I have had the opportunity to shoot with a number of other people as both the “second” photographer as well as being the primary photographer. Today I want to talk about my feelings about shooting with other people as my own experience has covered the gamut from extremely enjoyable to absolutely horrible. So while this is not a technical article by any means, it is my own opinion as to how shooting with someone else can be both a rewarding, educational, and enjoyable experience.

Why a “partner”?

I like to use the phrase partner as opposed to using an assistant as a photo shoot that has two photographers available should benefit from the experience and skills of both photographers and not relegate the second person to being nothing more than a VOLS (Voice Operated Light Stand). If you give two photographers the same camera, the same lens, and put them on the same spot, you will virtually never get the same exact photograph from both of them.

This is simply because everyone looks at things a little different, the composition will be different, the lighting/exposure may be different, and the angles may be different, so why not benefit from two styles rather than sticking to only one? Having two people that are photographers can also add to the overall image quality.

Let’s take a simple example. When shooting weddings with David from Esquire Photography, he may be up at the top of some stairs shooting down at a bride, however because I am at a lower angle, I may see a shadowed spot more easily that he can from his angle and I can pop a little extra light from a reflector into the shot.

Because he knows that I know what I am doing, he trusts that I may have seen something that he didn’t and continues to shoot, the result is a better image and there is no reason for anyone’s feelings to get hurt because I was trying to help him get the best shot possible. On the other hand, David is much better posing details than I am so when we did a recent shoot with a model, I was doing the shooting while he was giving direction to the model to achieve the best looks. Again, there was no stepping on my ego because I was getting awesome shots.

Ego is the killer

Let’s face it, most of us aren’t in the same league as people like Scott Kelby, Ed Pierce, or Vincent Versage, however when you listen to them or read their posts, they quite often talk about learning a new technique or lighting style from someone else. If guys who are making millions of dollars a year traveling the globe can state that they learned something from some unknown person, should any of us really have egos so big that we can’t listen to our own peers?

I know it is sometimes hard to take advice from someone when it comes to your own creative ideas and processes, however really, aren’t we all always trying to be the best we can and don’t we get better by learning, experimenting, looking at other people’s work, trying new things, and looking at other ideas? So what can possibly be better than having another photographer with you right by your side, feeding ideas off each other, tossing concepts back and forth, and trying more things on one shoot than you could think of, or pull off by yourself?

I had an experience where I was asked by a primary photographer to shoot a wedding in a very specific way. Basically I was to hang back as far as possible and take everything with a long zoom lens.

While I did plenty of that, I also got creative as I would typically do, posed the guys a certain way, got some crazy angles, used available structures for props and backgrounds, and in the end I ended up with some really great shots. However, the primary photographer got upset that I used any creativity at all because it was HER shoot. This turned a really enjoyable day into a real let-down even though I delivered some great photos.

Try some collaboration

I can’t encourage you enough to get into the user group, look around for a local photo club, get on other forums, or somehow find other people in your area to collaborate with. Together, come up with a shoot concept, and each get behind the camera and let the other person give you feedback from a different perspective.

If one photographer can do a really cool shoot, how much better could one be with two photographers? Stop thinking that it lowers you or impedes your creativity, instead allow a shared session to enhance your creativity and let you try new shooting angles, new lighting techniques, and even new post processing ideas.

The most enjoyable shoots I do these days are with photographers who have a strong vision of their own however are still open to trying new things and experimenting based on my feedback and in turn, I enjoy getting feedback from them.

Not only does it dramatically add to the creative process, it keeps you from getting into a rut of doing the same things all the time. I know that I have grown far faster and further through my collaborative sessions then when I was either “just an assistant” or had some VOLS helping me out.