Tips for Becoming a Photographer’s AssistantOctober 10, 2016
Working as a photographer’s assistant isn’t just a common way to get your foot into the door of the industry. It’s also a fantastic way to help you network with other photography assistants, professional photographers, and clients, plus it’s the perfect way to learn vital, hands-on tasks within the industry.
While you can learn a lot about photography from a college course or class, working as a photographer’s assistant allows you to quickly take your practical knowledge to a whole new level, whilst being able to witness (and assist) a professional photographer go about his or her work.
There are some myths and misconceptions floating around online when it comes to working as a photographer’s assistant, so today I’m going to try and dispel these for you. I’ll also be providing you with the vital tips you need to know in order to work as a photographer’s assistant.
Let’s get started!
Brush up on your skills:
Although the whole point of becoming a photographer’s assistant is to become a better photographer by gaining hands-on experience from a professional photographer, you will still be expected to have some prior knowledge about the industry as an assistant. Standing around not knowing what to do and being unable to operate basic camera equipment will only make things more difficult for the professional photographer, especially while they’re on a shoot and would prefer to focus on their client. It’s also one way you can ensure that you don’t receive a call back, and this is certainly something you don’t want!
Commercial Photographer Jonathan Minster further explains:
Be a sponge and learn all you can about everything. Get your head around all the kit – digital, traditional, lighting, everything. There are so many software options, including the programs that the camera shoots to, such as Phase One and Leaf. Try downloading trial software or approaching dealers about workshops to learn more. Although you are likely to have to do this in your spare time, being able to run the camera software is a great help.
Scope out photographers you would like to work with:
Whilst you’re not limited to working with photographers only within your local area, many photographers believe this is the best place to start. It means that you’re more likely to make it to their studio or photo shoot locations within a shorter time span, plus it’s beneficial to be able to share local knowledge with the photographer.
You can easily conduct your research for local photographers through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, or a few Google searches should be able to help you out. If you already know of people working within the industry, especially other photography assistants, then this is also a great way to scope out photographers who you’d like to work with and even to find out if they are hiring. Photography studios are another great source of work for assistants, so be sure to write down the contact details of any within your local area or city.
ShutterBug also recommends that you use association resources such as ASMP’s “find a photographer” database (http://asmp.org); APA’s “search for APA talent” database (www.apanational.com); and, for wedding photographers, PPA’s “find a photographer” database (www.ppa.com/findaphotographer).
Additionally, you can search job sites such as Indeed.com or even Craigslist’s job section for any photographer’s assistant positions being advertised.
Another piece of wonderful advice from those who are experienced with working as a photographer’s assistant is to concentrate on photographers whose work you really admire; bonus points if their work is of the same genre or a similar aesthetic to the kind of photography you are most passionate about! This will make working as a photographer’s assistant a lot more enjoyable, plus the insight and experience you gain will be invaluable.
Reaching out to photographers in regards to working as their assistant might seem daunting, but it’s a common element of this industry, so don’t be shy! Once you’ve completely familiarized yourself with their work (including what equipment they prefer to use, if they’ve hired assistants before, what their location is, and what types of clients they have worked with in the past), then it’s time to send them a succinct and polite email explaining that you would love to assist them with their work, along with the reasons why. Tell them what you love the most about their work and what you feel as though you will be able to learn from an assistant position with them. Don’t forget to also explain to them any previous experience you have within this industry so you can also emphasize the ways in which you can help them out. A passion for learning the ins and outs of photography goes a long way too, so make sure this shines through in your email!
It would be beneficial to also include any links to your work so far online, or perhaps even to attach some images as examples. Don’t fret if you don’t have a ton of work to show them, as the whole reason you’re reaching out to them in the first place is to gain further experience in this field. Many photographers online have argued that a professional photographer will care little about your portfolio when you’re approaching them to work as their assistant, however I would still advise that you provide them with your most high-quality images just in case they are interested in seeing this. Everyone is different, after all!
