The Awesomeness Of Being A Second Shooter

Whenever someone messages me about “How do I get better at ____,” I often suggest a few things like simply putting in more hours, a couple of tutorial options or maybe some books. But one thing I probably don’t mention enough is how amazing being a second shooter or an assistant can be.
(Note: I wish I had more content to share where I assisted some of my favourite projects, but alas I do not have the rights to the final products.)

Touring with photographer Richard Powazynski (in frame)
My final image

I’ve learned so much over my career from being willing to be a second shooter or assistant to photographers/videographers whose work I admired, or maybe it was just the person themselves I enjoyed. Early in my career, I took a few second shooting positions with wedding photographers. It was an amazing experience, despite my utter dislike for the events themselves. The experience of the very long creative day, with a massive bouquet of personalities, emotions, and tight timelines was something that would help me in commercial jobs in the future. Being open to assisting put me in places I would not have ever imagined, and my work has always benefitted from it.

Location scouting with photographer Curtis Jones (in frame)
My final environment design I made with footage primarily from that location

My favorite thing to do is to find friends who work in careers completely out of my world. I’ve assisted on product shoots, weddings, beauty sessions, festivals, automotive, music videos, dragged gear for landscape shooters, even just handed supplies to VFX artists who were making a build for a movie set. It’s so interesting to see how other creatives in our world do that thing they do so well, and to see them just be awesome at it. There’s just something about that process that really speaks to me in ways tutorials and online blogs rarely do. 

Brandy Lauren assists on my shoot with Chris TT
My final image

Being a second shooter doesn’t mean you are less of an artist, it means you have skills that can help the entire project come to a successful completion. Everyone has a role to play in productions, big or small, and everyone’s role is important. Oftentimes working for “free” can deliver education that you can’t get anywhere else. As much as I love getting paid for my time, I also acknowledge that not all riches come in the form of cash (although we can die of exposure!).

Chris TT helping with posing Lindsey, Brandy Lauren assisting with Lighting.

Of all the assisting and second shooter work I’ve done over the years, I have been paid rarely and I’m okay with that. I am often helping someone with less experience than myself – not so much from an instructor perspective, but from the angle of someone who just likes to help. The joys of being a creative is that we have not all arrived at our points the same way, in fact, we rarely do. Someone with six months or a year of experience who likes to shoot painted light flowers may have an amazing technique or trick I’d never thought of that could change everything for me. It could shift how I style my own compositing work.
Knowledge is awesome, and it feels good to share it.

My final image #1

Diversification of study is also another key thing. Taking on other roles can also be extremely helpful. A friend of mine once told me “He who chases two rabbits will catch neither.” While this is undeniably true, I also think it’s key to learn from as many places as possible, to give your creative kitchen the most interesting combination of ingredients possible.

My final image #2

Inspiration can come from anywhere – the biggest thing is we have to show up and not always in the same way we have before. We are not meant to live our entire lives alone, stored away in our creative castles on top of mountains staring off into the vastness of space. Find people you can connect with on some level, quiet your mind, and absorb what’s going on around you. The next personal creative breakthrough can emerge from some very unlikely places.

Location shoot, assisted by Brandy Lauren
My final image

Don’t just aim to assist the absolute best around you, help out anyone within your circle of influence that you connect well with. Be open, be kind, and above all, stay thirsty in the quest for knowledge.

Collaborating with designer FairyTas and model Lara Aimee. BTS shot by Richard Terborg.
My final image

Renee Robyn hails from the land of maple syrup and seemingly never-ending winter in Canada. Her career that started 20 years ago has brought her around the world, exploring parts of the planet she thought only existed in books. Renee’s work is an ethereal combination of fact and fiction, merging together expertly shot photographs of unique and interesting subjects with hours of meticulous retouching in Photoshop. The work is recognizable and distinctly her own, attracting clients such as Intel, Smugmug, Corel, Adobe and Heavy Metal Magazine.

You can see more of her work at ReneeRobynPhotography.com, and connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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