Do I need a second photographer for my wedding?

Deciding between hiring someone to photograph your wedding who works alone or someone who always brings a second photographer is often a decision couples need to make when booking their wedding photographer

There are plenty of photographers available who always arrange a second photographer or bring an assistant, but there are also plenty of photographers available who always work solo; photographing by themselves.

But, which one is the right approach and more importantly, which approach is right for you? 

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on your specific needs and situation. Some couples feel that they need a second photographer to capture all the important moments of their wedding, while others feel that one photographer is enough. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is best for your wedding.

As a bit of full disclosure, I always tend to photograph weddings solo. Everything currently on my socials and this website was shot as a single shooter and that’s the way I’ve worked ever since I started shooting weddings professionally. Why? It’s how I prefer to work, and I’ve never needed to rely on a second photographer or having an assistant to carry my bags.  I use my skills and knowledge to shoot everything important, covering all those beautiful reactions and moments – never stopping and always aiming to be where I’m needed at the time something’s happening. Standing by my previous work, I’m quite happy to state that I’m fully capable of documenting an event without assistance, someone to hold my hand or take a few more photos.  I’ve never felt that my coverage has suffered in any way by working solo and if there was an occasion where an additional shooter would be beneficial for my couples, I’d be the first to suggest it. 

I’m occasionally asked by our fabulous couples as to whether a second shooter is appropriate for their wedding, usually as the result of other photographers marketing them as must-haves or refusing to book weddings without including a second photographer and thought I’d use this pose to outline some of the pros and cons involved along with having a look at some of the myths – as there are many. 

Let’s start with the basics…

What is a second photographer? 

Put simply, a second photographer is someone who is usually hired on behalf of the couple by a lead or primary photographer to photograph either particular parts of the wedding day (such as the morning preparations, the ceremony or indeed the reception) or to capture additional candid images throughout the day. They are not normally responsible for arranging the booking, liaising with clients, organising photography on the day or taking the lead role when photographing couple portraits etc.  Unless they have a regular arrangement with the primary photographer, second photographers usually operate their own photography businesses and will shoot weddings of their own with their own, independent customer base, marketing and approach. 

What Does a Second Photographer Do?

A second photographer is often hired to shoot particular parts of the wedding day (such as the morning preparations, the ceremony or indeed the reception). They are not normally responsible for arranging the booking, liaising with clients, organising photography on the day or taking the lead role when photographing couple portraits etc.

Second photographers will often assist with pre-wedding preparations by capturing additional images of the couple getting ready; spend more time photographing wedding decor or styling; capture additional images of the ceremony itself, including any religious aspects involved; capture additional candid photos during the reception or evening party. 

They can also sometimes end up as being little more than an assistant; helping the primary photographer to photograph your day by carrying equipment, positioning lighting or perhaps arranging guests. 

So surely having a second photographer is a good idea? 

Well, maybe… or maybe not.  A lot of couples decide that they need a second photographer for their wedding and there are  many reasons for this; some genuine, some pure mythology. One reason often given is that sometimes things happen that the first photographer didn’t catch but the second happened to both be nearby, was looking in the right direction and had their camera ready at the right second. Obviously there’s just as much of a chance that the primary photographer was nearby & looking in the right direction etc.  

The reality of “always included” second photographers

Those photographers who always include second shooters in their packages tend to fall into one of three groups: those with long-standing agreements with specific shooters to always work with them; those in some form of personal relationship with the second shooter and finally, those who hire a different budget second shooter for every single wedding. 

Now just for clarity’s sake here, there are some absolutely incredible photographers out there who always work as a duo – with beautifully unique styles and honed approaches which thrive on shooting with two perfectly in-sync people at the absolute top of their game. That’s awesome but isn’t the reality for most photographers shooting “normal” weddings at “normal” prices. 

