I have been irritated recently by wedding blogs informing couples that they need to have at least two photographers for their wedding. If you are interested in documentary-style photography and your guest count is under 200, then adding a second photographer may not be a wise choice. Here’s why.
First, however, let’s discuss the conditions under which you actually need a second photographer. In my book, there are only three such situations:
- You have invited over 200 guests, and you want ALL of them well documented. For some large-sized weddings, the guest count is inflated in order to satisfy a number of reasons that mean nothing to the couple getting married: parents’ business colleagues, debts owed from past wedding invitations, or extended family that you haven’t seen in years. If this is the case, and the actual number of people you care about having photographed is more like 80 to 180, then one photographer can absolutely handle photographing all of your principal players. If not – and this would apply to close families who happen to have over 200 members – then let’s get real. That’s a lot of candid photos even for me. Especially in the case where you have a short reception (four hours or less), you need to have a second photographer to divide and conquer the many smiling faces.
- Your wedding venue is spread out across a large property. Most events have a cocktail in one central location and a reception dinner in another. This set up is simple enough to have one photographer move from point A to point B. But let’s say your wedding takes places at a vast estate and your guests will be spread out over an acre or so. That’s when you call in more than one photographer. I am only one person, and as such, I can’t be in two places at one time.
- You want ‘getting ready’ photos of each spouse in separate respective locations. In most weddings, one spouse takes longer to get ready than the other, and generally also cares more about the getting ready photos than the other spouse (brides, you know who you are!). In this instance, even if each spouse is getting ready in separate locations, the distance issue can easily be solved by starting photos earlier with one spouse and then ending with enough time to photograph the other spouse. As an example, I normally finish photographing the bride with enough time to head over to the groom for a quick thirty minutes of photos (putting on the tie, adjusting cufflinks, a final drink with the groomsmen, and maybe even a hug from dad) before heading to the altar. But if both spouses want an extended ‘getting ready’ photo session, then you need a separate photographer to cover each spouse.
And that’s it. A single photographer should have the stamina and photographic prowess to handle a ten to twelve-hour wedding with up to 200 guests. That includes all portraits, details, and action shots. I have handled weddings of this size alone for the past eight years because it best serves my photojournalistic style. Documentary photography requires me to hang back and observe the action. I spend most of my day with a long lens in hand, trying to blend into the background so that guests forget that I am there. This forgetfulness on the part of guests is the key to capturing great candid moments. With a second photographer – and a second flash in full force – the photographer’s presence is unavoidable. Guests can’t forget the camera, if a photographer is always in their sight line. The result is an event that morphs into a paparazzi experience, which is the furthest from documentary-style photos as you can get.
But doesn’t ‘2 x photographer = 2 x photos’? No. The reality is that you will not get double the amount of photos by bringing in a second photographer. In my eight years of shooting weddings, I have seen second photographers bring – at most – only one-third more photos to the table. In addition to shooting in places and times when the main photographer is unavailable, the role of the second photographer is to capture reaction shots and secondary angles. As second fiddle to the main photographer, these are supplemental photos and thus there are less photos to be had.
And just to let you in on a little secret: the going day rate for a fully qualified, self-sufficient second photographer is $500. (Most of us also add on an extra $100 or more to handle the time it takes to edit the additional photos.) If you are not being charged at least $600 for a second photographer, then the only thing you are getting is someone qualified to carry the main photographer’s bags and hold a light when needed. You wasted your money on a glorified assistant to the main photographer.
My advice is this: if you have met the criteria listed above and indeed need a second photographer, then you need to get details as to how long the photographer has been shooting and if s/he is insured. You absolutely should ask to see the other photographer’s portfolio. This is imperative. You want to make sure that the second photographer’s style matches seamlessly with that of the main photographer. Otherwise you will end up with two (obviously) different sets of photos.
Bottom line, if your goal is to have a wedding shot in a photojournalistic style, then reconsider your need for a second photographer. In the end you may be saving yourself some money and hassle by sticking to the far simpler option of just one photographer.
Accompanying this article are photos of Sheila and Tom, whose wedding I shot all by myself at The Manor in West Orange, New Jersey. This was a complicated wedding with a beautiful traditional ceremony and a large guest count of close to 200. Sheila and Tom also had a large bridal party. Still, only one photographer (me!). Enjoy the pics.
If you would like to see more wedding photos, please visit my website.