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Do I Need a Second Photographer For My Wedding?

Do I need a second photographer for my wedding?

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The biggest question that potential wedding photography clients ask me is “Do I need a second photographer for my wedding?”

Every blog and magazine article that you read about wedding photography will take a stance on this subject. Some will say “You absolutely must have a second photographer!”  Some will say “You only need a second photographer if the main photographer feels that your wedding requires one!”  How do you know what to believe?  How do you know what is right for you, and for your event?
I have been a solo shooter for the entirety of my career.  I have never worked with a full-time second photographer.  Why?  I haven’t needed one!  I spent over fifteen years learning how to document a wedding by myself, completely and beautifully.  I have honed my abilities to shoot both action and reaction, subject and observer, and be in seemingly multiple places at once.  I take every single wedding that I photograph as seriously as though it were my own, and stand by my abilities as a comprehensive, well-rounded, excellent solo photographer fully capable to document an event without assistance.
How do I do it all?  I taught myself how.  I’ve worked hard to be able to capture both a bride coming down the aisle and a groom’s reaction at the same time.  I’ve trained myself to be able to capture the faces of both people during a first look.  I can photograph both the person giving the toast and the people being toasted - and I can also get guest reaction shots on my own, too!  I have never felt that my photography coverage has suffered in any way by being a solo shooter, and I would never put my clients in a position to have sub-par wedding day photography if I truly felt that an additional shooter was needed to make my wedding day coverage complete. 

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I work with an assistant photographer at every wedding

Just because I am capable of covering a wedding day by myself as a photographer doesn’t mean that I go to a wedding without any help whatsoever!

For many years I worked with an assistant who did the following things for me:

  • Managed logistics such as GPS directions between locations, parking the car, retrieving cars from valet to change locations, keeping an eye on the gear, and moving the gear from place to place
  • Held any supplemental lighting that I needed for family pictures, portraits, or the reception 
  • Helped get groups together for family pictures and group shots
This was a huge help, and really freed me up to think about nothing but shooting the wedding itself.  The logistics were taken care of, and it truly opened up my artistic mind and let it run free without thinking about things like “is my gear safe?” and “where is that extra light that I always need at this part of the day?”
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Over the years, the job of my assistant evolved.  How?  Why?  Because I noticed parts of the day that could benefit from an extra viewpoint.  Just a few of those situations include:
  • A wedding couple who are getting ready in the same hotel but in different rooms
  • The ceremony, when an extra angle is lovely for things like the processional and the ceremony event itself
  • Cocktail hour, when I need to photograph the reception room but guests are mingling in another room entirely
  • The party part of the reception when there are many guests who need documentation
My assistant photographer is there at every wedding to not only help with the coverage of the day when needed, but to help me as needed.  It’s the best parts of having a second photographer with all of the benefits of having an assistant as well!

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Some collections and packages come with an associate photographer 

What if you have a huge wedding, with over five hundred guests?  What if you’re getting ready over an hour away from each other?  What if part of your religious ceremony is taking place in a completely separate location from everything else?
For that reason, I have an associate photographer option.  There is an associate photographer in some of my collections.  There is also the option to add on an associate photographer to any other collection or a la carte hourly coverage.
If you’re looking for someone whose only job is to shoot, then an associate photographer might be just what you need.
This gives you two options:
  1. Myself and my assistant photographer 
  2. Myself, an associate photographer, and an assistant 
Most of the weddings that I shoot are myself and my assistant photographer.  We do add on the associate at times, sometimes because the client has opted for that particular package, and sometimes just because the client wants it.  I love that we have both options to meet all the needs of our wedding photography clients.  
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Despite my best efforts to show what coverage looks like by myself and with an assistant, not many online resources such as blogs and articles support the solo-shooter-with-an-assistant principle.  They make some compelling points for why a second shooter should be mandatory with all wedding coverages, and I’d love to articulate each of those reasons and talk about why they may (or may not!) be valid ones.

Reason : My photographer can’t be in two places at once

Well, scientifically speaking, this one is true.  I cannot actually be in two places at once.  I dearly wish I could, as it would make running a business and making sure my laundry got done so much easier.
What blogs/magazines/resources/your-best-friend-who-got-married-last-year-and-had-two-photographers really means is that oftentimes there are two good things to shoot happening at once, and how can one photographer possibly cover that alone?
There are only two scenarios wherein I find this reason to be true.
  1. The two people getting married are getting ready at locations far apart from each other.  Both people want full coverage of them getting ready from start to finish.
  2. The wedding requires multiple religious ceremonies to be happening simultaneously, such as a tish and bedecken at a Jewish ceremony.
How can a solo shooter get around these two things by themselves, while still offering great wedding day coverage to their clients?
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The first situation might be easier to solve than you’d think.  Since every wedding is different, and “getting ready in two locations far apart from each other” can mean a variety of different things, I’ve been able to work on timelines like that solo without problems.  Sometimes I start at one house, documenting the prep process, and move to the next house before going to the first look or ceremony.  Sometimes I photograph one person getting ready and meet the other at the ceremony location for touch-up images and last-minute preparation scenarios.  There have been very few of these situations that I have not been able to resolve shooting as a solo photographer.
The second situation is a good reason for a second shooter.  While I can work out a timeline that allows for both people getting married to have separate preparation coverage, it’s hard to change the timing of religious ceremonies that have to take place simultaneously.  If you have something like this happening at your wedding, I’d love to talk to you about it and get more of a sense of what this particular timing looks like for you.  Perhaps you need a second photographer, but perhaps my assistant photographer will be more than sufficient to cover what you desire.

