad form for a second shooter to try to “poach” a client of the primary photographer, even after the wedding is complete. One term often included in a second shooter contract is that the second shooter may not advertise his or her own business during the wedding, or contact the client before or after the wedding. All communication should be directed to the primary photographer.

Copyright and Usage of Images

  • Copyright, or ownership of images, can legally only be transferred in writing. This is where the importance of a contract comes in. Generally, the primary photographer will request to take copyright ownership of the images produced by the second shooter for the contracted job. This is sensible because the primary photographer will need to edit all of the images together for a consistent style, and will need rights to sell and provide the finished images to the client. The second shooter should not be able to turn around and sell the images they shot to the client or anyone else, which would circumvent the primary photographer and potentially affect their sales or income.

  • While copyright usually is transferred, many second shooters are allowed to later edit and use images they shot in their portfolio after final delivery has been made to the client. Often the primary photographer will require some sort of credit or notice, or limit the manners in which the second shooter may use the images. While it is not a requirement of the primary photographer to allow any use by their second shooter after copyright is transferred, it should be considered a helpful gesture to do so (especially for newer photographers looking to build their wedding portfolio).


  • The primary photographer should pay their second shooter as soon as the job is completed and memory cards are handed over. Too often I hear stories about a second shooter never being paid for the job. It is not unreasonable to expect payment at the end of the wedding night, though some may work on an invoicing structure instead and pay at a later date. In any event, payment terms should be understood and agreed upon prior to the event, and made in writing. Transfer of copyright may also be contingent on payment being made in exchange.

  • Pay scales can vary quite a bit for a second shooting job. This can depend on the hours required, or on the experience level of the second shooter. Much of the time a new photographer who is trying to gain experience shooting weddings will start out as a second or even third shooter for little pay or just for experience. A confident and experienced photographer should earn a more competitive pay rate. I personally have been paid from $200 to $400 for a day of second shooting. In my area at least, it’s common for a second shooter to be paid anywhere from $25-$50 per hour, based on experience and skill level.


When I am working as a second shooter, I still give 110% just as if it were my own clients.


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