Most of the rest of the time, it’s not likely that a second shooter is going to have the same skills and experience as the primary photographer. Unless the primary has a long-standing agreement, or is bringing along their partner as a second shooter, it’s most likely that they’ll have posted a request for a second shooter on some of the numerous “second shooter” Facebook groups and booked whoever’s available on the date of your wedding. This tends to mean that you have no idea who the second shooter’s going to be until they arrive on the day, and that there’s every possibility their ability and photographic “eye” might be completely  different to that of the primary. 

As a bit of a reality check, Second Shooter groups are quite literally packed with posts from photographers asking for second shooters to offer anything from a few hours additional coverage for separate preparations through to all day shooting for £150-£250 or so. These things are obviously not all about the money, but as with many things you do rather tend to get what you pay for. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that a second shooter is not necessarily a second professional working at the same level as the primary photographer.  If they were, they’d more than likely have their own business with their own bookings to take care of; not willingly shooting for a full day at minimal pay.  More than likely they’ll be new to the industry, people who are trying to build their experience and learn how to shoot weddings without taking on the risks of being a lead photographer and shooting solo. 

So, who’s going to shoot my wedding? 

If your primary photographer cannot name their second photographer or tell you about what they shoot, or show you their work, then you’re essentially rolling the dice as to who will be photographing your wedding alongside them.  As mentioned earlier, outside of those working with established agreements, second photographers are often booked relatively late in the day and you might not get to find out who will be shooting the day until they arrive on the morning. 

Second photographer or photographer’s assistant? 

If you’re booking a photographer because their marketing tells you there are always two people included, ask them exactly what the second person actually does on the day. Plenty of photographers prefer to bring an assistant with them when photographing your day – to do things like carry their spare equipment, assist with lighting setups or perhaps to ensure you’re always covered with flashes & soft boxes. Everyone’s different in this respect, so please do take the time to ask your primary photographer exactly what the second person is going to be doing before agreeing to paying for them.

Next, a quick look at a few myths and misconceptions about when you do and don’t need second photographers for your wedding day:

Myth – I need two photographers because I want groom prep photos 

Something I’ve heard a few times now is that couples are told to book two photographers if they would like to include photos of the groomsmen getting ready.

Now, although I can’t (sadly!) be in two places at the same time, shooting both partners getting ready is actually pretty straightforward – we just stagger the timings.  If you’re getting ready at different venues, it’s simply a case of staggering things so that one of you gets ready before the other. It’s a little more challenging if we have two brides to photograph AND you’re at different venues (simple if you’re both at the same location!) but for a bride and a groom, we simply need our groom to spend 15-20 minutes going through the motions of getting ready first. I’ll then call by whereever they’re getting ready first, and then head onto bridal preparations.  Being practical, covering groom preparations doesn’t usually take too long – and there’s absolutely no need to have a second photographer just for 20 minutes as long as we get the timing right. 

If you’re both getting ready in different rooms at the same venue, it’s even easier – we simply decide where to start and I’ll be sure to nip between both of your rooms to shoot everything important. Neither Bridal nor Groom preps are non-stop action events so there’s plenty of time to split the morning between both locations. 

Myth – having a second shooter is an instant backup

Many couples believe that having a second shooter is an instant backup in the event that the primary photographer fails to meet their expectations or is taken ill on or before the day. However, this is not always the case. As mentioned earlier, second photographers are not always of the same “caliber” as your primary due to being typically booked at the last minute or on a budget and are not always able to step straight into the primary’s shoes to deliver the same quality, style and standard of photos. 

In terms of protecting against equipment failures, any good professional wedding photographer should already have this adequately covered! Wedding photographers will usually have two cameras with them at all times – allowing them to have two different lenses ready to go along with ensuring that they can keep on shooting in the event anything happens to one of their cameras. 

Myth – a second photographer is essential for fast group photos

There is a myth that a second photographer is important for fast group photos. In reality, the only aspect which a second can sometimes help with is gathering people for group photos but this role is just as easily performed by a handy groomsman or bridesmaid!  What is vital for fast group photos is having a clear list of the group photos you would like to shoot along with everyone’s names, along with nominating someone on the day to help. 

