In the world of photography, assisting has been a time-honoured tradition to gather skills and contacts. It’s a smart move as you can learn a lot from a senior photographer. I also assist with less experienced photographers for a variety of reasons. In this post I’d like to get into my reasons for assisting. The local college has a 30 hour field placement requirement for their photography program. I’ve worked with six of their students in the last year and a half, student number seven starts soon, and it leads me to think about the importance of assisting.
You Can Learn a lot About Photography
An experienced photographer will teach you a lot on a shoot if you just keep your eyes open. From their setup to client interaction to workflow, there’s always something to see and incorporate into your work. I will sometimes make notes during the down time on interesting tips or tricks. Assisting allows you to see different genres of photography you might not do yourself, opening up new ideas for projects and business.
Even shooting with a less experienced photographer can give you insights into new ideas and techniques. Sometimes watching what goes wrong (and trying to help it not to) can provide valuable information that you can take back to your workflow.
Assisting allows you to step back and see the entire set for many different angles that you might not see as the photographer.
Humility is a Good Thing
There are many unglamorous jobs assisting such as getting food or coffee, cleaning the studio floor before the shoot and before anyone gets to the set. Choirs will not sing your praises for setting up the lights, or fanning a large piece of cardboard to move the model’s hair. That’s okay I’m there to learn, not be the star. Doing the menial task keeps you humble and that’s a good thing because as a photographer sometimes ego can get in the way of trying something new.
Meet New and Exciting People
It’s always a good idea to expand the people you know in the photography world. You can meet hair and makeup people, models, stylists, other assistants, photographers and clients. A lot of people have different skills than you. You never know when you might need someone last minute or if they need a photographer. (Please do not try and poach clients, it’s wrong)
It’s a lot of Fun
Assisting can be a lot of fun; everyone pulling together for a common goal, to achieve someone’s vision. I like hanging out with photographers and assisting is a great way to get to know them. Even long days are good when you’re sitting at a restaurant going through the day’s images. A major goal of mine is to make sure my set / studio is a fun, happy experience. As an assistant, I strive for the same fun energy. It’s nice occasionally to work at photography for a day and then go home with no editing required at night. (Same for second shooting a wedding.)
Thoughts on How to be a Good Assistant
Be early. If you’re on time, you’re late
If you notice something simple wrong, fix it
Ask how to dress for the shoot and then do it
Don’t hand out your business card at the shoot
No job is beneath you, unless you’re on a ladder
Debrief with the photographer after the shoot is done. Ask questions about what you did, what you saw
Have a positive attitude. There is nothing worse than an assistant who doesn’t have a passion for the work (photography - not getting the coffee)