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GOLD ADVICE FROM PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS – PAST AND PRESENT

Through my writing about photography assisting a lot of previous and current professional photography assistants reached out to me. Some with thanks, others with new ideas and support and a majority to indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events. I thought how good it would be to hear about their advertising assisting experiences. Thus I drew up some questions and here are the results.

RYAN CREEVEY

Ryan Creevey Photography Assistant

First off the block is Ryan Creevey professional photography assistant and studio manager at Hell Studios. I know Ryan from the beginnings of his assisting days about three years ago.

Q: When you started out did you take on tests to get your foot in the assisting door?

A: Yes

Q: Your most memorable on set assistant mistake; made by you or witnessed by you?

A: The worst thing I’ve done is with a Cambo stand. The day after the technician came and fixed the counter weight inside the stand I wasn’t concentrating and didn’t tighten the arm enough and it pulled the camera and arm right up flipping the counter weight off again rendering the stand useless. The technician wasn’t available again……..for another 3 months.

Q: Most extreme use of gaffer tape witnessed or done by you?

We were required to project text onto the ground in large format for a shoot. Using two C stands with boom arms parallel to the ground myself and the photographer “secured” the projector face down using gaff. Lots of gaff. The projector was a good 5m in the air. Probably worthy of a feature on shitty rigs. Last minute jobs require last minute solutions. They should always involve gaff.

Q: Top three on set etiquette rules that newbie assistants usually forget?

  1. No phones on set, ever.
  2. You should be first to come, last to leave.
  3. Never give your opinion in front of the client. If you think you have something useful to say mention it to the photographer quietly.
  4. Put your phone away!

Q: Most common forgotten tools from a assistants kit?

A: A grey card. Photographers will almost always ask for it on location or in the studio and you’re definitely expected to have one. I usually wear a plain grey t-shirt which works just as well.

Q: Where has photography/assisting taken you and you had to pinch yourself and ask “is this real?”

A: When I was shooting for a studio in London and was sent to work with a new client in Amsterdam. The work itself wasn’t the most creative I’ve been involved in but getting amongst productions in foreign cities was definitely an experience I’ll remember and be grateful for.

Q: The amount of time you have been assisting?

A: Two years.

Q: The toughest ego rattling lesson you learnt whilst assisting?

A: Regardless of what you, the photographer and sometimes even the art directors shared vision and method of execution is the client will almost always want to change it up. For better but also sometimes for worst. On occasions you have to swallow your opinion and get the job done.

Q: As the industry keeps evolving what are photographers expecting from assistants now that is new?

A: Everyone in the creative industry has embraced social media in one way or another. On almost every shoot a photographer will want you to get some BTS shots for their Instagram. If they haven’t ask them if they’d like some. They’d most definitely appreciate it. And it shows your interested and involved in the shoot.

LINDSEY FISETTE

Lindsey Fisette Photography Assistant

Second up is the lovely Canadian born Lindsey Fisette whom skilfully walks the line between professional photographer, assistant and producer over at Miss Bossy Boots. Lindsey has been my go to assistant between 2013 to present.

Q: When you started out did you take on tests to get your foot in the assisting door?

A: Yes

Q: Your most memorable on set assistant mistake; made by you or witnessed by you?

An elinchrome light caught on fire that the photographer had set up.

Q: Top three on set etiquette rules that newbie assistants usually forget?

  1. To not voice your opinion on matters unless asked by the photographer that they want your collaboration. (It is quite important to be respectful and to know your place on set)
  2. To stay close to the photographer, not to wander away.
  3. Never to give a business card or promote yourself on the photographer’s set
  4. You should be first to come, last to leave.

Q: Most common forgotten tools from a assistants kit?

A: A iphone charger for people on set(number 1 asked for item), grey card, spare batteries, lens cloth and sharpie.

Q: Where has photography/assisting taken you and you had to pinch yourself and ask “is this real?”

A: Driving down the Citylink Sound tube/Princes Hwy on the back of a tracking vehicle while the photographer is shooting off the back of a truck, strapped in and going 100km/hr. While I’m digital operating as images are coming through of the new Ford Mondeo! Being on the Masterchef set and meeting the judges and Curtis Stone. Also meeting Mel B from the spice girls.

