2nd Photographer vs Photographer’s Assistant – what’s the difference?

There seems to be some confusion in the ranks of photographers, as far as the difference between ‘2nd Photographer’ and ‘Photographer Assistant’ is concerned. Some ask for the services of the first, actually needing the services of the last and vice versa.

CTS Wedding Photography

So, let’s list the differences as generally perceived by togs who have these two categories of ‘helpers’ clearly sorted in their minds:

2nd Photographer (a.k.a ‘2nd Shooter’)

Is employed mainly to take supplementary images of an event;

Has some photographic skills. These skills can vary from ‘student’ level (not recommended for critical tasks) to levels much higher than the skills of the main photographer;

May be asked to edit his/her own images;

Is not concerned with refreshments to the main photographer;

May branch off, working independently from main photographer to capture images, such as photographing: –

  • the groom / best men dressing up whilst the main photographer covers the bride / bridesmaids dressing up;
  • the bride walking down the aisle from the back whilst the main photographer covers her from the front;
  • the groom seeing the bride for the first time as she comes down the aisle whilst the main photographer focuses on the bride;
  • the same scene as the main photographer but preferably with different lenses and/or focal lengths;

Is generally paid more than the assistant due to his/her higher skill levels and responsibilities (some photos taken by the 2nd shooter are critical to the wedding album);

Is employed by the main photographer so is only accountable to him/her;

May also advise the main photographer as and when needed but in general is more concerned with own images;

Photographer Assistant

Is employed mainly to

  • assist a photographer with the carrying and setup of gear;
  • assist a photographer with creating ideal lighting conditions (by holding / setting up diffusors, reflectors and external lighting);

Needs no photographic skills but is more focused on the immediate needs and requests of the photographer(s) assisted, for example to go find a missing person for a group shot or to keep an eye on the time line and advise the photographer(s) accordingly. In fact the assistant might not even want to become a photographer at all;

Is not involved with image editing;

May offer refreshments (water, cold drinks, snacks) at own cost as a special service or favour to the photographer(s) assisted;

Always shadows the photographer(s) assisted;

Is generally paid less than the 2nd Photographer due to lower skill levels and less knowlege required. This might not be the case where a photographer has built up a long relationship with an experienced or popular assistant and thus prefers his/her services;

Might assist more than one photographer as and when the need arises;

May bring the photographer(s) attention to issues which might jeopardise an image (such as piece of under garment sticking out, distracting objects in the background) or enhance it (better poses etc.).

Of course these differences are not set in stone. Some photographers might hire a student / amateur photographer as assistant and then allows him/her to occasionally take a shot with or without assistance from the (2nd or main) photographer. Some photographers would hire one or more assistants per (2nd and main) photographer. Some main photographers would not share assistants and others would. 


Both 2nd shooters and assistants are critical to the success of some event shoots, depending on the task load. Whatever the arrangement with either: a clear, written ‘contract’ is highly recommended so that everyone knows what’s expected and what’s allowed (and vice versa) on the day(s) of the shoot. Let’s use them and appreciate them for what they are and give them the respect they deserve! We need them both!

Other blogs by the same author:

My first wedding shoot and 9 tips for you 1st shoot!

The challenges of starting Wedding Photography

9 Tips to help you realize your dream wedding album!

Handy Links:

My nature website: www.ctsphotography.co.za/nature

My favourite photography website: www.lightstalking.com

Tobie Schalkwyk is a full-time Java web developer who hopes to move into full time wedding, portrait and event photography when he retires at the end of 2017. All comments on this blog are most welcome. What are your concerns re. your wedding photographs / photographer? Share your thoughts below! Any questions about your coming shoot? Let them come!

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