Are you a First, Second or Third Photography Assistant?
The first and most important thing you need to do is take a long hard look at what you have to offer. Do you have the experience necessary to go out and offer your services as a photography assistant? Are you qualified to be First, Second or Third Assistant? The market for photography assistants is not a large one and it can be quite competitive. People that are able to meet the needs of photographers and are regularly available tend to generate word of mouth referrals and as a result, get regular work. Read on to learn what skills and attributes most commercial photographers look for in a photography assistant.
How much you need to know in regards to technical and artistic problem solving depends largely on the photographer that you are working with. In many cases, the photographer is simply looking for someone to handle the more repetitive tasks such as managing digital capture, carrying, setting up and tearing down photography sets and equipment and clean up. This means having an excellent working knowledge of various lighting, grip and camera systems. You need to be familiar with light stands, light modifiers, power packs, 35mm to medium format camera systems such as Nikon, Hasselblad and Phase. Photography Assistants are expected to manage digital capture from media cards and tethered cameras and do light file processing like meta data and key wording. Assistants are often required to set up the lighting in a rough layout, assemble the camera systems and prepare all of the shooting accessories such as softboxes, grids, light stands, booms, auto poles, etc. If you don’t know what these tools are and how to use them you are not a qualified photography assistant, but if you have the right attitude many photographers will start you at a lower wage and train you as an intern or Second Assistant.
Most photographers are willing to spend some time showing a new assistant the studio equipment, but not many want to teach an assistant that has never before handled studio equipment. Other photographers expect far more from an assistant and prefer to work with individuals who are confident enough to become involved in the creative and technical problem solving aspects of a shoot. In this case, you will need an exceptional knowledge of lighting, camera and production techniques. With this type of photographer you will often be expected to state your opinion on the test shots and offer input on the technical aspects of a shoot as well as offering an opinion on the creative aspects of the shot. Obviously, this requires a fair amount of confidence in the assistant.
Don’t count commercial photography being scheduled according to your own agenda. If a photographer has worked with you and been impressed with your performance, then you can expect further calls for work. However, those will quickly come to an end if you are not regularly available. Most photographers prefer to build a relationship with one or two assistants and work extensively with them. If the photographer finds you are available only half the time they will eventually look for a photography assistant who can work on the photographers schedule. Understandably, this can be quite difficult on assistants as few people can afford to simply wait around for the odd job. If you are being hired as a full time or regular part-time photo assistant, then this won’t be a problem, but if you are freelancing it is a good idea to approach as many photographers as you can until you develop relationships that result in regular work. If you sense that a photographer is happy with your photo assisting work, ask them to connect you with other photographers you should work with. Make sure to ask for a referral, it’s a small industry and personal introductions really open doors. Many photographers are happy to share with other photographers when they have found someone who excels at what they do.
Working at Gilmour Photography
We generally have 1-4 Photography Assistants and Digital Techs working full and part-time. I run an apprenticeship program that trains photo assistants in various aspects of commercial photography including Office Administrator, Photography Assistant, Digital Technician, Location Scout and Producer.
If you are interested in joining our creative posse send us your resume with a cover letter and a link to your portfolio. We get dozens of applications, so as they say, don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Essential Photo Assistant Equipment
Before coming to work as an assistant, get as many of these items as possible and learn how to use them. Most of the items are inexpensive and you’ll want them for your own shoots.