Myth – having a second photographer mean you’ll get more candid photos

There is a myth that having a second photographer at your wedding will result in more candid photos. While having a second photographer can certainly add to the overall quality of your photos, it is not necessary and doesn’t instantly mean that there is more going on throughout your day to actually photograph. A good solo shooter can just as easily capture candid photos and should be able to use their experience to ensure everything important is covered. 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that whatever photos a second photographer captures will then need to go through the same culling / review / editing process as those shot by the primary photographer – and if both photographers have photographed the same moment, for example, including everything shot by the second would just mean more duplicate or very similar photos. 

Myth – included second shooters are free to have?

There is a common misconception that a bundled-in second shooter esentially means it’s free to have them at your wedding. In reality, having two photographers for the price of one can also mean you have twice as many expenses – travel costs & hotel rooms, any entrance fees paid per person, additional venue costs for supplier meals, refreshments etc.  You might also find that your primary photographer needs longer to edit photos from the day too as they will have more images than they would normally to review, select and edit. 

Myth – second shooters are as experienced and skilled as the primary?

There is a common misconception that a second shooter is just as experienced and skilled as the primary photographer. However, this is not always the case. A second shooter can often be less experienced and have less skill than the primary photographer, which can lead to problems during the wedding as they might not necessarily be as aware of how weddings flow as the primary – and may inadvertently get in the way of the primary photographer’s shots. If the primary and second photographers have worked together before, this shouldn’t be a problem – but unfortunately that’s not always the case. 

Myth – second photographers work independently to the primary photographer

There is a myth that second photographers work completely independently to the primary photographer to provide additional coverage while leaving the primary to do their job.  Unfortunately, in reality, second photographers are usually assigned tasks by the primary photographer or need their continual direction through the day to ensure that both photographers work closely together to ensure that all of the photos are captured in an accurate and cohesive way without excessively duplicating photos. It can also mean that at key moments during the day you have two photographers looking for the best position to shoot from rather than just your prefered primary photographer being in the best possible location, doing what they do best to capture your day. 

Myth – the second photographer could shoot a video

This one in particular really made me chuckle! Although having a second photographer on your big day might mean that the lead photographer has a little more time available, it does not mean that either of them will be able to film parts of your day alongside shooting stills. 

Second photographers are usually given tasks by the primary photographer ensuring they’re in the right place to cover what’s needed, so shooting extra video coverage isn’t going to be one of their main prioritities.   Shooting a beautiful wedding film is also a highly specialised skill needing a different set of techniques to capturing photos to do things properly. Although  the cameras and lenses are much the same between photographers and wedding videographers, it doesn’t mean that the person operating the camera is going to deliver a beautiful wedding film unless they’re also a professional wedding videographer.  If you’re looking to have a beautiful wedding film captured alongside beautiful photos, it’s essential to book a professional wedding videographer rather than adding a second photographer. 

So, when IS it appropriate to have a Second Shooter?

If you’re planning a particularly large wedding with 100’s of guests, or it’s spread out across multiple locations with many different events happening at the same time – then yes, perhaps a second is appropriate.  For most typical UK weddings, with normal numbers of guests, and assuming a competent solo photographer – second shooters are not routinely needed. 

But, I really, really, really want to have a second wedding photographer – can you arrange one? 

Yes! Of course I can. If this is really something you feel you need for your wedding day then I can of course arrange to engage a second photographer for your wedding day. They would however be another professional wedding photographer, fully able to work independently of myself to capture another view of your day without needing continual supervision or assistance to decide what to shoot. The rates involved would necessarily reflect this to ensure that I can remain 100% focused on your day rather than needing to direct a second photographer who may still be trying to gain experience or build their own portfolio. 

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About Tim

Tim Stephenson is a multi award-winning creative Norfolk wedding photographer based just outside the beautiful city of Norwich, Norfolk. He photographs weddings across the East of England including of course Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex,  Cambridgeshire and is always happy to travel further afield. Tim specialises in photographing weddings in a relaxed, natural style without any need for formal posing or awkward moments. Get in touch to check his availability or to have a chat about your fabulous plans!