7 tips for assisting photographers

Assisting is underrated- it can be a valuable learning experience, and it puts money in your pocket through interacting with the industry. It sure beats working at McDonalds! Despite my movement towards being a photographer, not an assistant/digital tech/retoucher, I genuinely enjoy assisting on large productions, working with well-established and well-known photographers, and tapping into their wealth of knowledge. Over the time I’ve been assisting, I’ve picked up a couple of invaluable tips that I’d like to share. 

  1. Get there early, get out late.

There’s a saying which goes “if you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late, and if you’re late, you’re dead”. This is absolutely vital if you want to get chosen to assist again- 9/10 times photographers are going to choose consistency over raw talent. Usually when you’re assisting, the bulk of your work is at the start and at the end of a shoot- when all the gear needs setting up or packing down, or when computers and drives need to be fiddled with to make sure that the shoot is stored correctly. By rocking up late, the whole day can stall, and by leaving early, you dump a whole bunch of extra responsibility on the photographer, which is the last thing that they need at the end of a long shoot. Without a second pair of eyes or hands, things are going to get broken, misplaced or forgotten. If a photographer books you for the day’s shoot, you should give them the day. 

       2. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Trust me, the photographer you’re working for doesn’t care if another photographer you assist uses CaptureOne instead of Lightroom, or if Canikon have just announced the whizzbang d6x. Often, the people you’re assisting are going to be a lot more experienced that you are, so leave your ego at the door. Unless there’s a serious problem in their workflow, keep your mouth shut, and learn how to do things the way they do. It just makes the day run smoothly for everyone involved. Before the shoot, it’s okay to check with the photographer about what equipment you’re using, and you should familiarize yourself with it through reading manuals on the web, or whatever, before you waltz into the location. All of this goes triple for cords- learn to wrap them the proper way, or find someone else to show you on the day. 

       3. Don’t play Candy Crush.

The photographer is paying you to be present, and it’s a very rare occasion where you have nothing to do on a shoot! No clue what else needs doing? Quietly clean up the studio, get the art director a coffee, go check sharpness on the computer, recharge batteries, read the call sheet, anything. You don’t need to be checking your Facebook every two minutes, and you definitely don’t need to be constantly ducking out for toilet or smoke breaks- let someone else know if you leave the set. Mid-shoot emergencies erupt more often that you’d expect, and it’s always better to be standing there the second something goes wrong with a fresh card/battery/camera, instead of being absorbed by your friend’s totally hilarious post. Seriously, it can wait a couple of hours.

       4. Carry around as much as humanely possible.

Stuffing your pockets full of gum, batteries, memory cards, duct tape and random bits and bobs will make you the unsung hero of a shoot if anything goes south. In a similar vein, a little bit of common sense and foresight is always good. While it’s okay to ask the photographer if you don’t understand something, bugging them every second with questions about what you should do, or what’s happening, when you could’ve figured it out yourself, gets very tiring very quickly. Some people say that there’s no such thing as a stupid question- I disagree wholeheartedly. Try to stay switched on during the whole day/s, instead of slipping into autopilot mode. 

       5. Look at the little things.

The photographer might’ve accidentally set their camera to 1000 ISO instead of 100, might’ve had it set to JPG instead of RAW, there might be a distraction in the background, a lens that’s not sharp, or any other of a zillion things that might not get picked up by the photographer. That’s why you’re there- point those little things out surreptitiously to them. Check that the van’s locked, keep an eye on the clock, remember phone numbers- your job is to make the shoot as uneventful as possible, so be proactive. 

       6. Shut up.

Don’t go and solicit the client for work, even if they approach you and ask for your business card, direct them to the photographer, as it’s ultimately their decision, as you’re on their set. I’ve heard a lot of confidential things on shoots, and as amazing as that information might be, assume that there’s a complete NDA written up, unless explicitly told otherwise. Don’t go blaring out on Twitter/Facebook/ Instagram about this incredible bit of information that you’ve been told, or overheard. Privacy is paramount. If in doubt, don’t post it- it’s way better to lament not being to post a potentially cool thing, than to be called up by an angry producer or publicist. 

 

       7. Don't panic. 

 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, going out there and getting experience is going to teach you things that 100 blog posts can’t tell you, so go get on the radar of photographers and production companies! This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list, but these observationscome from my involvement as both a photographer and an assistant. Stay tuned for the next post, which is going to be a little more technical, dissecting images of mine, with plenty of tech talk, and full BTS shots and inclusion of lighting set-ups. 

Until then,

Jake