A busy beaver
Know the photographer’s studio better than the photographer
Knows his stuff
The right photography experience
A problem solver
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Being a photographer’s assistant is an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and, more importantly, the business of photography, especially working with clients. You can make a decent living and develop the contacts to help you become a full-time photographer working for your employer or launching your own career. Photography assistant is not an easy job, however; and those that succeed know the secrets of making photographers happy. This article shares a few of them that you should know before seeking this position.
A photographer’s assistant must always be thinking ahead by being aware of all the elements of a shoot. He or she must know that a piece of equipment needs to be moved or the client needs a coffee refill before anyone asks for these tasks to be done. He or she should is the first one to notice that the lighting cable across the floor needs to be re-taped. For some shoots, the photographer may inform the assistant in advance that a new light or other piece of equipment will be needed at a certain point during the shoot. Then again, the photographer may make that decision spontaneously. In either case, the best assistants have equipment staged and ready to be switched or moved in the least amount of time possible.
There is no downtime for a photographer’s assistant, even if the photographer is casually chatting with the client and/or subject/model. The assistant should always appear to be busy. If everyone is waiting for the sunlight to change during an outdoors shoot or for any other reason, the assistant is checking equipment, cleaning equipment and double-checking that equipment is where it is supposed to be when the action does start. A busy assistant is also critical to the reputation of the photographer. When an assistant is always working, even if he or she must create those tasks, clients interpret the assistant’s activity as a sign of an efficient, productive business, which helps generate future assignments.
As an employee or freelancer, a photographer’s assistant knows where everything is stored in the studio. He or she should never have to ask the photographer where to find a piece of equipment or where he keeps the antacids (that he or she is apt to request…more than once!).
The best assistants are able to be invisible during the shooting process. They are present and ready to jump to the aid of the photographer, client, model, etc., but otherwise they have the ability to blend into the background, so their presence doesn’t disrupt the photographer’s work or his or her rapport with the client and others on the shoot.
Successful assistants know they weren’t hired to participate in or contribute to whatever dialogue is required during the shoot. They understand that the best policy is not to speak unless someone has spoken to them first. They zip their yaps and never make comments about the shoot or make suggestions to the photographer. They know that no one is interested in their opinion about ANYTHING, what happened at another shoot, last night’s ball scores, etc. Plus, no one wants to hear their cell phones ring tones or see them texting in the corner of the studio.
To be a great photographer’s assistant is to be almost as knowledgeable as the photographer about technique, technical jargon and equipment. When the photographer asks for X lens, Y filter or Z light, an assistant knows exactly what equipment to retrieve, and instantly. The assistant is enough of a photographer in his or her own right to understand what the photographer is trying to accomplish during the shoot. For example, if he or she asks for a specific light to be positioned to illuminate the subject in a specific way, then the best assistants know that the light will need a gold reflective umbrella and not the silver one. A photographer’s assistant that is also an excellent computer technician/photo editor will find himself or herself at the top of most photographers’ list.
Many photographers prefer to hire assistants who have interest in and have a reasonable portfolio of images in the same genre. Landscape photographers want assistants that also shoot landscapes instead of experience solely in portraits, or vice versa. The assistants that land the best jobs know to have their portfolio in tip-top shape and only seek work with those photographers with whom they share the same photographic vision.
Photographers want assistants who can overcome challenges on their own, without bothering the photographer. They know that as well planned as a shoot may be, it’s always possible that something unforeseen will occur that could delay or even postpone the shoot. The best assistants have the intelligence and foresight to be prepared as much as possible for the unexpected. They know it may rain, so they pack camera covers and raingear for the photographer and crew. Multiple lights might malfunction on location. Great assistants already know from whom and where they can quickly retrieve replacements.
Being a photographer’s assistant isn’t easy; in fact, it is quite difficult. Many photographers, however, have followed this path successfully to fulfilling careers. With these 8 secrets, you just find the journey just a bit easier.
Check out also: 23 things you must know to be successful in photography
Image credit: vsurkov / 123RF Stock Photo
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