Tips on Being a Great Photo Assistant
I found these images a few days ago of my friend Kara is who first and foremost a great photographer and secondly an incredibly awesome photo-assistant, among many other things. One of the first times she assisted me she had a leather craftsmen attached to her belt and I immediately knew she would be awesome.
Years ago I was a photo assistant in Minneapolis and Chicago. At the time very few male photographers would hire women to assist and unfortunately most commercial photographers were men. In their defense, assistants usually had to lug around hundreds of pounds of gear and they didn’t like to hire women especially small, petite ones like me. The ladies usually handled studio management and production.
It took some convincing but I did get some steady work. I always knew though that if I didn’t perform my job flawlessly I wouldn’t be hired back and worse I’d be out of a great learning experience. I tried to play to my advantages. For instance, I knew that I couldn’t lift as much weight as my male counterparts so I decided I could simply move twice as fast as them and try to read the photographer’s mind. Typically, I’d be finished more quickly than the ox who tried to carry 100lbs on his back. Essentially, my earnestness won out over my strength.
Another trick was to never ever complain. I’ve said yes to ridiculous things like cleaning light bulbs, bathrooms, and sweeping sidewalks. If the photographer asked me to do a boring job I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The best assistants seem to understand innately what’s at stake on shoot days (e.g. thousands of dollars in production fees, client relationships, etc.). They’ve probably shot a bit themselves and act like the assistant they’d want on their own set. Some shoots are incredibly stressful and having someone who can intuit your next move or need is indispensable. Here are a few tips on being a great assistant:
1) Always be one step ahead of the photographer. If you can do this well you are probably doing everything else well, too.
2) Know where everything is from sync cords, lenses, and light meters to duct tape and clamps. Take a look at everything when unpacking and remember where it was. Keep important gear close to your body. The photographer knows but it will save time if you’re on it. Also, keep the set tidy and it will help you find things more quickly.
2) Play to your advantages. Don’t oversell yourself. If you’re small like me and can’t lift as much as the next guy just move twice as fast as him/her (side note: I can actually lift quite a lot, ask my husband). The photographer will notice. Also, if you’re not familiar with a set of strobes or other piece of equipment don’t say you are. Ask for help even if you’re embarrassed to do so. You’ll know for next time.
3) Never ever look at your phone while on set. This is a big no-no. I do not hire assistants back if they do this. Being on set is a great learning experience in addition to being a pretty well-paying job for a day’s work. If you must use your phone excuse yourself to a bathroom when there is a break and never let the client see you use it. Your actions can reflect poorly on the photographer.
4) Always be courteous and nice to the client and intuit their needs as well even if it’s not part of your core responsibilities; bring them water, offer a seat, etc. You can’t be too accommodating to a client.
5) Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. You should be able to do cartwheels, carry a farm animal (true story), and trek up the side of a mountain if asked so dress accordingly. This seems like a no-brainer but I’ve had assistants show up in short dresses or clothing that they didn’t want to get dirty.
6) Problem-solve. Don’t wait for the photographer to always give you direction if you see something is not quite right fix it. Photo sets can be a little chaotic and you’re there to support the production so if you see something out of place fix it.
7) Be happy and work hard. Your job is more interesting than a million other jobs so be thankful for that and do the job with joy.
8) Extra-credit. If you want to be super-duper awesome and get a nice paycheck every time you assist have your own set of tools and supplies separate from the photographer’s such as a leather craftsman, pens, an allen wrench, notebook, clamps, and tape – even a tool belt. This one is incredibly awesome.
These guys also weighed in on what makes a great assistant.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or you just happen to be passing through and you like kids, have a great attitude, and don’t mind occasionally tending to livestock please get in touch. hello(at)modernkids(dot)co