Do I need two wedding photographers? (Edited)
Should I hire a second photographer?
This is a long post, with some really useful information in it, I hope you find it valuable in the planning/budgeting process.
My short answer? If you can, it’s always a win…
I go into detail in this post of course, but ultimately, you can’t be in two places at once.
When I’m taking pictures (see below) that capture the scene and the atmosphere at the top table, I know I have a quality second photographer backing you up, getting close up shots (see below) of guests reactions
The Groom/Bride Prep
First and foremost, you can’t physically be in two places at once. The wedding is about both partners and therefore both should have equal attention and equal weight in the story of the day. It’s amazing to look back at the photographs of the other partner in the morning as it’s the one part of the day that you will have no exposure to whatsoever.
Everyone experiences the build up to the ceremony differently and is often full of amazingly intimate moments between close friends and family removed from the gaze of all of the wedding guests. Groom prep, like bridal prep, often happens in a familiar space, such as the family home. Being a familiar environment makes people relax and are arguably more susceptible to physically being in tune with the emotion of the day.
bridesmaids react to seeing bride
groom on way to wedding
Again, the physical location. If you’re getting married in a church, it’s not uncommon for the authority running the service to ask us photographers not to move. This means you’re severely limited in terms of shooting different angles. With a second photographer, this is no longer an issue.
When the bride enters the church, one photographer can shoot up the aisle looking at the bride, the other can shoot down the aisle, capturing the back of the bride as she enters and also the grooms reaction to seeing her. The next big win is during the vows and ring exchange.
If I am in the choir stalls and can’t move, then I can only see one persons face and then the back of the other. The second photographer will have a clear view looking down the aisle of these events and can either come in close, or zoom in from afar to capture both expressions, because it’s a partnership, and no one is more important than the other.
Having a wedding with 120+ plus guests? I would always recommend having a second photographer. Why? Shooting documentary style images takes skill and patience, running around a wedding trying to capture everyone won’t yield good photographs.
With this in mind, it also means that you can’t one hundred percent guarantee that you will take a photograph of every single guest. Some people hide, i’m not kidding, some guests have actively kept an eye on me to avoid being in any images. This is the nature of documentary wedding photography, you can’t be everywhere at once, and you can’t guarantee that all kids will be involved in a ‘moment’.
Having a second wedding photographer doubles your chances. Typically the second photographer is also tasked with photographing the guests and details as a hire priority. Acknowledging that they are there in a support role, to capture things that the primary photographer can’t. It’s a team game, working together to produce the best product and service it the idea.
Guest reactions. This is what second photographers were born to capture! It makes sense that the couple and their nearest and dearest are most likely to have the greatest reaction to the speeches. Having one photographer trained in on those key interactions, looking for the killer shot whilst the other photographs the guests is a perfect combo. It again gives us access to different angles and compositions and tells a more compelling story.
two wedding photographers
Is your second photographer a pro, or a new starter?
I saw this post on a wedding forum which compelled me to write this post.
It’s really easy to forget that certain details are not obvious to clients, and details like this are potentially significant.
Here’s what the user wrote:
“A second shooter is NOT a second professional. If they were, they would have their own business and not be working a 10 hr day for measly pay. We do not hire “seasoned” professional photographers to shoot with us. They are newbies, people who want to get their feet wet, and people who want to learn how to shoot weddings without mistakes looming over their head. You should not count on the second shooter providing more than 10% of your images, and while there are of course instances where this is not the case, the overwhelming majority of the time the pro will only pull maybe one shot per sequence of events to complete the “story”.”
“I think it’s rather sad how so many people are so focused on there being two shooters they don’t realise it’s not two pro’s they are hiring. When you book your photographer make sure to ask things like how many images they usually turn over. If you are booking a second shooter, ask how long they’ve been working, a sample of their work, and ask how many of the seconds’ shots you usually receive.”
When the writer states ‘we do not hire seasoned professionals’, it’s unclear if they are referring to their own business practices, or a collective ‘we’ in the wedding photography industry.
Either way, the point they make is worth addressing.
In my own business, Liam Smith Photography, I only hire seasoned professionals to work with me.
If I’ve shot your wedding and you’ve seen moustachio’d JD, my wonderfully colourful Romanian chum big M, or the magnificently bearded Lee, then these lads are all veterans of the wedding photography game, which is why I hire them.
I have to pay them more of course, but my intention is to provide the client with the best service and the best photographs. There is exactly zero point in sending a newbie to photograph the groom prep whilst I am with the bride. I want images that sit seamlessly alongside mine so when you see the final product and view it as a complete narrative, there shouldn’t be a difference in quality. Maybe slight variations in style, but that’s it.
