FAQ : Second Shooter Value + Copyright


Dear Jasmine

I’ve started second shooting/assisting for a wedding photographer and I’ve only helped her at one wedding but she is going to take my photos and give them to the bride and groom and I’m not being paid anything. I understand sometimes to learn you have to make sacrifices but it’s really a confusing topic and I vacillate on what I believe. I want to learn but at the same time, my photos aren’t really being valued. She said she would give me credit if she decided to blog any of them but since the pictures are going to the bride and groom, if they get any of my photos printed, they’ll never know they were taken by me because the main photographer gets copyright in the contract. Wow. I’d love your opinion because no one else seems to be of any help.
Under Valued

Dear Under Valued
Of course second shooting is a confusing topic…you’ve likely never been a situation like this before getting into the photography world! Vacillation is totally normal, so don’t worry about the ebb and flow of your emotions. I am, however, going to have an opinion on your idea of being valued. Oh…yes…you knew this was coming.

Before I get into specifics, I want to emphasize every photographer has his own way of doing things. What I’m about to write may only apply to one photographer, but I want to paint the dreariest picture so you can make a decision based on what could be–in your mind–the worst thing: not getting credit for the photos you captured. But before I address that (yes, there’s a lot of befores up in my hood), you need to understand there are thousands of photographers who wish they could be in your shoes. Unpaid and all. The main photographer (let’s call him X) gave you a cherished opportunity, wrapped in a shiny bow. Seriously. Every wedding you shoot with another photographer is an opportunity to learn, grow, and see what mistakes to avoid…and there’s no risk to you because your name isn’t on the business card. X’s is. If the photos are wonderful/awful, he takes the responsibility.

And with responsibility comes the right to use photos produced under his name, for a wedding he booked, and the risks he assumed. As far as I can see, the second shooter is sitting pretty. A day of shooting, learning, and no legal responsibility? Sounds like a sweet deal…sign me up.

I’ve second shot 50+ weddings and never (not once) has a photographer attributed photo credit to me. Not only is that a logistical nightmare, it’s confusing for the bride and groom as they don’t want to bogged down with the specifics of every photo. I outlined this in great detail in Exposed, but I’ve mentioned I worked for free when I first started…and continued second shooting for free for anyone who’d allow me to join on the wedding day. As my portfolio grew and my skill set strengthened, I began getting paid for my assistance but never dreamed of requesting photo credit because I understood I was–for the wedding day, at least–an affiliate of the main photographer.

I firmly believe you need to define what it means for your photos to be valued (e.g. getting paid for your second shooting services, photo credit, public acknowledgement from the main photographer, etc) then measure it against what’s currently available for you. And here’s the best part: there isn’t a right or wrong answer. You get to define it. Once you figure what you want–how you feel valued–create an agreement between you and the main photographer to ensure you’re on the same page. Before I shoot with another photographer, I understand the terms of our agreement to ensure there’s no misunderstanding and feel mutually comfortable with the terms. However, I caution you to research industry protocol before you ask for something most photographers wouldn’t permit, not just X.

I wish you the best as you pursue your dreams, but, more so, feeling valued as you define yourself as an artist.

Stay Fabulous,

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  1. sharon elizabeth

    October 24th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    very candid and honest!!!! love your response J =)

  2. Dana

    October 24th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I often get frustrated with photographers who market themselves as a 2 person ‘team’ (or even use having a second shooter as a feature of their business as seen on countless ‘information’ sections on websites) when in reality they are using someone who may not have any experience shooting a wedding. They know that they can throw most if not all of the second shooters photos in the trash and the bride will know no different and yet, they have the appearance of having 2 shooters and the bride has even paid ‘extra’ for this. If you are using a second shooter as a selling feature of your business, I think you should absolutely use someone who stays true to your brand as well as knows what they’re doing… as well as paying them accordingly. Just my two cents 🙂

  3. Chris - Sansom Photography

    October 24th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    It’s always a really interesting topic, as you say everyone is different. Each photographer will treat second shooters differently and each second shooter will expect different treatment. I think if you’re in a situation to be shooting at a wedding you haven’t had to book you’re doing well. It gives you a chance to experiment, do something different, be creative and not worry as much about photographing an entire collection. As a professional your mind always has to be on the wedding, what’s coming next, what do you need to capture. As a second shooter you get a lot of freedom to learn what you are best at, to learn about your kit and to improve your own portfolio.

