When new photographers ask me what the best way is to start their career as a wedding photographer, I always tell them two things: 1) invest in education; and 2) find someone you can become an assistant or second photographer for. In college I was a photography major, and during my sophomore year I was lucky enough to dip my toe into the world of wedding photography. I started a weekend job as an assistant photographer to a local Connecticut wedding photographer. Later on photographed my first wedding as a lead (and solo!) photographer and it was an invigorating feeling to be the primary! However, I know had I not gotten that on-the-job experience of being a second shooter, my first wedding would have been a HUGE flop!
Before Arturo was my second photographer on wedding days, I had a few different assistant photographers I worked with. I loved each of them, but Arturo definitely takes the cake because he almost always knows what I need before I have to ask for it. I’d say it’s one of the perks that come with being married to your business partner! But don't worry, you definitely don’t need to be married to the lead photographer you’re working with to know what they need!
Today I want you to hear from Arturo to get a glimpse into his role as my assistant photographer and all that he does for me and our couples on a wedding day! His job isn’t always easy, and (like any wedding day) we’re not always in perfect situations, but Arturo really does a spectacular job. Below you’ll find tips from him on being the best assistant photographer you can be. The better prepared and ahead of the game you are, the more helpful you’ll be to the lead photographer. In turn, you’ll learn A TON and get so much more out of these on-the-job work experiences!
PERSONAL WEDDING DETAILS are the first thing Shaina and I photograph to get ourselves warmed up and our creative juices flowing for the day ahead. Photograph these details carefully, efficiently, and in different positions to give the lead photographer a variety to choose from to deliver in their clients’ final gallery.
GETTING READY images are usually something a couple wants documented as they’re prepping and getting dressed for the day ahead. These are their closest family and friends that they’re surrounded by on their wedding day. These are IMPORTANT people in our couple’s lives! Whether they’re toasting or just hanging out, I like to capture some fun candids during this time. *Note: wait until dresses and shirts/pants are on to photograph them as they’re getting dressed. No one wants to feel vulnerable in front of the camera before their clothes are on. I mention this because while it seems like common sense, you’d be surprised at the stories we’ve heard!
CANDID PHOTOS OF THE BRIDE OR GROOM getting ready are another part of wedding prep you want to pay attention to. I’ve photographed both brides and grooms with Shaina as they’re getting ready for their day, so note that there are some minor differences:
dress being zipped or buttoned up by mom or maid of honor, putting on earrings and jewelry, having her veil put on
buttoning cuffs, tying tie, tying shoes, best man helping groom put on jacket
PORTRAITS OF THE BRIDE OR GROOM are great if there is enough time added to the wedding photography timeline! This can be done near a window if the wedding prep area has one, or outside. Don’t be afraid to do indoor and outdoor shots of these portraits, time permitting of course!
First Look & Romantic Portraits
KNOW WHOSE REACTION YOU’LL BE PHOTOGRAPHING during the first look. This is important to know so BOTH reactions of the wedding couple are documented. Shaina and I always review which one of us will be photographing who as to avoid any confusion.
BE SURE THE BOUTONNIERE IS PINNED onto the lapel BEFORE the first look begins.
WATCH THE PRIMARY PHOTOGRAPHER and try to shoot from different angles. I try to always be aware of where Shaina is so I can be sure not to get in her way. I definitely don’t want to be in any of her shots during the first look, and I always want to shoot at a different angle from her as we move into romantic portraits of the wedding couple after the first look is over.
Wedding Party Portraits
SHOOT WIDE OR TIGHT depending on what the lead photographer wants. We always tell the wedding party attendants to look at Shaina’s camera since she’s the one directing them. Shaina shoots this part of the day with a 50mm lens, so I’m usually shooting tighter portraits with the 85mm to focus on capturing candid moments and interactions between the members of the wedding party.
FOCUS ON THE DETAILS as well! Have fun and snap some photos of the ladies’ bouquets from a side angle.
DO NOT SHOOT when the lead photographer is taking a more formal portrait (for example, a bride and each of her individual bridesmaids). Shaina wants everyone to look at her camera during these formal portraits, and I don’t want to distract them if they notice more than one camera on them.
BE A SECOND SET OF EYES for the lead photographer. Make sure bridesmaids are holding their bouquets at the same level, groomsmen boutonnieres are pinned on correctly, etc.
ASK THE PRIMARY WHAT LENS TO SHOOT WITH during the ceremony. For us, this changes depending on the ceremony setting. If it’s an outdoor ceremony with a short aisle, I may use the 35mm or 50mm. If it’s a church wedding with a long aisle, I will use the 85mm or 100mm instead.
STAND AT THE BACK OF THE AISLE for the processional. Get everyone coming in, and most importantly, a shot of the bride walking up the aisle from behind. Once I get this shot I move out of the way so Shaina can continue to photograph them walking up the aisle as she stands at the front.
