How to handle a second shooter?


My business is expanding, and I’m running into situations where I feel like my clients would be better served if I had a second shooter at some of the events I have been hired to photograph. I’ve never done this before, and I’m nervous about the business implications of making that leap. How do I pay them and make it legit with taxes? How would I record it in my accounting records? Is there more to it that I just don’t even know that I don’t know about?


– In Need of a Second Shooter in Nevada



Dear In Need,


What an exciting time in your business! It must be so thrilling to have reached a place where you feel like the events you are photographing would be benefitted by having a second shooter. At the same time, though, you’re right that it can always be a bit intimidating to take a new step in your business and not feel entirely certain that you know how to handle it from a business or taxation standpoint.


First let’s talk about differences in employment. When you hire someone, you can either hire an employee, or you can hire an independent contractor. And while both of them will be helping you in your work there is actually a huge and important set of differences between the two classifications. Let’s go over each one briefly:


  • An employee is someone who performs the work you request when and how you direct it to be done. In other words, you not only get to request the work product you need (such as photographs), but you also get to control when that employee will perform the work and how they will perform it.

  • An independent contractor will deliver the work that you require, but you do not control how or when they perform their work.


That difference can be a little tricky and the lines can sometimes seem blurred. For example, if you require a second shooter at an event like a wedding, you will necessarily determine at least part of when the work is performed (during the wedding, naturally!) However, you should take a look at the relationship between you and your second shooter as a whole. Are they able to work as a second shooter for other photographers? Do they have their own photography business? Do they work for you on a routine, regular basis, or is it more of an as-needed arrangement? Would it seem normal or strange for them to request employee benefits like health insurance or time off?


Generally, a second shooter will be an independent contractor. This means that you will be able to pay them their earnings without having to withhold employer taxes like social security and Medicare. That’s great news, because it makes things much simpler for you! In order to pay them, you will just need to write them a check for whatever the contracted rate for that event happens to be. If you had offered a second shooter $500 to photograph a wedding for two hours, once they deliver their work product you simply give them their $500. Easy.


In your accounting records, you would record that expense as part of an account called “Independent Contractors,” or “Subcontractors,” or something to that effect. This is going a bit deep, but this expense would be part of your cost of sales. That simply means that it is a cost that is directly tied to generating revenue and that is an important distinction to make because it can help you determine how you need to set your prices.


There’s one last thing to consider when you have hired an independent contractor. At the start of each year you will need to issue a tax form called a 1099-MISC to any independent contractor you paid more than the specified limit (in 2015 that limit was $600). So for every contractor to whom you paid more than $600 during the year, you would need to issue that form. This process can be a little more complicated; I would recommend using software that will walk you through it or simply hiring an accountant to handle this issue for you.


That’s it! Follow those guidelines and you should be all set to hire a second shooter. And from all of us here at TPE, we wish you the very best of luck as you continue to expand your business!



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Deborah Nash

Deborah Nash


Her best adventures always happen with her handsome husband, her kindergartener who is too smart for his own good (or hers!), her brave toddler who seems to have no fear whatsoever, and her brand new baby girl. She loves photography and how it allows her to capture all her adventures, big and small, and to keep them forever. In order to fund her love of all things photography, she works part-time from home as a CPA.
Deborah Nash

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