    Ultimately as long as you’re shooting it can’t be bad!

  4. Eugene

    October 24th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    this is good integrity, Jasmine. thanks

  5. Lindsey Laughlin

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    This, Jasmine, is an excellent perspective. It’s no wonder you are successful!

  6. Brandi

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Perfectly stated J*!

  7. Haley Johnston

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    GREAT explanation Jasmine. I have second shot for absolutely nothing under the impression the practice and experience was what I was gaining. I wouldn’t trade the practice or experience for ANYTHING!

  8. katie

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Jasmine- great post!

    What would you suggest if the (paid) second shooter wants to post some photos he took from the wedding to Facebook with his logo and tag the clients? Or should the main photographer not even worry about this?

  9. Chrisinda Treadwell

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Great advice Jasmine! I have been a second shooter many times. If I don’t agree with the terms that the primary is offering, I just don’t take the job. More often than not, I am just ecstatic to be shooting a wedding and the experience is priceless for me. The primary is trusting my work and to work along side them on a vey important day.
    Yes, I have shot for free and never felt under-appreciated because I agreed to the terms.
    I have terms as well when I look for a second shooter, so I understand where the are coming from.

  10. Heather

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I never had the opportunity to second shoot since I live in a small town and the wedding photographers here are not so friendly 🙁 – Thank goodness for Exposed & workshops so I could understand the roll of a 2nd shooter better! I have been working with my boyfriend the past 6 month on being my second shooter – SO EXCITED! It definitely makes things easier then working with new photographers that don’t think I value their work or pay them enough. Appreciate the blog post as always! Cheers~

  11. Rod Victoria

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Awesome post Jasmine! I was going to second shoot for a wedding photographer, but he had mentioned at the end of the day he would be taking my memory cards and dumping the images to his hard drive and wiping out the images I took. I was bothered by it, because it was going to be my first time shooting as a second shooter, and I wanted to see how I did. Is this something I would expect coming in as a newbie?

  12. Kristi Chappell

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Very well said! Good luck Under Valued, I wish you the best.

  13. Stacey LaCoursiere

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    You are so tactful Jasmine. 🙂
    Have you known any photographers with experience in associate wedding photographers? I’m hoping to tackle this next summer and wondering your thoughts on this topic.
    Stay classy!

  14. Annie

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Agree x100000000 😉

    I would like to ear you also on "As a second shhoter can I publish my images from that day in my portfolio?.. AND retouched them my style (with PS finish etc)" It’s confusing, when the bride see the second shooter’s images on their blog not "retouched as delievered to them"…

  15. Crendo Photography

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    A lot of photographers and studios have second shooters sign what is called a "work for hire" agreement. When you do work for hire it’s like being an employee in terms of copyright — you do not own the copyright to *anything* you create during the time you’re being paid. If you see a butterfly outside as you’re walking into the reception after helping shoot some outdoor formals, the person or company paying may own copyright to the photo you quickly take of the butterfly even though it wasn’t a wedding photo. Google "work for hire" to learn more about how this type of employment/contracting works. Even if you aren’t signing a document that specifically says that you’re doing work for hire, if the photographer/studio is treating this the same and telling you that you don’t have any rights to the images then legally it may qualify as work for hire and be bound by any standards for that work set by your state. A local attorney who specializes in contract law or employment law can tell you more about what applies in your location.

  16. john krill

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Mathew Brady, the great Civil War photographer, had many other photographers take photos during the War and he never gave them credit.

    If you’re paying me to shoot 2nd then it’s up to you but I really wouldn’t expect to get credit. But I would like to have copies (RAW) of the images for portfolio use.