GET A WIDE SHOT OF THE CEREMONY from the back by using a 35mm lens.
GET DIFFERENT ANGLES AND MOVE (QUIETLY!) FROM SIDE TO SIDE of the ceremony. Shaina is usually in the middle aisle for most of the ceremony, so I focus on getting side angles of the couple’s faces during the ceremony. The 85mm or 70-200mm lenses are usually good for these shots.
ASK THE LEAD WHERE THEY WANT YOU TO SHOOT FROM for the first kiss. Shaina and I usually stand in the middle aisle together. Since we’re shooting with two different lenses, we both get two different results for our first kiss photos!
STAND AT THE BACK OF THE AISLE for the recessional. Shaina and I will usually walk backwards together as we photograph the newlyweds walking down the aisle, then I move to the side to continue photographing each couple of the wedding party that walks down behind them. During this time, Shaina is still with the wedding couple documenting their first moments as newlyweds and the emotion that comes with it!
DO NOT SHOOT AT ALL during formal portrait time for family members. As I mentioned before, Shaina wants everyone looking at her camera during formal portraits, especially during the time for family photos.
HOLD THE FAMILY FORMAL CHECKLIST during this portrait time. I call out family members’ names while simultaneously looking at the next group and organizing them to be ready to stand in front of Shaina’s camera. The more efficient and helpful you can be during this time, the easier you’ll make it for everyone involved!
Reception Details & Cocktail Hour
ASK THE LEAD PHOTOGRAPHER WHAT THEY NEED YOU TO DO during this portion of the day. Depending on the timeline, Shaina will photograph the reception details while I photograph cocktail hour.
GRIP & GRINS aren’t the most fun photos to take, but couples love them! Simply go around during cocktail hour as groups of guests are sipping their drinks and ask if you can take their photo (hence the name “Grip & Grin”). It’s a great way to get guest photos, especially since not everyone will be out on the dance floor during the reception.
PHOTOGRAPH SIGNATURE DRINKS AND SIGNAGE that are served during cocktail hour. Grab a bridesmaid or groomsman, ask them to order a signature drink for photo purposes, and snap a close up shot of the drink.
DO YOUR BEST to capture entrances. These can be tricky shots to get sometimes since everyone is pumped up by the music and walking (or dancing) into the room at a quick pace.
WATCH YOUR ANGLES during the first dance. Just like the first look, I try to be aware of where Shaina is so I can get different shots and angles without getting in her way.
MONITOR THE OFF-CAMERA FLASH during exits, especially sparkler exits. The last thing we want is it to get knocked down and ruining Shaina’s shots. I stay with the off-camera flash during exits so Shaina can just focusing on getting these fun images!
ARRIVE EARLY! We usually arrive no less than 15-30 minutes before our contracted start time. This means if you’re on-site 15 minutes early, you’re probably on-time. If you show up exactly at the start time, you might as well be late, which looks bad on the lead photographer you’re working for. So just plan on being early, always.
CHECK IN WITH THE PRIMARY PHOTOGRAPHER you’re working for to let them know you’ve arrived to the wedding prep location. A quick text message is all they need. I do this with Shaina if our couple is getting ready at two different locations. It gives her peace of mind, and I’m sure she appreciates that it’s one less thing she has to think about while she’s getting warmed up for the day!
SHOOT WITH A DIFFERENT LENS than the lead photographer. During our time for romantic portraits of the wedding couple, I usually shoot with the 85mm lens while Shaina shoots with the 50mm or 70-200mm. This will help to create more variety overall in the images that the lead photographer will be able to deliver. This is important to do all day, but especially important for portraits!
BE A SECOND SET OF EYES for the lead photographer. I know I mentioned this earlier, but this is SO important! Lead photographers already have a lot to focus on and mental checklists to remember while getting everything photographed in a timely manner. I try to make sure everything and everyone looks neat, and there aren’t any elements or distractions behind whatever the Shaina is photographing.
LEARN HOW TO PIN A BOUTONNIERE and everyone will love you! We’ve found that most people don’t know how to pin a boutonniere to a lapel, which causes them to panic! If YOU have this special skill, you’re helping everyone to stay on track for the timeline, AND they won’t have to run around to find someone who does. You’ve just become their new favorite person! Not sure how to pin on a boutonniere? Watch this quick YouTube tutorial!
I know this is a ton of information to review, but we hope you find these tips and lists helpful! Leave a comment below with your best tips for being an amazing assistant photographer!
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Shaina Diaz is one half of a husband and wife team at Shaina Lee Photography serving couples in Connecticut, New York, Hawaii, and worldwide. She has been photographing weddings since she was 20 years old and a sophomore in college. Shaina loves each wedding season a little more than the previous one, and is excited to share her knowledge with other wedding and boudoir photographers!