The Photography Assistant

For all the young photographers wanting to become a full time commercial, fashion or advertising photographer the first step to contemplate is often becoming a photography assistant. Most people decide that a photography school may help and often engage in the process of studying photography. To become a photographer often means learning the job from a professional. This step will get you closer to understanding the many parts one will have to master before going on his own. Few people have become successful photographers without the training assisting gives you. Often these peoples were very business oriented and excellent at figuring things out quickly. Being an assistant is, I believe the best training. It teaches you how one deals with client, how to deliver what the client is looking for etc. In this brief excerpt from “The Photography Assistant handbook,” I described some of the responsibilities a photography assistant has to deal with.

“To Assist: To give aid, to support.

The basic duty of an Assistant is to “assist” the photographer in the execution and creation of an image or photograph at the request of a client. It is a pretty simple idea until one shows up at a photographer’s door not knowing where anything is located, what the photographer is like, what he/she will expect the assistant to do, what is the first thing that needs to be done etc. Once experienced, the assistant will be able to walk into any situation and be fine. This person will know what needs to be prioritized and will move smoothly through the day without any problems. New assistants will struggle and require a lot of coaching and directing. The key for any new assistant is to constantly wonder, ” How can I help the photographer right now?” Common sense will help greatly.”

“The role of the assistant is extremely important. For a young assistant it is more difficult when he/she doesn’t really know what is expected and when no one takes the time to explain what kind of help is required. It is pretty clear that an assistant will help the photographer with the shoot but the details of how to best accomplish that job may be missing. The photographer’s preferences, the specific way he/she will want things done, how things are packed etc. The assistant must make an effort to communicate with the photographer and/or the first assistant to have a really clear idea of what specific role he/she will fill.

Photographers and photography studios believe that an assistant is going through a step in his/her education that will allow that person to grow and become a photographer. A learning period during which the studying is done on the job. Most photographers are happy to answer any questions as to what will be photographed, how and why etc, always know that questions are welcomed when asked at the right time. To simplify the process think of an assisting job in various parts:

o The Introduction: Getting to speak with the photographer, confirming the job, what is expected, what kind of shoot etc.
o Travel or time with Photographer: Getting to know each other, review equipment, getting a feel for what the day may be like.
o The Set-up: Making sure that you know all the equipment that will be used, its location, what the photographer wants, that everything is set up properly.
o The Shoot: Focus on the Photographer, his/her needs during the shoot. Keep track of the files, the clients, other assistants, and all the people involved in the shoot etc.
o The Break down: Pay attention to not break anything, or lose anything and put everything away in the same place as they were upon arrival.”…

Assistant’s “must do” list on a Digital Shoot

1/ Know and understand the photographer’s “Back-up” system.
2/ Set one up if the Photographer does not have one. If Photographer decides there is no time for it. Then any problem will be his/her responsibility
3/ Always back-up Files in the proper manner.( Same files in multiple Locations)
4/ Read the Histogram of a file and check it during the photo shoot.
5/ Make sure that the photographs are captured in the appropriate Format.
6/ Check to make sure that photographs are “Sharp” (in Focus).
7/ Never, ever delete files unless you are absolutely sure files are backed-up.
8/ Never empty trash on computer unless everything is backed up, and you are positive all files in trash are in at least 2 different locations.
9/ Set up a “Naming” system that works, so files do not have the same name and may overwrite each other.
10/ Feel silly because you are not sure??? Create a folder named “Not sure”. Review the folder when time allows it with photographer.
11/ Check F-stop, Shutter speed during shoot to make sure they have not changed accidentally!

If shipping images from jobs on Hard Drives, ship separately! Maybe two exact copy of the same content on 2 different hard drives and sent at 2 different times.”

I hope that you enjoyed this brief intro to what a photo assistant must know and do during photo shoots.

Is Professional Photography the Right Career for You?

Did you know that the average salary for a photographer is $30,000 to $35,000? Nobody should become a photographer for the money. There should be a passion within you to express yourself through moments captured in time. It is possible to make $100,000 a year as a photographer in your area or much more if you’re shooting the top jobs around the world. If you want to make the big money, you need to devote your life to photography. When you’re not getting paid for it, you should be out experimenting on your own. Study every picture you see. Figure out how the image was lit, how many lights were used, was a diffuser involved? Study the ads in magazines on TV and on billboards. I continue to do these things every day. I actually buy magazines sometimes just for the ads. Since I shoot commercial properties in Las Vegas, I also pick up the free home magazines. Also visit photography supply stores like Adorama or B&H Photo to learn about all of the equipment available.

The shortest route to becoming a photographer is by being an assistant to a professional photographer who works in the particular field you’re interested in. Ask every question you can think of and don’t concern yourself with how much the photographer is paying you. Don’t even consider it a job. It’s an invaluable learning experience.

The knowledge is so valuable that I would have paid more experienced photographers for the opportunity to help them. Good thing they didn’t know that. I worked for free or for very little pay, long after my own career was off the ground. I knew that the knowledge gained would make me money for the rest of my life. I personally didn’t learn much about taking pictures from my mentors because I was already pretty advanced but I did learn a lot about the business… How much to charge, which labs to use, how to present myself, which promotions work and which don’t.

Do you need a lot of money to start a photography business?

Well unfortunately yes you do. The equipment today is very expensive and you need a powerful computer to run photoshop and manage all of you image files. With that said… I started getting paid as a photographer when I had one prosumer camera and one 24-70 lens. Obviously if you’re starting in a similar situation, the types of photography you can offer are limited. If you’re working as an assistant you’ll quickly discover which lenses work best for you and what type of lighting equipment you’re going to need.