While some photographers may prefer you to email them first, others will value you making the effort to pick up the phone and talk to them instead (especially if you’re reaching out to a photography studio). RGG Photo’s Studio Manager Gary Winchester Martin explains:
If you plan to approach a photography studio, it’s often best to call the studio manager or producer, quickly state the reason you are calling, and then politely request a meeting, an opportunity to send in your book/work, or an opportunity to assist on a test photo shoot. If you have worked as an assistant before, it’s best to list people you have worked with as a reference. In some situations a studio may already have a well developed team of assistants and it may be hard to get a call back. In situations like this, occasionally send letters addressed to the photographer or studio manager with your intent. Printing your work never hurts either.
Once you land the job:
If you don’t get a positive response from the first few photographers or photography studios you contact, don’t be disheartened! Persistence will really pay off, so keep doing your research, asking your peers, networking, and contacting more people in regards to your sought-after position. Eventually, you’re sure to gain an opportunity in this field, and when that day comes you can give yourself a big pat on the back!
There are an incredible number of things you must take into account once you become a photographer’s assistant, so I’ve tried to sum these up as best as possible below. If you need more in-depth information about any of these topics, you’ll also find some additional resources for further reading at the end of this section.
- Always ensure that you know what is expected of you, as well as what each specific job / photo shoot will entail. Freelance photographer Simon Bray recommends the following: “[Ask] who is the shoot for? Are there any specific shot requirements? What will the style of the shoot be? Are there any specific aims, locations or backdrops in mind? These elements will not only help you on the day, but it will aid the communication between you and the professional and ensure that everyone is working together effectively towards the same goals.”
- Your job is to assist the main photographer, so prior to any job or shoot you will also want to check if you can do anything to help the photographer prepare. For example, do they need you to rent additional gear, such as lenses or lighting equipment? Will a studio space be required? Where will hair and make-up be done? Do they need you to scout out locations for the shoot? Will they need you to transport equipment, and if so, when, where, and how? Again, communication with the photographer is essential so you can ensure you’re providing them with all of the assistance they want and need.
- Always ask permission before you take photos on a job, especially if you have not actually been told that you are required to capture any images. While some photographers might want you to take photographs of them working (for example, for marketing purposes), others will purely want you to assist with equipment, setting up, lighting, etc. Don’t be disheartened if your job as a photographer’s assistant actually doesn’t include you taking photos – you can do this in your spare time and for your own clients instead.
- Always be at least 15 minutes early, as every professional photographer stresses that being late is not an option for a photographer’s assistant. If an emergency prevents you from being able to make a job or shoot on time, then you must call the photographer to alert them ASAP. Professionalism will always go a long way!
- Similarly, ensure that you dress appropriately for a shoot and bring all of the equipment that is required of you. Smart casual for non-wedding shoots is a good rule of thumb – just make sure you wear enclosed shoes that are easy to move around in. For wedding shoots, you will have to dress more appropriately, so be sure to communicate with the photographer to see what is required of you.
- Take extra care with all of the equipment (especially when it belongs to someone else, such as the photographer) and it’s important to also be able to handle the equipment in the way that the photographer prefers. Don’t leave anything unattended, unless it’s guaranteed to be safe or you’re asked to.
- Pay attention at all times! Professional photographers state that their best assistants are the ones who are constantly one step ahead of the shoot – for example, they can interpret what might be needed at specific times and can even pre-empt the needs of the photographer.
For further reading about the ins and outs of being a photographer’s assistant, you can also read the following articles:
- Fstoppers’ ‘Complete Guide To Becoming A Photo Assistant’
- Fstoppers’ ‘Set Etiquette for Photography Assistants’
- Tuts Plus’ ‘12 Golden Rules for Being a Photographer’s Assistant’
- A Photo Editor’s ‘Advice for Photo Assistants’
- Shutter Bug’s ‘Want To Be A Photographer’s Assistant? Here’s How To Get Started’
I hope this article has provided you with an introduction to how you can become a photographer’s assistant, along with valuable information about what the job entails. If you’re looking to begin your journey as a photographer’s assistant, or perhaps are already working as one, then I wish you every bit of success with this rewarding and highly educational career!