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Reason : The second photographer can help the main photographer with their gear and equipment

If a second photographer is described as “helping the main photographer with their gear and equipment”, then you’re looking at an assistant photographer not an associate photographer or second shooter.  A true associate photographer or second shooter is not there to carry gear.  They are there to shoot the whole time, not to stop and assist the main photographer.
The true difference between an assistant, an assistant photographer, an associate photographer, and a second shooter need to be fully articulated by whomever you’re speaking to about your wedding photography needs.  As you can see just from this reason alone, there are many different duties a second photographer can be expected to take on.
I would never have a dedicated associate photographer also help with gear and equipment.  That would make him/her an assistant.  Make sure you’re clear in what you want the second photographer to do, and make sure that you know what comes with your package/collection/wedding photography rate.  An assistant might already do what you wanted a second photographer to do!
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Reason : The second photographer can hold lights for the main photographer

If a second photographer is described as “holding lights for the main photographer”, then you’re looking at an assistant photographer not an associate photographer or second shooter.  A true associate photographer or second shooter is not there to set up or hold lights.  They are there to shoot the whole time, not to stop and assist the main photographer.

Reason : The second photographer can help gather people together to make group pictures easier

If a second photographer is described as “gathering people, organizing, or assisting the main photographer”, then you’re looking at an assistant photographer not an associate photographer or second shooter.  A true associate photographer or second shooter is not there to gather people, organize anything, or do assisting jobs.  They are there to shoot the whole time, not to stop and assist the main photographer.
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Reason : The second photographer can get extra angles that the main photographer can’t

This is a great reason, and one that is super important for you to talk to your wedding photographer about.
Based on how a wedding photographer works, you might need a second photographer for those angles.
Based on how a wedding photographer works, you might not need a second photographer for those angles.
Everything that you see on my website was shot by myself only.  Not my assistant, not an associate.  When you inquire with me about your wedding photography, you’ll get to see full wedding galleries.  All of those galleries were photographed by only me.  You’ll get to see how I truly can document a day by myself, with minimal assistance, and I can capture many angles on my own.
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Reason : The second photographer can fill in for any weaknesses in the main photographer’s coverage

I’ve heard this one a few times, and it always makes me just the slightest bit uncomfortable.
While having another pair of eyes and another camera during the coverage of the wedding day may or may not be a good idea, the job of my assistant photographer or associate photographer is never to make up for any deficiency in my ability to shoot a wedding.  I truly believe that it is crucial that a professional wedding photographer be able to handle anything that is thrown at him or her on a wedding day, from details to portraits, weather to timelines.  
I would never want to have to rely on another photographer to be able to do my job.  It’s imperative that I be a solid, well-rounded photographer, capable of documenting the day beautifully on my own!
Liberty Warehouse wedding photo

Reason : The second photographer is going to be just as awesome as the main photographer, and more is better!

This is where talking to your potential wedding photographer becomes super crucial.  I find that photographers really vary the duties of additional photographers.  It can look like any of the following:
  • True “two shooter” teams, where both photographers are equally talented and both shoot as primary photographers
  • A primary photographer and second photographer who is there to capture additional angles, shooting a lot
  • A primary photographer and second photographer who is there to capture additional angles, shooting sometimes but mostly assisting
It’s super important that you chat about just what the second, or associate, photographer brings to the table.  More isn’t always better!  Sometimes more is just…more.  If you’re unsure, ask to see full galleries that have been shot by the primary photographer solo, and some galleries where the coverage was by the main photographer and the second shooter together.
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Reason : My best friend/sister/college roommate/guy I met in the Whole Foods line said that I had to have a second photographer no matter what you say, and that it is his/her/their biggest regret from their wedding day.

All wedding photographers are different, and all are capable of different things.  While X photographer might have really needed that second photographer, Y photographer might have never worked with a second and might do just fine.  Please understand that as with all things, everyone’s experiences aren’t always equal.  
Talk honestly with your prospective wedding photographer to make sure that the coverage they provide will meet your needs, whether it’s with one shooter or ten!
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Reason : I want BOTH reactions to things like the first look and me walking down the aisle, etc.  How can you do that by yourself?  I know you’ve explained, but it still seems impossible.

I can absolutely, totally, and completely understand why you’d want to know more about this.  After all, it sounds impossible.  Also, when you talk to photographers who really push a two-shooter team, they’ll tell you this is impossible.  I can tell you that it’s do-able solo, and I’d love to show you why!
Here is an example of images taken during a real wedding ceremony.  As you can see, I have the bride coming down the aisle and also the reaction of the groom.  How did I do it?  I waited until the bride stepped around the guests and into the aisle - click.  Then I turned around, having placed myself in the right position to capture both action and reaction properly, and took a shot of the groom the second he saw his bride - click!  Then I turned back around quickly, capturing the bride coming down the aisle.  These two images were shot within a second of each other.

Here is another example.  The bride’s father is giving at toast at their wedding reception.  I captured the bride’s father talking - click! - and then rapidly turned to get the reaction of the bride and groom - click!  There are two seconds between these two frames.  

What it boils right down to is communication.  How do you want your day documented?  Before you walk away from a photographer who doesn’t automatically have an associate, or second, photographer in their packages, talk to him or her.  Get to know how he or she covers your day.  Figure out if you really need that second or associate, or if the assistant will give you everything you desire.  
If you have any questions for me, I’d love to talk to you about your day!  I realize that it’s crucial to understand how the day will be covered, and how many photographers will be best for your specific wedding.  No two weddings are the same!  I’d love to hear about the structure of your day, and help you choose a collection that gets you the coverage that your day needs!

New York (NYC) Photographer
Susan Stripling Photography
58 2nd Ave #17A
Brooklyn, NY 11215

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