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Working as a photography assistant is an exciting, varied, well paid and rewarding way to put your skills and experience to use. There’s a major shortage of talented photography assistants and so if you can demonstrate your worth you can earn a great salary while working on a wide range of projects and events.
Many of the larger and more successful photography studios have a set of photography assistants that they can rely on to help them cover busy periods and commercial jobs, as and when they arise. Individual photographers also employ assistant photographers to help with their workload and expand their businesses.
Why Become an Assistant Photographer?
One of the main benefits for up and coming photographers of working as an assistant is that you can gain invaluable experience, rub shoulders with professional photographers and learn the tricks of trade in a hands on way. Working as an assistant for a photographer is probably the quickest way to get some real world experience in the industry while making new contacts and friends.
Despite some people’s misconceptions, many photographers spend their entire careers as assistant, or associate photographers. The job is very satisfying but like all things worth doing in life, it can certainly be hard work at times.
The First Assistant Photographer.
The first assistant photographer, also known as the associate photographer, works closely with the main photographer and is trusted with a wide range of tasks. To obtain a position as a first assistant you need to have a solid track record as a photographer as well as practical experience, a broad skill base and a hard working dedication to your craft.
You’ll need to be comfortable taking photos, working on the lighting and, in some cases, in the editing suite. Usually though, the main photographer will oversee and complete the post production of the images however as you gain their trust and learn how they like to edit the photos you may have the opportunity to help out in this department too.
In other cases, a photography assistant will work on jobs by themselves – photographing a wedding, for example.
You must learn to anticipate problems and solve them as they arise. You’ll have to have an excellent working knowledge of the photographer’s camera set up and the settings they are using.
A first assistant photographer can typically expect to receive between $150 and $500 per day, depending on your own experience and the genre you are working in.
The Main Skills You Need As An Assistant Photographer.
- Creativity and a good eye for detail.
- Flexibility in your approach to photography projects.
- A good knowledge of photography techniques.
- Ability to work indoors and outdoors in any lighting conditions.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Experience with using post production software.
- Great time management and organizational skills.
- Ability to work under pressure and deliver consistent results.
- An all round familiarity of modern digital cameras and associated equipment.
Second and Third Assistant.
As well as the first assistant, larger photography studios and some freelancers also employ second and third assistants. These are more junior roles but are still a wonderful way to get your foot in the door from where you can start to work up in your career.
The second and third photographer will usually be responsible for tasks such as holding the lights and reflectors, keeping the studio clean and tidy, running errands and other odd jobs that need to be done.
The typical daily rate of pay varies from around $100 to $400 per day.
Your Duties as a Photography Assistant.
As a photography assistant your duties will vary from position to position. In some cases you will need to be able to handle running a photoshoot at a wedding, a corporate event or conference on your own; whereas in other cases you’ll be working alongside the main photographer.
- Some of the duties you will be expected to be able to manage include, but are not limited to:
- Closely following the instructions given to you by the primary photographer.
- Booking client’s appointments and helping to set up the meet and greets.
- Scouting venues and potential locations for photoshoots.
- Contacting venues to book them for photoshoots.
- Booking models for photoshoots.
- Setting up the studio before the photoshoot starts.
- Interacting in a friendly and professional way with customers, clients and models.
- Conducting a photoshoot on your own if required to.
- Assisting with the lighting and any other aspect of the camera work during a photoshoot.
- Editing, formatting, saving and managing image files in post production.
- Delivering photos to clients after the shoot – in both print and digital format.
The work of a photography assistant is, as you can see, extremely varied and you’ll need to be able to think on your feet!
Before the Shoot – Preparing for the Photoshoot.
It’s always good to be as prepared as you can before the photoshoot. Before you actually start a photoshoot there are many things you need to have organized.
- Meet the clients and models. Make sure that everybody is happy with the schedule and ensure that you understand the requirements of the client.
- Set up the camera system. Ensure that all the equipment is working properly and that you have spare batteries and memory cards.
