So one of the best ways to learn photography is to assist another photographer, which I've had the pleasure of recently doing for photographer Stephen Chiang. While getting a photographer assistant gig may seem like a tough nut to crack, you’d be surprised at how many people can or will refer you just by putting out a simple call on your Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus account. Photographers are everywhere and every single one of them can use some help, and what separates those that are helping them and those that are thinking about helping them? Well…those that are helping them asked if they can. While it may not turn into a regular gig, it’s a marvelous step in building a new network, gaining some trust amongst your peers, and best of all, learning your craft hands on. And to maximize that effort, here are a few things to remember when assisting a photographer.
Dress Up - Sure, you’re going to be running around and moving and carrying heavy stuff and MacGuyver’ing a piece of tissue paper and a paper clip into a diffuser or a dictionary and gaffer tape into a light stand, so you’ll want to be comfortable, so there’s no need for a tie and to tuck in, but business casual is a safe bet. At the very least, a polo or a button up with some clean pants. In any However, do keep a more casual outfit in the car just in case…you certainly don’t want to look better than the photographer! Also, it’s not a faux paus to ask the photographer for a dress code. Don’t be shy. Ask.
Show Up Early - Try to show up to set or location before they do. Walk around and get a good feel for the space/area. That way, when the photographer shows up, you’ll at least already have a bit of a lay of the land and can offer suggestions and ideas right off the bat, which is a VERY valuable thing, especially if they haven’t had their coffee yet. If that’s the case, you’re gold!
Find Your Place - Do not be afraid to ask the photographer you’ll be working with what your role should be. Some want more out of you, some want less, and you certainly don’t want to overstep any boundaries or sink too far into the background. So it’s safe and respectable to ask the photographer what s/he’d generally like you to do. Some, believe it or not, like setting up their own stuff so you’re mostly there for emotional support and to hurry up and wait, and then there’s some that hope you’d be able to set everything up so they can focus strictly on their viewfinder. As an assistant, it’s your responsibility to find out that information beforehand so as not to put either of yourselves in an awkward situation on set. That’s the worst. The worst. Just the worst.
Always anticipate - Keep an eye on what the photographer is doing and anticipate any moves they might have. For example, I recently had the opportunity to assist professional photographer Stephen Chiang on a corporate headshot gig. While he was switching lenses and pow-wowing with makeup department on look and strategy, I took it on myself to explain to the subject how to stand, how to pose, and what the photographer was looking for. I knew this by paying close attention to the first couple of subjects. When the photographer came back to set, he was surprised that the subject was already in position, and knew where to stand, where to look, and what to do, saving him some time and trouble of repeating himself. It may seem like a small thing, but It’s things like that that let the photographer know you’re paying attention and s/he can trust you to make their lives easier.
Pack For Two - Often times you’ll be working through many hours or in time constraints in which stopping to eat or refuel isn’t an option. If you’ve got multiple energy bars or candy bars in your bag, it’s a welcomed sight to any hard working photographer to randomly see an outstretched arm with a Clif Bar in front of them. Try to do this every 2-3 hours or so. Low blood sugar makes for lack of focus and stressful situations. Those suck. A lot. Oh, and pack gum! You (and your breath) will most likely be in close proximity of other humanoids all day.
One final thing to keep in mind is if you have access to information and equipment before the shoot day, get acquainted with it. Or try to find out from the photographer or production manager what equipment you’ll be using so you can study up on it and have a good idea of what you’re in for. Surprises can be good, but not in situations in which you’re expected (and being paid) to be a smooooooth operrraattorrr...
Welp, hope those tips help you out. Let me know of any disaster stories. While they’re never fun to be a part of, they’re certainly fun stories to hear!! J/K (sorta...)