Shooting beside another photographer is excellent hands-on experience in a ton of different ways. Not only do you get more hours shooting on your camera to discover specific efficiencies, you also get to learn that there is, indeed, a million ways to skin a cat.
Before I second shot my first wedding I thought the only way to get well lit night photos was to use a MagMod diffuser. PLOT TWIST --> exactly zero wedding photographers I shot with used diffusers on their flashes. In fact, I soon realized that I actually prefer my photos without a big ole diffuser on top.
Does it make it the best way to shoot? Well, that depends on which photographer you ask. But that's the beauty of second shooting -- you can observe a ton of different ways to shoot and determine which one you want to deliver to your clients.
Though second shooting is great for gaining experience (and earning some quick cash), that's not why you're there. It's imperative that you deliver on your end of the bargain, too, which is to grab a different perspective of the day in the absolute best way you and your equipment can. That's why I've built this complete guide to second shooting to get you called back!
Come with clean and calibrated equipment
Come with complete equipment - if you don't own a piece of equipment, be sure to let your primary shooter know (ex. "I don't have tripods available."). A lot of times it's not an issue because the primary either doesn't use said equipment or they have extras you can use.
Determine if you will need to provide SD/CF cards or if your primary shooter will be providing it for you to hand over at the end of the night. FORMAT CARDS REGARDLESS OF WHERE THEY CAME FROM (unless the primary says otherwise).
Be forward about the capabilities of your equipment
Make sure your camera is set to record in RAW format
Set your equipment to match the date/time of the primary photographer's camera
If any guests, parents, or otherwise bystander, ever, asks... you work for INSERT PRIMARY PHOTOGRAPHER'S BUSINESS NAME. This is not the time for you to promote your work or business; if a guest asks, you only ever give them your primary photographer's information (ex. "I'm working with Angela today! You can reach her on her website.").
If a guest asks about booking you, you always route them to the primary photographer. (ex. "I'm sure Angela would love to get you some more information! I know she has a contact form on her website that will send her your contact info.")
Ask your primary photographer if there is a dress code - personally, I require my shooters to be in all black as it is optimal for blending into the background.
Never start a main event of the wedding day without your primary - ex. If you're near when they're about to start cutting the cake, have them wait for the primary photographer to arrive unless you've been told otherwise (but still grab shots if they don't listen!).
Be honest about your skills - it's okay if you don't know some things. Your primary photographer is not expecting you to run the show, but she needs to know if she will need to compensate in some areas.
Ask your photographer how she prefers to shoot in certain circumstances - for instance, would she rather a wider aperture and lower ISO or would she rather you stay within a certain f-stop?
Ask your photographer if she prefers you overshoot or to shoot as you normally do - personally, I'd rather my secondary photographer take only the photos she needs. I expect 100-150 per hour of service from my second shooter.
Do what it takes for you to stay organized - ask your primary if she has certain "must-have" shots that she needs you to get during groom prep or if she wants you to use your best judgement. If she needs certain shots, be sure to create a shot list in a way you can remember.
If you're bored, take photos of guests.
Try to stay opposite of the primary photographer so you get different angles, being sure you don't get in her shots - unless, of course, she's told you otherwise.
Ask the primary shooter if she cares which length lens you use for what times
Everyone exposes differently in camera - it's a good idea to ask your primary for a baseline
General Second Shooter Shots to Get - That your primary isn't already getting
Groom "Getting Ready" (general staged) - putting on/adjusting tie, jacket, shoes, cufflinks, etc
Groom with all Groomsmen - formal & informal standing, walking fun shot
Groom with Individual Groomsmen - formal & informal standing
Groom's Accessories - not a ton of primary's get these shots, but I do! Think flat lays, but with the groom's stuff
Parents lighting unity candle
Back of Bride walking down aisle, then quickly exit so primary can grab from the front
First Kiss from the side or at a different angle lens
Venue detail shots -- it's likely the primary shooter has already gotten these, but still take them just in case!
Everything else, but from a different angle/length as the primary
Anything that happens while the primary's back is turned (ex. Primary is taking family formal photos and a puppy dog shows up - you take photos of the dog.)
Behind the scenes shots of the primary in action (but only if your shots are done!)