Let us slip right to where we left the last post – you had been offered a assisting gig. Get your pack on, ego radar out and muscles pumped because you are going to be a photography assistant. In this post I’ll share how to wrangle gear, software, hierarchies and what expectations a photographers will have of you. Along with everyones favourite how NOT to get fired.
What a photographer wants in a assistant:
A photographers desires a assistant that can help facilitate a creative space. A creative space where the photographer makes the decisions and you help them become a reality. In a way – your job is to be a protector of this creative space. So how do you do this? By handling all of the obstacles between the photographer and their creative freedom. You will need to be able to respond to situations appropriately. Sometimes actively, other times passively and be comfortable with taking directions. AKA (I’m not yelling at you, I’m just asking you to do something.)
As a photography assistant you will be switching between personal assistant, pack horse, lighting designer, coffee runner and more. I remember a time I had to nimbly speed a photographers 4WD through Melbourne’s back alleys, pick up the (Hassle)Blad left at the studio, drive back to the Park Hyatt, act cool and hand the camera to the photographer just as the captain of the Socceroo’s was coming out of hair and make up for the first shot. Be ready for the unknown.
A photographer expects a TOP assistant to:
- Carry their gear
- Edit photos faster than they can
- Know about all variants of equipment so they are one step ahead
- Have an extensive assisting kit
- Be a bouncing board for ideas
- Make them look good in front of client/agencies by presenting a united front
- AND remembering peoples coffee orders
What you need, and need to know:
The assistants kit – my bag got all the sweets
- Tape and clamps holder
- Leatherman or equivalent
- Measuring tape
- Grey card
- Electronic bits
- Lens cleaning cloth and dust removal blower
- Bag options:
- Lowepro 400 AW
- What ever fits all your and gear and is easy to access
**I am not affiliated by any companies and have just linked to products that I use and recommend. eBay usually has a better deal.
Equipment – heavy lifting:
- How to tie a scrim to a frame
- Setup a Octa/Softbox
- Lighting gear:
- Apple anything and everything.
Software – A monopoly:
It is a non-debate amongst the professional elite in advertising photography that they all use Capture One Pro. So, go out, get the trial, and pump some digital keyboard iron and learn it.It tethers up with all camera systems and is made by Phase One. That is the industry standard. Game set and match.
Shit! I’m on set – what to do and what not to do:
“Oh shit, I’m on set of my first assisting gig and I brought all the wrong stuff. And WTF is a c-stand? I doesn’t even look like a c.” My thoughts first time on set.
You have undertaken the hard yards, got your kit packed, street wised on the gear and are entering a professional advertising photography set for the first time. Gear being loaded, make up artists swishing, stylists plucking and the direction of the photographer surround you. Your job is to meet the photographer and find out what they need. Remember you are helping to maintain a open and flowing space for creativity. If you are second or third assistant I suggest you get to know the assistant above you and direct questions and suggestions to them. Remember, creative space for the photographer involves speaking with less people. This usually means one assistant is the photographers mouth piece to the other assistants. Yep, get used the hierarchy. Australian sets are a curious mix of self depreciating positivity mixed in with a casualness that shows up as real hard work. You’ll probably be either under or over whelmed by the amount to do. Just keep on your toes and be ready to go. Each photographer is different in the way they direct, ask, yell, invite or demand things from their crew. You will suss it out. A word about confidence in your own opinion – AKA – wanting to give advice. There is a very fine line between landing a slam dunk and digging yourself a hole. For example, I was so sure I was right that on one shoot I moved the photographers tripod to ready for another shot, there were doing composite shots for VW, and boy did I cop a spray. Don’t be me, don’t be that person. A benefit you have as being a assistant is a unique perspective that no one else can see, and usually you are dreaming up ways you would shoot it ‘better’. You are being paid to get on board the vision of the photographer and wanting to make them look good. If you are prone to sharing your opinion trying parking your opinion for your first three shoots and get to be friends with your photographer. A old saying say goes “Friends before feedback.”
Things to do on set:
- Always turning up 10 minutes before hand.
- Asking if you don’t know.
- Handling equipment.
- Let the client, photographer and agency go first in all realms.
- Be friendly.
- Get to know your fellow assistants, they may well become you collaborators for life.
Things NOT to do on set:
- Hand out your photography business card.
- Use your phone for non-shoot related things.
- And if you do, do it in private, like a toilet cubicle.
- OR ask the photographer/first assistant if it is okay.
- Be late. Without the best real excuse ever.
- Get all chatty with the client or art director.
- Give advice.
- Feel it out. Make the photographer look smart. Offer the ideas to them directly and discreetly.
That’s a wrap:
So you have done it, wrapped your first day on set and learnt a bunch of things. Get ready for more. Your valuable tool is to take behind the scenes photos and send them to the photographer for Instagraming and social media it up with fellow assistants.
Finally a quote:
“When I hear, “People aren’t ready,” that’s like telling a person who is trying to swim, “Don’t jump in that water until you learn how to swim.” When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. People have to have an opportunity to develop themselves… “ Martin Luther King, Jr, 1957.
Jump into the assistant waters and giving yourself the opportunity to flow down stream – to the unknowns. When you become a photographer recall that your roots were in assisting and someone gave you your first opportunity. Feed back into the community with love. These posts are my giving back and are just a guide – my map over the world of photography – please take what resonates with you, forge your own way and let me know how it goes. Comments below are open to all forms of opinion and discussion.
Up in the next GOLD ADVICE FROM PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS – PAST AND PRESENT are mini interviews with current leading photography assistants Lindsey Fisette of Miss Bossy Boots and Ryan Creevey of Hell Studios.