Working as a photography assistant is a brilliant way to gain experience and skills in the industry. These days, photography assistants often work as photographers themselves too, assisting on the side while they build up their portfolio and reputation. However there are still some professional assistants who only assist. Being an assistant is great as it gives you hands-on experience in real shooting situations, and allows you to make contacts within the industry. But how do you begin to assist? Read on to find out!
Starting Out: Getting The First Gig
The first thing you need to do to begin assisting is to find a photographer to work with. The best way to go about this is to contact photographers directly, either by phone or email, and ask if they need an assistant. It’s a good idea to look for a photographer whose work you admire, or who photographs the same type of subject as you. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply at first. They may be very busy, or already have a key pool of assistants that they regularly call on.
If they respond, ask if they’d like to meet with you. This may seem scary at first, but meeting with a photographer will allow both of you to see if you have a connection and get along naturally, which is important if you are going to work together. Make sure to have a way to show your portfolio and be prepared to talk about your work. It may be a good idea to offer to help out for free at first, just so you can gain some experience. If you do a good job, then you may be asked back to work on paid jobs.
Preparing To Assist
Before you start, it’s important to ensure that you know exactly what the photographer expects you to do. Not all photographers need help with the photography side of their business. Sometimes they need help with all the other tasks that go into keeping their business running. Depending on the type of photographer you are assisting, the job could involve assisting the photographer with tasks before, during or after their shoots, such as:
- Answering phones, scheduling client appointments and doing administrative work
- Working on outdoor or studio shoot doing this such as taking light readings, sitting in for test shots, setting up folders or capturing sessions on the computer, and holding reflectors and operating lights
- Working as a second shooter (particularly for wedding photographers)
- Cleaning cameras and lenses and doing equipment inventory
- Downloading and backing up files after a session or archiving them
- Helping out at workshops or expos
Image taken by Jennie Eng
If you are going to be assisting on a shoot, ensure that you have read the call sheet or schedule (if these are given to you), and are familiar with the equipment and software that the photographer uses. If you know you are going to be shooting, you should bring your camera and lenses, ensure your memory cards are formatted and your battery is charged, and that you have spares of everything.
Your First Job
Always be early to a shoot. It is very unprofessional to be late, and it can cause the photographer unnecessary stress. A good assistant will be on set early, ready to help the photographer unload or set-up as soon as they arrive. If you have to drive or take public transport to the location, make sure to leave extra time to accommodate traffic jams or delayed trains.
Make sure to wear appropriate clothing to the shoot. Remember, you will probably be carrying gear and setting up equipment, so make sure you are dressed comfortably but neatly. If the shoot is more formal (eg: a wedding), make sure to confirm the appropriate attire beforehand.
On The Job
When you are on the job, your main priority is to make sure things run smoothly for the photographer, and provide an extra set of hands. You may need to liaise with other team members (such as lighting technicians, models, hair and make up artists or food stylists), keep an eye on schedules, clean dishes or make coffee or get water for clients during their portrait session.
Image taken by Laurent Imagery
Don’t be surprised if you are asked to do things outside what you were originally told you would be doing – shoots can be unpredictable and you may find yourself having to do everything from holding an umbrella if it starts raining outdoors, or blowing bubbles to encourage children to smile during portrait sessions. Offer to do things without being asked, and anticipate the needs of the photographer, crew and clients. Never, ever do ‘nothing’ or zone out on your phone. Instead watch what the photographer is doing. Study how they speak to clients, light their subjects, and engage with the team. You will learn a lot!
Do’s And Don’ts ● DO be polite and friendly at all times. This includes being nice to everyone on set, not just the photographer.
● DO have a 100% positive attitude. All the time.
● DON’T think that any job is below you. You are there to help with any and every task, no matter how small.
● DON’T ever complain. Not about the job, the crew, or your personal life.
● DO offer assistance to the rest of the crew. Make sure your jobs are all done first though!
● DO clean up and tidy if you see something that needs cleaning. Don’t wait to be asked.
● DON’T try to take over. The shoot is not about you, don’t act like you know better than the photographer.
● DO ask questions if you need to. It’s better to ask how to use a piece of equipment, rather than pretend you know and end up breaking it.
● DO take responsibility if you make a mistake. Don’t blame others or make excuses. Apologise and make it right quickly.
● DO eat before the shoot. Sometimes shoots will be catered, but never arrive on an empty stomach as you won’t be able to concentrate on your job.
● DO be discreet when alerting the photographer to any issues or potential issues. For example, quietly let the photographer know s/he needs to check her focus, rather than yelling out ‘all your photos are blurry,’ so everyone can hear.
● DO be careful with equipment! Use two hands to handle it where possible.
● DON’T try to show the client your images or pitch an idea. This is not your gig.
● DO make sure equipment is always safe and secure. Never leave it unattended in a public space.
● DO tape down power cords and weigh down light stands with shot bags. Safety first!
● DO thank the client, crew, and photographer at the end of the day. Leave them with a positive impression of your attitude, and you’ll be asked back again!