When I first started getting into wedding photography, I needed experience, but I didn’t know anyone. So I googled wedding photographers, found a handful whose work and ethos I loved, and emailed them to see if I could assist them. I got one response. From a photographer who wanted to charge me to assist him at a wedding. Yes, I pay him.
I was frustrated at the lack of response, annoyed that they hadn’t even replied, even if it was just to say no.
Now, after two years of building up my business, I’ve been on the receiving end of so many emails like this. People telling me they need experience so can they come and shoot a wedding with me. The first time I received one of these emails I was so excited. I’d finally made it! Someone wants to learn from me! So I eagerly replied, but never heard back. I chased it. Nothing. The second time someone emailed me I was really busy editing weddings so it was maybe a week before I got back to them. I’d been burned before, so I was in no rush to repeat it. Before I could reply to them, they chased me asking if I could please get back to them. They’re eager, I thought, so I replied and gave them tons of advice. I never heard back. Not even a simple thank you.
This REALLY annoyed me. Then I got another email from another student wanting my advice and to get experience assisting me at weddings. She said in her first email that the very least I could do for her was give up a day of my time to teach her. The very least! I offered her an affordable rate for a day of one-to-one teaching and she was shocked that I wouldn’t give up my time and information for free, so that she could build a business and become a competitor.
Another girl emailed me. She was super lovely and her work was beyond stunning. I leapt on it, I wanted to learn from her! We met up for coffee, she told me the stories behind her magical photos, and I agreed for her to second shoot for me at a wedding. The day before the wedding she cancelled. At the time I felt sorry for her as she said she was in hospital. I felt bad for her and we carried on being friends. Then I got a tweet from someone saying my new friend had stolen all the photos on her website from her. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (and a massive and at times entertaining discussion on Photo Stealers) it turned out that she had not only stolen the photos and the stories behind them and claimed them as her own, but she had also faked her own death several times over the past few years. I looked on her facebook page on the date she said she’s been in hospital. Nope! She’d been shopping.
I still get a lot of emails and phone calls from students who want to shadow me but I’m rather cautious about who I trust now, which is really sad. Sometimes they’re really flattering and I really appreciate that someone has taken the time to look at my work and remark on it.
However, when it comes to bringing a second shooter to a wedding, where the couple has paid a lot of money to have them there, I now make sure it’s someone I know and trust. Usually it’s someone I’ve worked with before, and it’s always always always someone who is already an established photographer. They’re representing me, so I need to know they know what they’re doing and they’re not going to ruin my business reputation in any way.
So I’m very sorry to anyone I don’t know who emails or calls asking to second shoot with me, but unless I know you or know someone who can vouch for you then I’m afraid all I can suggest is you do what I did – you go to workshops, learn everything you can about shooting weddings (a university degree in photography will get you nowhere – weddings are a different beast!) and shoot some weddings for free, for someone who wasn’t going to have a photographer anyway. If you’re going to approach a wedding photographer asking to shadow them, tell them what’s in it for them, not for you. Why would someone who has worked hard for years to build a successful business give it all away to someone because they need experience to start their own business? What does the photographer get out of this? Work that out, and go from there.
That’s the best advice I can give you, and it’s done me well. I read wedding photography books cover to cover, I studied photos I loved, I went to a trillion workshops and connected with amazing groups of wedding photographers who help each other out. I didn’t second shoot for anyone until I knew what I was doing and that I was confident I was good enough.
I love shooting weddings, it makes me so happy, and I support anyone else who has the balls to do it. It’s tough! I wish aspiring photographers all the best, but I’m not here to teach you how to shoot while we’re at a paying customer’s wedding. I’m here to do a kick-ass job for my amazing couples and they can expect absolutely nothing less from me.