A digital photography business may be your dream, but various challenges may make it difficult to launch it (or a part-time business as a full-time endeavor), according to your preferred schedule. You may even discover that you are simply unable to start a business, period, or may have to wait an extended period of time. Many successful entrepreneurs required years of work and planning before they opened their business. Some even fail multiple times before they are able to establish a viable, income-generating enterprise. The lesson to learn from them is don’t be discouraged if your 90-day plan becomes a 365-day plan.
An excellent option that provides a number of benefits is to become a photographer’s assistant.
You have the flexibility of accepting only evening and/or weekend assignments, so you can still work your day job or generate additional income as a part-time photographer.
Being an assistant is a wonderful learning opportunity. Presumably, you have the technical skills and a competitive portfolio or there would be no reason to think about starting your own photography business. Your skills and experience are therefore marketable. Despite what you may have learned in photo classes or reading business and marketing books, being in the middle of the action is the best kind of learning laboratory. Maybe, the most important lesson has nothing to do with shooting pictures, and that’s observing how the photographer interacts with his or her clients, how he serves his customers.
If you prove you know what you claim to know, then the photographer that hires you will probably provide opportunities to contribute to client shoots instead of just carrying, positioning and dismantling equipment and running for coffee.
Don’t be surprised if a photographer is willing to have you assist him or her, but at no pay, like an internship. That may be a good option for you, if you’re a college student or don’t require the wages you would otherwise earn. Working free for another photographer one evening a week or a few hours during the weekend can still be a worthwhile investment of your time. This could be especially true if you are planning to start a photography business in a very narrow niche. In that case, spending free time with one of the few photographers in that niche might be of inestimable value.
Some photographers want nothing more than a gofer. The best assistant (even if they are gofers), however, just doesn’t rest while the photographer is shooting. He or she is aware of and attentive to the entire shooting environment, so nothing disturbs the photographer and the process; an assistant knows that time is money. A good assistant understands what the photographer (and client) needs and provides it, before being asked.
A personality and a professional sociability are other important characteristics that many photographers expect their assistants to have. A good assistant not only serves the client’s needs during a shoot, but also is able to interact with them, appropriately, so the photographer can concentrate on the assignment. Those are great lessons to learn that will make you a better photographer and more likely to succeed when you open your business.
Finding a photographer’s assistant position is very similar to pursuing any job. Make a list of photographers to approach, prepare a résumé and a Web site with your portfolio. Then, contact those photographers by phone, email or with a visit. It’s very important to do some research about the photographers on your list: what kind of clients they serve, what kind of assignments they receive and a review of their portfolios. There are other Web-based opportunities for photographers to notice you. Flickr seems to be a resource for photographers to find assistants. During your search, try to determine which photographers also want to teach their assistants, so they can fulfill their dreams some day.
Assistant wages or fees (if you’re working as a freelancer) are based on the location of the photographer and the type of products and services he or she offers. It’s not unusual for a good assistant to earn a few hundred dollars for a ten-hour day. Another earning opportunity is to do the photo-editing work for the photographer, so he or she is maximizing shooting time. Add those skills to your photography abilities (and your résumé) and you’ve increased your marketability even more.
Don’t overlook the option of becoming a photographer’s assistant to learn while you earn, and as a first step toward opening your business. You may also find that it is a better position for you in the world of professional photography, especially if you’re not sure you want the responsibilities of managing a business.