How to be an outstanding photographic assistantMarch 29, 2017
Being a photographic assistant is a fantastic way to add to your experience and build your portfolio. It can teach you everything that you need to know about being a professional, and gain you new contacts that you would never have access to on your own. In short, it’s the best way to get started in the industry. But you only get anywhere if you are a good assistant. If you want to make a reputation for yourself and get access to the best opportunities, you have to be an outstanding one. Here’s how to do it.
Discuss the shoot
Never arrive with a one-size-fits-all approach. If you come to a photoshoot without any concept of what it is for, what the creative vision is, or how the photographer is going to approach it, you will always be on the back foot. Before you shoot, make sure to sit down and discuss what is going to happen so that you can provide the best possible support for your photographer. You will understand what equipment you need to help with, as well as other special areas such as props and other team members. You can also help to suggest new ideas for the shoot. It might be bad form to do so in front of the client, so talking about it privately beforehand is a good way to have some input without being pushy.
After you have discussed everything, you will know what is needed. Now it is time to prepare and ensure that all bases are covered. There are lots of things to think about here. Does your photographer have all of the equipment that they need already, or do you need to go out and hire some or collect it from another location? Do you need to check existing bookings? Will you be driving to the shoot – and if so, do you have space in your car for everything needed? How can you best prepare the equipment before it is to be used? Make sure that you check everything before the shoot starts to ensure that there are no faulty, broken, or missing elements. You should also arrive in a timely fashion with spare time for setting everything up and getting it ready to go when the client arrives. Don’t forget to consider things like wardrobe – does the photographer expect you to come in a suit, or is casual gear acceptable?
Know your role
Photographers have different uses and expectations for their assistants. Some want you to look after equipment and props, while others will want you to stand back until you are asked. Others will want you to take a far more hands-on approach and even bring your own ideas and changes to the shoot. Still others might just want you to shoot the images under their direction, or operate as a second shooter. You might even be required to take behind-the-scenes images or videos, or upload content to social media during the shoot. It’s very important that you talk to your photographer and find out what they expect from you. If you aren’t aware, you could end up overstepping the mark, or not doing enough – both of which are likely to leave you never getting asked to assist again. If you are expected to take images or video on the day, make sure to familiarise yourself with their style so that everything matches up nicely.
Follow their lead
Don’t try to jump ahead when it comes to the shoot. You are simply the assistant, and this is the photographer’s show. Let them introduce themselves to the client first and then introduce you rather than bounding in first. You should also steer clear of talking to the client about the shoot without taking the lead from your photographer. You could end up with your foot firmly in your mouth if you are seen to be trying to take the client away, or being too pushy. Your role here is secondary, so if the photographer asks you to do something that you don’t necessarily agree with, you should do it anyway. The only time this doesn’t apply is if you have moral or health and safety grounds for argument. In this case, try to be discreet and professional when you raise your concerns.
The most important thing for you to do on set is to be ready. You could be needed at any moment during the shoot. You might need to adjust lighting and settings, hold reflectors, move props, and help with wardrobe changes. You might be required to take light readings, change lenses for the photographer, or even sit in as a model so that they can test their settings. You might need to very quickly change the whole set around, for which you need to be ready in an instant. Whatever requests come your way, always be ready to help. Don’t retreat to a safe distance and start messaging friends on your phone – your eyes should always be on what is going on. If there is nothing for you to do at the present moment, you can also help to keep other team members or waiting models entertained.
Once the shoot is over, it’s time to discuss everything that has happened. Don’t just walk away assuming that you have done a good job! Talk to your photographer and find out whether there was anything that you could have done better, done more of, or done less. They might have a different view of things to you. Hopefully, if you have prepared for the role properly with discussion, you should have been able to tick all of the boxes. If not, find out why and let them know that you would be willing to work on these areas next time you work together. If the photographer thinks that you will be the same every time and you have let them down, then they will be reluctant to bring you on a second time. It’s also important that if you did take any images, you are able to get them processed and sent on as quickly as possible. Don’t do anything like adding your own watermark to the photographs: although you took them, it’s important to remember that you are not the main photographer of the shoot.
The main thing to remember about being a photographic assistant is your title: assistant. If you are there to help then you are doing a great job. If your intentions are selfish, then you might end up being a photographer’s worst nightmare.