Second shooters in wedding photography
For a brief moment in the past week, there were three magazines on the shop shelves with articles about me, interviewing me, asking my opinion in a debate or featuring a real wedding that I had shot. The latest is the current issue of Turning Pro magazine – aimed at aspiring professional photographers. I was there to add my thoughts to the “AGAINST” side of the debate as to whether to use second shooters or not at a wedding.
Why me? Well, I’ve never used one. I’m not anti as such, I just don’t see the need in 99% of weddings to have one. In fact, I had an enquiry overnight for a wedding next year, in which two photographers may really be needed, certainly for part of the day. The couple will in one boat, the wedding guests in another, but I am already booked for that date next May. That makes sense but habitually having to have a second shooter to cover a wedding when shooting in a documentary style does suggest some insecurity on behalf of the wedding photographer perhaps?
I’ll admit, there are times when second shooters could be useful. For example when coverage of the groom getting ready is happening somewhere very different to the bride. But that’s a handful of shots. A groom is ready a lot quicker than a bride can ever be, and often if it’s in the same hotel, I can cover both – dashing from room to room, like a Ray Conney bedroom farce. Often the better narrative to photograph the groom at the church greeting guests, having a pint in the village pub opposite or even waiting at the end of the aisle. Rather than him fastening up his cufflinks.
Storytelling isn’t about every single possible moment. You could use a busload of photographers, saturate the event, a photographer for every guest, maybe two per guest? Hose them down, camera drives on full speed, let not a moment be lost – the result, better pictures? Not likely.
Storytelling is about significant moments, evocative moments, it’s about the interpretation of the day by a single eye. That’s what anyone should hire a photographer on, their eye. That is what sets photographers apart.
So does not using second shooters at every wedding cost me work? Maybe? I had a couple call me with regards their daughter’s forthcoming wedding as they liked my photographic style. They hadn’t realized that she had already emailed me, with just one question, did I shoot with a second shooter? She didn’t book. I see some high-profile photographers on Twitter at times, desperately searching for a second shooter. £200 in their pocket, go and get some snaps! ‘ Wedding covered! ‘? They don’t seem to contemplate shooting them alone. Now I don’t want to denigrate photographers because they use a second shooter or even second shoot themselves, I’m just questioning the need? I know some excellent wedding photographers who do both, often husband and wife teams (which keeps the headline price down) but I still see the whole thing as less discreet.
Surely that is the goal of documentary wedding photography? I don’t pretend to be a ‘wedding guest’ as you read on some photographer’s websites but I do my best to fade into the background. Not looking like Brad Pitt has its advantages here, as people ignore you. 😉
Going back to the ‘eye’ as being the single most important aspect of any photographer, if I was hiring a second shooter, they’d have to have a damn good eye. Not just another pair of hands holding a camera. A good friend and a top photojournalist, who if I was going to have a second shooter I would hire, was faced with his first wedding a couple of years ago. He was hired by a prominent Hollywood film director to cover his wedding in the UK. He did a great job, a real photojournalism job – he understands light and composition. I don’t think he can be persuaded to shoot another.
My belief is that a single eye roaming with a camera (amidst all the iPhone and iPad brandishing guests) is more discreet, more informal, more subtle. I believe it gets more intimate results. The last wedding I shot had three professional videographers (+ three tripods), multiple angles were covered simultaneously, maybe it’s different for video, but seemed like serious overkill to me? Personally, I love it when a couple says later that they hardly noticed me all day or had no idea I had taken a particular shot.
A few years ago, I covered a country wedding in which UK politician and former Home and Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw was a guest. ( I believe he was the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Justice at the time ). I guessed something was up as the only other early arrivals to the church, apart from myself, were two burly men in suits, with discreet lapel badges, scouting out the churchyard. Police Protection officers. They were joined by two other colleagues and as I left the wedding in the evening, and passed these guys, they remarked how I had missed Mr. Straw enjoying the dodgems. There had been a funfair for the wedding. I smiled and showed them the LCD screen on the back of my camera, with picture after picture of Jack enjoying the ride. “Where did you shoot that from?” they asked.
That’s being discreet. 😉
So, I’m not particularly ‘against’, ‘anti’, ‘adverse’ to second shooters, it’s just with the way I shoot a wedding, I don’t think it’s for me. 🙂