Because of this, I often end up entirely jealous of some of the images the people I work with take. I edit their pictures too to keep the final product consistent, whilst scrolling through I always find myself admiring their work and saying to myself ‘I wish I’d taken that’.
The whole point of having two photographers is so the second can capture moments whilst the primary is physically in a different place documenting another moment. It’s a team game. I work with these people because I trust them to deliver, and they always do. This often results in me delivering around 1500 images and the percentage split being around 70/30.
As the paying client, it is worth considering what the above poster has said.
How would you feel if you knew that the second photographer you had paid for was a new starter?
If you’ve hired a husband and wife team, or a company who actively advertises themselves as a pair, then you’re golden, consistency across their website and social media platforms should illustrate the level of quality to expect from both wedding photographers.
For me, in all endeavours, everything hinges on trust. If you trust who you’ve hired, then you trust their judgement in who they will hire to shoot with them on the day.
As the client, you should know these key facts about second photographers.
Top level photographers will very often be booked to shoot their own weddings on key dates and therefore won’t be available to second shoot.
In this case, there is no choice but to hire those who are maybe slightly earlier on in their careers. This is true across the industry, in my business however, I wouldn’t work with anyone I couldn’t trust to deliver quality wedding photographs.
When you book your wedding photography package and are hiring a second wedding photographer, it’s worth asking if the second photographer is a regular.
Because we (by ‘we’ collectively in the industry) want to work with the best photographers available, it’s not uncommon to wait until the wedding date is drawing near before confirming who the second photographer will be. As mentioned, top photographers will hold out for their own clients before committing to a second role.
When you meet your wedding photographer, don’t be surprised if they can’t confirm at that exact time who the other photographer on the day will be. It is worth enquiring however, if you can see a wedding which two photographers have shot, this will give you an indication of what to expect from whoever is hired in to help, as of course, it won’t be the primary photographer shooting everything.
Can I get away with only one photographer?
Let’s not kid ourselves, weddings are expensive. You want to know that every penny is going to be a worthwhile investment.
I love photography, I love it when people tell me they laughed and cried looking at the pictures. I’m in it to deliver quality, I have no interest in selling you something you don’t need.
With that in mind, I’ve written this follow up which addresses a question I’ve had more than once.
I love it when this happens as it means I can directly speak to the questions you may have and means I can provide you with real value in my blog posts.
Here’s the question:
“I know you have a blog post discussing having a second photographer… but I wonder whether we could get away with just having you on the day.
Do some people choose not to have a 2nd photographer?”
Here’s the exact reply I sent:
Re two photographers, it’s best judged case by case. I shoot two thirds of my weddings on my own, so it is less common to have two photographers, here’s a comparison.
In the military wedding I sent over before: https://liamsmithphotography.com/military-wedding-photography/
95% of those images were taken by me so it is still largely representative of what I would deliver, only the images on the bus were taken solely by the second photographer as I was in the car with the couple.
If your budget will allow it, then I would always say go for it. I only hire other photographers to work with me who I consider to be on my level, not new starters, so often the number of images delivered are around double as their work is really good.
If you’re having say, 125+ guests, then having two photographers increases the number of candid shots you will receive and more of your guests will be captured.
Where the second photographer is really useful is during the ceremony and the speeches. Often during the wedding ceremony itself we photographers aren’t allowed to move, so it can be really handy to have two angles covered (this is evident in the church, images from the front are mine, from the back are the 2nds – again i choose people whose style matches mine so the result is near enough seemless)
To offer the other side of the discussion, here’s a wedding that is just me: https://liamsmithphotography.com/stowe-school-wedding-temple-of-concord-and-victory/
There’s 86 images in that blog post, the final number delivered to the client was 1,168 (for clarity this does include colour and black and white images, so unique number of images is more like 800).
This wedding didn’t have bridal prep, which is usually a hundred or so pictures on it’s own, but it did have lots of garden games (and an open bar) which created many great candid moments. During the ceremony you can see that I’m not allowed to move (a direct request from the registrar), the pictures I think are still beautiful, I chose the spot I thought would be best, but a 2nd photographer does give you variety.
Hope this helps, I remember how tough planning my own wedding was so all questions are positively encouraged. Do let me know if there’s anything else you need answering, it’s really no problem.
I’m secretly really proud of that last section, mostly because it’s absolutely true and not something that I’m used to seeing in the service industry.
PLEASE, ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS YOU WANT.
Chances are, you’ve never been married before and all of this is brand new to you. So how else would you know?
We wedding suppliers want to work with you, but we also want to make sure we are a good fit. It’s an incredibly important day and it really helps if we can establish a friendship and trust. The more questions you ask, the more value we can provide and ultimately means you will be armed with all the information you need to make an informed choice.