  17. Emily

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I completely agree with you Jasmine!!! Second shooting is absolutely invaluable when starting out!!! Although I have been in the industry for three-ish years now I would SO second shoot for free if I had the chance or time. I actually asked my husband (who is in business with me) if we have friends getting married soon. He asked why and I said "I just want to keep shooting so I can keep learning." In the early stages of my career, I second shot for a "high end" photographer in my city who specifically said I wouldnt even be allowed to use the photos in my portfolio. To me, there wasn’t a problem. I was somewhat sad that I couldnt use them but I understood and didnt complain because I knew I would be learning a TON from him. Here’s the thing… there are SOOOO many new photographers that would love to shoot for free to learn that if we complain about pay, or credit, etc, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy of losing an incredible opportunity to learn and grow. You, Mrs. Star, put it beautifully and truthfully! Define what makes you feel valued and what YOU value yourself and go from there. I love your blog posts… YOU stay fabulous!

  18. Sarah M

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I love second shooting, and do it happily for little or no payment. My photography has improved exponentially through those experience…how do you put a value on that? Only one time did I wish I had a contract in place to protect my shots…the one and only time I was a second shooter for a photographer who has no business shooting weddings, much less as a primary shooter. But, we all start somewhere, and I’m a firm believer in showing grace and favor to others, knowing that God always has my back 🙂 I won’t lose business because I was gracious toward another photographer. On the contrary, my clients know I don’t fear the work of others and that I have friends in the industry…and that we support one another. One photographer in particular asks me to shoot with him often. He and I have shot a ton of weddings, become friends, and he shares everything he knows. It’s like a free photog class every time. That is invaluable!!! So, to the shooter who sent in the question: if you don’t feel the value coming from your primary shooter outweighs any possible value of your photos, then maybe that particular relationship isn’t working. Find someone you can be happy shooting with, no matter the terms…the kind of photog you are happy just to be associated with and you’d give your left arm (still gotta shoot, right?) for every opportunity. THAT is value. That is worth trying to find 🙂

  19. Brian Festa

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    One thing to remember here is that according to copyright law the person who creates the image holds true copy right to it. In simpler terms the second shooter does hold copyright to the images they produce. Which is why any truly reputable photographer pre plans their shoots with an equipment checklist assigning ID’d memory cards to the second or more shooters for the event, so as to know who shot what in case of litigation. When going in on working as a second shooter it is not out of line to ask for digital copies of your photos so you can build up your own portfolio. After all the main photographer is going to be profiting from them so it is a fair request. Unfortunately there are a few photographers who hope that most second shooters don’t know about copyright laws and how they effect them. Is it a great way to learn, absolutely. Should you be demanding credit, no. You are shooting for the main photographer and as such final credit should go to their name/company. That would be like an assembly worker for ford wanting their name on every car they put a windshield wiper on. As for value, they are worth what you put into them and what you use them for. This is best achieved by using them to build up your portfolio. As you get better and further along in the business you can then worry about drawing pay for your time. Right now focus on building your skill sets and your portfolio. Happy Shooting.

  20. Andrea Brewster

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Under Valued- I hope you really break down the parts of what Jasmine is saying and re-read them. The most important thing is to discuss ahead of time the primaries expectations. I still second other photographers, but not just any photographer either. I would never 2nd someone where I am the stronger photographer- that’s not going to teach you anything! Maybe that is your situation? Have gotten to the point where you feel you are worth being paid now or you feel you are a stronger photographer? When I blog my weddings, at the bottom, I list all the vendor links etc. I also put the name of the second, without their link though. I’m in the Phoenix area and it is pretty consistent on that topic. I would talk with other photographers, both primaries and seconds to get a feel for how the seconds on your area are handled. (I really am not hijacking here, but this was a question I struggled with for a short time. When I started feeling undervalued, I started doing research.)

  21. DAve

    October 24th, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I totally agree with jasmine on this. When I started trying to get experience I contacted about 40 photographers offering my assistance completely free, not even for expenses. I had 1, ONE give me a chance. The experience he gave me over 2 seasons was invaluable. I didn’t get credited for my shots but do I care? Nope, small price to pay for the experience.

  22. Claire Bunn

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Excellent article Jasmine! Being a second shooter is an amazing experience and should be cherished.

    I just started second shooting weddings with a photographer friend of mine and love it. Not having the pressure to perform takes a lot of stress out of the day and I learn so much from her. With each wedding I can see my improvement plus see how she handles client and vendor relationships.