Q: The amount of time you have been assisting?

A: Four years

Q: The toughest ego rattling lesson you learnt whilst assisting?

A:When an assistant walked out on set, and we had to pull together and finish the job short handed.

Q: As the industry keeps evolving what are photographers expecting from assistants now that is new?

A: To be a digital operator and assistant at the same time.

TOM BLACHFORD

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 11.04.38 AM

Next up we have Tom Blachford , the king of minimal ariel and architectural photography, whom graciously transitioned from assisting to full photographer two years ago. Our connection goes back to 2010 when we were both assisting around Melbourne. Tom’s advice is a distilled version of the two blog posts:

Top tips:

  • You don’t have any plans the night before or night after. Not hungover, ever.
  • Early is on time, On time is late. and late is unacceptable.
  • Check your ego and cellphone at the door.
  • Dress appropriately/look presentable. Socks are important.
  • Be able to carry heavy things. Seriously.
  • There’s always something to do. Look busy, never bored.
  • Keep your mouth shut unless its talking about how great the photographer or the client are.
  • Leave the art to the art director.
  • The photographer is always right
  • Do your homework – software, camera systems and lighting.
  • RUN

Q: “Where has photography/assisting taken you and you had to pinch yourself and ask “is this real?”

A: Standing under the moonlight in the backyard of frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs house at 4:30am

TRACEY AH-KEE

Lastly there is the delightful professional photography assistant Tracey Ah-Kee whom I met through my teaching days at Holmesglen.

Q: When you started out did you take on tests to get your foot in the assisting door?

A: No.

Q: Your most memorable on set assistant mistake; made by you or witnessed by you?

Not taping cords down! I tripped over a power cord once and spilled coffee everywhere. Luckily nothing was damage but I was very embarrassed! Since the incident, I always tape down power cords in studio or have a sand bag on them when I am on location.

Q: Most extreme use of gaffer tape witnessed or done by you?

Such a good question. I would have to say on an outfit. It was part of the designers creativity. It was interesting but glad I wasn’t the model cause it looked painful taking it off!

Q: Top three on set etiquette rules that newbie assistants usually forget?

  1. Ask twice if you don’t understand something. It’s better to make sure you are dong the right thing rather than making a mistake. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t understand, you’re an assistant and you’re there to learn!
  2. Be polite. It’s amazing how many assistants don’t speak when they meet clients and crew. It can come off as rude so make sure you say hello and have a smile on your dial.
  3. Last but not least, get off your phone! You’re working, not socialising. Yes photoshoots are fun, creative and a blast but you need to be concentrating more than anyone else at the shoot. Remember you are the photographers second eyes so pay attention.

Q: Most common forgotten tools from a assistants kit?

A: Clamps and Gaffer. There is never enough gaffer!

Q: Where has photography/assisting taken you and you had to pinch yourself and ask “is this real?”

A:Working with Mia McDonald, I am lucky to meet different people in different fields of work. Whether its food, celebrities or music. The photoshoot where I was pretty much speechless was when we got to photograph Heston Blumenthal Fat Duck Restaurant at Crown Casino. We got to meet the amazing chef and his team. We were also lucky enough to try his food, absolutely amazing.

Q: The amount of time you have been assisting?

A: Three years

Q: The toughest ego rattling lesson you learnt whilst assisting?

A:When a client is being a little difficult, always have to smile and make them feel calm. Do what you can to make them happy because at the end of the day, it’s the clients that you need to please.

Q: As the industry keeps evolving what are photographers expecting from assistants now that is new?

A: Social media. Sometimes you are required to take behind the scene photos, when asked to, then upload it to any social media format. You have to know which apps or websites have high traffic such as instagram.

3 Comments

  1. I left this article feeling like I knew what I have to do next. It is always stronger more and confidence inspiring when you hear it from people who have had genuine experience in the field of study. I liked the consistency of the questions asked, offering unique yet easily comparable perspectives from each photographer you interviewed. Thank you.

  2. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really useful &
    it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back
    and help others like you helped me.

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