- If you’re working on a set make sure everything is in the right place.
- Check the studio’s lighting, reflectors and other props. Take a few practise photos so that the camera settings are correct before the shoot begins – although you may still have to make some minor adjustments later.
- Talk with any make up artists, second or third photographers, stylists, production team members and designers and go over the schedule for the photoshoot.
- Pick up any equipment that is being rented for the event – check it over to ensure that it’s working properly.
- If there is catering involved with the photoshoot then arrange for the meals to be ready on time.
Production – During the Photoshoot.
During the actual photoshoot you’ll need to be close to the main photographer so they can easily communicate with you. Of course, if you’re working on your own, then you will need to take the lead and manage the shoot as per your instructions.
- Try to anticipate any problems that may arise during the shoot. The more you can foresee the smoother the shoot will go! Remember, you might end up being very busy so the last thing you want is for things to be going wrong and need fixing half way through!
- Always discuss the day’s schedule with clients and models when they arrive.
- Keep health and safety in your mind at all times. Always work in a safe way. Keep cables out of the way, and if you’re in a studio you can gaffer tape them onto the floor. If you’re working at an event try to stay out of people’s way and don’t leave equipment, like tripods, around the location because people may trip over them.
- Take the photos you are required to take if you are working on your own or as part of a team. Try to get a good range of different perspectives, angles, close ups and scene setting shots. Follow the brief that the primary photographer has given you to the letter!
- Stay organized and follow the schedule throughout the day while keeping focused on the task at hand. Always be prepared to help out other members of the crew if you see they need it and you are temporarily free – even if they don’t ask you.
- Be respectful and polite to your clients. They may ask you to do things that you feel are outside your purview but if you can then you should try to help them out if you can – for instance, telling them where the facilities are or ordering a taxi.
The End of the Photoshoot – Production Wrap.
Once the shoot is over your main job is to tidy things up, make sure that all the cameras and equipment are stowed away safely and delivered back to where they belong. If you’ve been using hired equipment ensure that it makes it back to the rental store.
Your other main duty is to check, and double check, that you have saved the photos to at least two or three separate devices! This may take a few minutes but it’s always worth being 100% sure that all the photos are saved correctly.
If there is paperwork for your clients to sign then don’t let them leave until they have done so; and similarly, if you need to complete some paperwork for the venue then don’t forget to do that as well.
Lastly, always deliver your invoice to the lead photographer that you are working for as soon as you can. Included in your invoice should be a clear and concise itemization of expenses with receipts attached. If you have a job reference code or number then put that at the top of the invoice.
Working with Models as an Assistant Photographer.
There will be many situations during which you will have to work closely with models during photoshoots. When you’re working with experienced models the job will be easier and you won’t need to give them so much direction however newer or inexperienced models may require quite a lot of instruction. Either way, the key to creating a successful working relationship with a model in a photoshoot is communication.
When you are directing a model in a photoshoot – suggesting poses and instructing them on where to position themselves on the set – you need to strike a balance between giving instructions and encouragement.
The more you can make the model feel comfortable and relaxed the more natural they will look on camera. When models are relaxed in photos they won’t look stiff and unnatural and the photos will come out much better.
If you’re going to be working alone on an assignment then you will need to go over the primary photographer’s requirements in quite a lot of detail in advance. It’s a good idea, if you have enough time in advance, to put together a mood board that you can show the lead photographer to see if you’re on the same page about the photoshoot.
Working as a Photography Assistant – Huge Opportunities to Develop Your Skills.
There are fantastic opportunities for growth, self development and progression as you work in varied settings on a whole range of different projects. To succeed you’ll have to exceed expectations, always be willing to help out and be able to work under pressure to strict deadlines.
Photography assistants have been highly sought after in recent years and even if you don’t want to go full time you can still supplement your income as a part time photography assistant, with either an individual photographer or a studio.
Have you worked as a assistant photographer?