What is 2nd shooting exactly?
When you are photographing a day as important as a wedding day, there are many things to take into consideration. There is often high stress, timeline issues, logistics issues and any number of other issues may inevitably come up and cause disastrous results. Thus a wedding photographer's job expands into many different areas in addition to capturing images on the day.
One of the best ways to mitigate risk on a wedding day is to have not one but two shooters. One person obviously can't be in two places at once and if the main photographer gets caught up in one area, the 2nd shooter can back up and capture details that the main photographer might miss due to some uncontrollable circumstance.
While I am not of the opinion that EVERY wedding that takes place needs to have 2 shooters present, in the higher end wedding industry, a 2nd shooter is pretty much expected and needed to ensure all bases are covered.
Do you have to 2nd shoot before you are a main shooter?
This is the million dollar question that will get a myriad of resulting answers in any facebook group you come across where someone is brave enough to ask.
Being that I shot my first wedding as a main shooter prior to ever having 2nd shot before, my answer is obviously, NO. There is no unwritten guidebook of wedding photography that says you have committed the cardinal sin if you agree to shoot a wedding before you have done a 2nd shooting gig. At the time I booked my first wedding, I took the time to understand the circumstances of my couples wedding in order to determine if I felt I could handle it. I knew that technically I would be able to do it and I also have been to so many weddings as a guest that the flow and cadence of weddings was not new to me. I am not an irresponsible person and I know how important the wedding day is, so I did not make this decision lightly.
There are many photographers out there who may disagree with me and insist that you should NEVER take on a wedding as a main photographer until you have shot multiple weddings as a 2nd shooter and even though I tend to disagree, I can understand their perspective. I absolutely understand and know that there are many people out there who might take on a wedding without thinking it through and potentially risk ruining a wedding day, but regardless of those situations, there are plenty of talented photographers who might not need the experience of 2nd shooting prior to jumping in. It's situational and not a one size fits all kind of world!
Why would you 2nd shoot?
All of that being said, I think there are a lot of benefits to 2nd shooting a wedding. I know many people who continue to 2nd shoot for peers even though they also book weddings as a main photographer as well. Although there might be a perception out there that a 2nd shooter is more junior or less experienced than a main shooter, I've seen this not to be the case in many situations. Many talented and successful photographers continue to shoot for and with each other even though they don't really need to. So why do people do this? Well, now that I've had a couple of experiences in 2nd shooting, I've determined there are absolutely some benefits to 2nd shooting that you just don't get as a main shooter.
The benefits of 2nd shooting
When 2nd shooting you really get the ability to get creative with your shots. Since you might not be directing shots or posing, you can get off to the side or get a different angle on a shot that you might not have thought of had you been the main shooter.
This is probably my absolute favorite thing about 2nd shooting. I love the creative process that just flows when I'm not under pressure to direct or instruct people what to do. I like to find interesting perspectives that wouldn't normally even come to mind if I was in charge of getting all of the required shots.
Pressure is off
There is inevitably less pressure as a 2nd shooter. You are not necessarily running the show and the pressure of delivering is essentially off of your shoulders. While there is obviously still the pressure to perform your job as expected according to the main shooters expectations, in reality, the main shooter is responsible for delivering whatever the client is expecting. Sometimes that pressure to do well and not miss anything causes the exact opposite and you do miss things! There is so much to keep track of on a wedding day, that the likelihood of missing something small is bound to come up. That is one of the beauties of having a 2nd shooter, so that they can help to catch those things!
Learn, learn, learn
Shooting with others simply gives you tons of leverage to learn, learn and learn some more. I know I am not alone when I say that I have learned more from watching other experienced shooters than I've ever been able to learn from reading or studying online. Picking up posing commands or prompts, seeing how they carry themselves or interact with clients, even just watching how they deal with their gear and equipment can be such a great learning tool and you'd be surprised the things you pick up. I will likely continue 2nd shooting with others for this very reason for a long time to come.
Every single time you shoot you are getting experience, 2nd shooting is no exception. Partnered with all of the above, you get some great wedding and shooting experience without the added pressure of also having to deliver according to what you are getting paid. Every single time you shoot you get better and more familiar with situations and that will only help to grow you as a photographer and business owner.
Example...in the below image of this ring, I was experimenting in the reception with flash and my 100mm macro lens. This shot was taken on a table that had a white tablecloth on it while the reception was in full swing and Emily was covering dancing shots. I probably never would have attempted this shot at a wedding I was main shooting but now I have some experience with flash and macro lenses that I wouldn't have had otherwise!