    I am a fortunate second shooter because not only is she super cool to work with but I get paid, she gives me credit as second shooter on her blog, plus she refers all of her family photography requests my way since that is my primary field.

  23. kelly

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Well said! I think second shooters have become a dying art form- finding a good one, and one worth what they want to get paid is getting harder and harder. I have shot for others and LOVE when I get to be creative and have none of the stress- sign me up! I hope that others read this, and really think about what it says. Photographing someones wedding is a HUGE responsibility, and that main shooter loses sleep over that- EVERYDAY!

  24. Tim Poole

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I am one of those people struggling to find second shooter opportunities. In fact, I shot my first wedding without the advantage of having been a second shooter. I did OK, but I sure wish I had a few second shooter, or heck, just being a bag carrier under my belt, I made so many mistakes and was unprepared for so many situations that came up.
    I am a retired teacher, so I look at the second shooter experience as student teaching. The student teacher teaches for 9 weeks with no pay, but gets valuable classroom teaching and the foot in the door for a full time career.

  25. Melissa Musgrove

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you for commenting on this sensitive issue. I’d also mention the value of the industry connections (priceless) the second shooter is making while on a job. Coordinators, in particular, can be an introduction that a second shooter might not be able to make until they become established photographers. Even then it can be a challenge. Also getting shooting access to venues and locations will give them a leg up when they become "main" shooter. Photographers new to the biz can sometimes think it’s all about the photography/portfolio. Hence, they want rights to their images. But the 2nd shoot experience should and can be so much more if they’re paying attention. It’s not the main shooter’s job to help you build your portfolio. There are endless ways you can do that on your own. Then it is "your own". The pride and value of that is priceless.

  26. Denetra

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Jasmine I think that is very good very true advice you gave to undervalued. I am one of the photgraphers who is developing and starting out on the hourney of running a photography business with my sisters. We have done a lot of free things in the name of learning and building a brand and name for our self. We are still growing and learning, but I welcom any opportunity I am given to learn from someone who took the time to teach me. The bride and groom did not hire me. They hired a photographer whose work and name they trusted; who decided that they trusted my gift and skill enough to go with them and capture someone’s most important life event. Well written. I agree! Oh and BTW had to look up the word "Vacillation". LOL

  27. Tina

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    When I second shot, our agreement was that the primary photographer used my images intermingled with their own without distinction. However, I am still able to use my images from those weddings on my own website or in my portfolio as well. When the primary photographer puts together a gallery or album for the wedding, they process the images to match theirs. When I process the same images, I may process them differently for my own use if our styles differ somewhat. It is kind of a cool creative flexibility. For me, it’s also really interesting to see how other photographers interpret my images. Not every second shooter is cool with that though.

  28. Mikkel

    October 24th, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Great post. I was thinking about this a lot today so it came at the right time!

  29. Giovanna

    October 24th, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Any opportunity to better your skills without incurring the angst or liability that comes with shooting a wedding is GOLD. If your not booking your own weddings because you’re honing your skillset…be thankful that someone takes you along for the ride. Amen Sista!

  30. Robin

    October 24th, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Jasmine, I agree with you.

    What about the opposite situation?

    I’ve had a second shooter that very soon after a wedding connects with the bride & groom on Facebook and puts up a few good pictures on Facebook. Hence the "fame" of posting the first few images is shared with the second shooter.

    I love giving credit where credit is due & helping a second shooter grow and make a name, but this was too much of riding on my back to be confortable.

    Your thoughts? Forbid the second shooter of posting any images on the wall of the bride & groom? Send the pictures to me first and put up only the name but not a link of the second shooter?

