Monday, August 22, 2011

The Second Second Shooter

Today's post is a little different. It's from guest contributor Katrina Rice, who works with movie props for a living and assists photographers for weddings. But here's the thing... she's not a shooting assistant, not a photographer at all. She created an invaluable position for the photographers she works with and tells her story, offers tips, and offers a sneak peak into her "wedding kit". 


The Second Second Shooter: Why a Good Wedding Photographer Brings an Assistant Who Isn’t a Photographer

When I first started assisting wedding photographers, we didn’t really know what to call what I was doing so we called my position “the photo stylist”. Photographer Patrick Williams and I came up with the idea to help out his team on wedding day with all the things that inevitably come up. This included, but was not limited to, popped buttons, stained wedding dresses, falling hairstyles, droopy boutonni√®res, holding the train, holding the bouquet, arranging the somethings (old, new, borrowed, blue) to be photographed, getting Kleenex, lint rolling the groom, remembering to get that picture of Aunt Stella from Chicago, finding the tossing bouquet, telling everyone which leg the garter is worn on (left, but it doesn’t actually matter, they just like to be told), bustling the dress, communicating with the DJ for the photographer, lighting the cake for the photographer, running the formal session which has a very long list and a very small window of time…the list goes on.


What started out as a trial position ended up becoming a really great selling point, and I moved with the work to my current home with Melissa Prosser Photography. I stay busy with my regular job working on movie sets as an assistant prop master, but when I am not filming, I do weddings. When Melissa shot a wedding in the Dominican Republic recently and was only able to travel with one other member of her team, she brought me. I found myself wading out into the ocean with a towel during the Trash the Dress for the bride, setting up a still life shot on the beach of the welcome gifts that each guest received, and locating a missing groomsman who was asleep in his room. There is always something to be done and it’s always something different. Each wedding has it’s own minor fires that need putting out and each family is so very grateful that someone like myself was there to do it, because everyone else was busy too.


Something that always impresses the client and something I don’t leave home without is my trusty wedding kit. It’s a variation of the pre-fab wedding day kits you’ll see sold in gift shops to mothers and bridesmaids, but it has much, much more to offer. I started to compile it with different items that the various departments on a movie set use: hair, makeup, wardrobe, props. Each time something comes up that I don’t have, which is rare now, I add to it. The kit has saved many a dress and calmed many a maid when I am able to say “I’ve got that!” and everyone goes, “whew!”.

A few key components of the kit are the fancy hanger, which is nothing more than the classic tufted lingerie hanger, which the wedding dress should arrive on but doesn’t, so I always switch out the clear plastic alterations hanger for mine. The photographer then gets a nice picture of a beautiful dress on a lovely hanger that doesn’t look like it just came from the cleaners. Another staple is the mighty Shout Wipe. I cannot sing their praises enough. What does that have to do with a photographer, you ask? It doesn’t, except that no one else has them, and when the bride walks through something (wet mulch, for example) to pose for an outdoor shot, she gets a little weary when she looks down to see red stains on her white dress. “We can fix it,” we say, and we always do. Recently, a bridesmaid cut the dickens out of her ankle while shaving, and her champagne colored shoe was covered in blood. The Shout Wipes and I went to town and got the shoe good as new by ceremony time. The bridal party was amazed. The Mother of the Bride was impressed. This is how the client knows they made the right choice.


Another part of my day with the wedding photographer often involves running the formal shoot. This is a hectic time where two people have just gotten married, the children are about to lose it, the elders are tired and their feet hurt, and everyone wants to run off to the reception. The list, if provided, is sometimes long, but essential. You cannot find out three weeks later that you did not get that shot of Aunt Cassie and the Bride and Groom. People will be upset. The photographer is busy worrying about lighting and focus and all of the other elements that make a great picture, so I have the list and I wrangle the heck out of the bridal party and family. I place the people in the shot. I get the next group on deck. I get the kids and elders out FIRST and I do not let the maids and men leave for cocktails. “Next up, if you are related to the groom, and your last name is Baker, you are needed!” It makes everything run efficiently and it REALLY helps out the boss. People get out fast and they like it. I check things off as I go so nothing gets missed. You wouldn’t believe how, in the heat of battle, you will forget what group you just shot.

I also run around when we do the bride and groom alone, making suggestions, holding the flowers, fluffing the train, holding the light stick, absolutely whatever needs to be done. Often times there is a need to communicate with the venue to get something accomplished. The photographer will want a sunset shot of our couple, for example. “Go find Gretchen with the hotel and ask for a golf cart right before sunset so we can get down to the golf course and get that shot they want,” he or she will say. And I will. “Oh, and find out when sunset is.” And I do.


On a movie set, there is a first AD, (assistant director) who runs the show. Then there is the second AD, who backs them up. The second AD has such a big job, there is also a position called “the second second,” because no single person can do the job alone. The ADs are a team who are highly coordinated in their efforts to shoot a movie. They go above and beyond their job description and handle anything and everything that comes their way. They hit the ground running. They work ridiculous hours. They make it happen. In many ways, shooting a wedding is a lot like shooting a movie. I do both, and I enjoy both. If you are a wedding photographer, I highly recommend that you consider adding a second second to your team. This person never has a camera. They are not a photographer. They are there to back you up. Trust me, you and your clients will notice the difference.


Bio: Katrina Rice was born and raised in Alaska. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA and works in the film industry as an Assistant Prop Master. When she is not on movie sets, she assists wedding photographers.