  31. ML Pipes

    October 24th, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    I think that was excellent advice you gave Undervalued. I’ve second shot many many weddings & have learned a wealth of skills which I wouldn’t have learned without "being in the trenches." I think it was really insightful of you to tell her to DEFINE HER value prior to the wedding. If she doesn’t feel valued because she didn’t get paid, then she can ask for something. I’ve found that most photographers I shot for paid something even if it was minimal. But you’re right, the lessons learned is INvaluable. There’s a lot to say about perseption…
    Good Luck Undervalued…

  32. jessika matthews

    October 25th, 2012 at 12:22 am

    Hi J – fabulous post as usual! When I second shoot, I use the other photographers cards, at the end of the day I hand them over to them and I don’t even get to see them .. I get that I am there to second shoot and thank them for the practice and experience they gave me and the fun we had 🙂

  33. Falcon

    October 25th, 2012 at 3:29 am

    As an experienced second shooter I’ve always mainly been concerned about being able to use photos I’ve shot for my portfolio and website. Of course the photographer can use my photos without crediting me because I’m shooting under their name. Luckily I am usually credited if their wedding gets featured on a wedding blog however which I’m very grateful for 🙂

  34. Jenna Michele

    October 25th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for suggesting a contract! I’ve come across scammers and bad situations while second shooting and finally worked out my method for shooting with untrusted / untested studios. After setting up a contract, I shoot on their card and they pay me the same day, and that’s the same method I have with my own second shooters. I personally don’t use the work of a second shooter commercially or heavily promote it as mine because I didn’t take the shot, but every studio is different. I totally agree that since you’re the second shooter and taking no liability and spending nothing on advertising to book said client, then you aren’t in a position to complain about a lack of exposure. You’re compensated as a representative of that company and they’re not going to be concerned with promoting you because that is your own job. 😉

  35. Tod p

    October 25th, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I think you are so right j..
    Being a second shooter is somewhat like an apprentice where all the responsibility lies in the hand of the main photographer..and I have myself had photographer who would like to team up with me but not take the power play of responsibility on their own shoulders… if I shoot a commercial job and the images are good or no good, it will not fall on the wardrobe stylist, hair or makeup,or my assistance…it will fall on me.

    When I will shoot an event and hire someone I want that shooter to shoot with in he realm of my brand to maintain a consistent standard of work…and I would direct what it is I am looking for in the style, quality, and feel of the imagery…

    If I ever had the fortune to second shoot for some one as profound as you for instance I would not expect use or copyright of image but I would just be so honored to have the opportunity to work with such a talent and value the learning experience.

  36. Julie

    October 25th, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    I agree with what you have said, I usually credit my second shooter at the bottom of the blog post with all of the vendor names and I allow them to use the images in their portfolio. As a second shooter, I typically expect the same back but I don’t get upset if it doesn’t happen. 🙂 Love this post!

  37. Makensie Brown

    October 25th, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Great, great advice, Jasmine! You have helped me realize my value as a second shooter & I cannot thank you enough. I admire your work & you inspire me greatly. I am a college student striving to make my own impact on those around me by capturing life interactions. I take your advice and implement it as a tool in my own success and dreams for the future. Thank you!

  38. Leslie Davis

    October 25th, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    great advice … and well stated :)!

  39. Ashley Christine

    October 25th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    I love being a second shooter for weddings! I learn so much watching the main photographer, love to serve her, and help wherever needed. 🙂

  40. Daryl Banks

    October 26th, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I allow my second shooters to use the images they take in their own portfolio (with some restrictions). I do not ever credit my second shooters though. Why? Because when I worked for a studio I saw how potential brides would go to the second shooters portfolio looking for a better deal.

  41. Alicia

    October 26th, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Jasmine, you covered that topic PERFECTLY! Thank you for sharing!

  42. Nancy Ramos

    October 27th, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Jasmine, I always wondered about these situations. I second shoot a lot and I also have second shooters at my own hired weddings. I work for a fabulous photographer and he I feel valued even though I don’t get credit for my photos. I don’t even expect to either.

  43. Julie Cortens

    October 27th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Well said Jasmine! There are times I think I will throw in the towel and just be paid as a second. No liability, no stress… just shoot and have fun! 🙂

  44. Hannes Uys

    November 13th, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I agree with all of this!!!

  45. Leon

    January 25th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    This is a good article. I am both sides since I have been a 2nd shooter and have used one. I use my own cards for them, but I will send them their footage/images and allow them to use it for their port. As long as they credit themselves as second shooters and not until after I post online. When I have been a second shooter, I have been allowed to use the images/video for my port with no problems.