[by Amanda Sosa Stone]
Recently, a dear friend who attended photography school but took her life in another direction asked me about getting back into the industry. I honestly didn’t know how to help her dust off the cobwebs and get back out there with so much new technology. So I did what I do best…I asked the experts. I went to three professional photographers who I knew would guide me in the right direction. Here are the insights they shared:
As I have said to emerging talent in the past, look up shooters in the area and go work with them. I suggest they work in all types of photography so they can determine which they really wanted to do. In this case, however, I would suggest seeking out the shooters that do the kind of work she likes.
Make a call — and when they don’t answer, follow up with an email. Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
I get calls (more often emails) from people, but unless I recognize the name or they have some referral name I don’t normally reply. I have my go-to people and it is rare I step outside that realm. When I do need a third assistant or PA, that’s when the newbies get an opportunity. I often call my assistants and ask their help in finding a second, third or fourth. She may want to contact her competition and offer to be an extra set of hands for them.
She may have better luck in the moving pictures industry as a PA or something like that. I believe ProductionHub is the place to add your listing.
ASMP has a “find an assistant” searchable database. I would review the assistants that are listed before trying to add myself. You will see poor examples of listings right next to impressive ones.
On the one hand, assisting gives you a first-hand account about how photographers, art directors and clients interact. On the other hand, it seems that once a crew sees you as an assistant, you will remain an assistant in their eyes for a long time.
When it comes to “learning the most recent technologies,” you’d be best off learning that stuff on your own. The Internet is all you really need. Each manufacturer of top photo gear (Broncolor, Profoto, Phase One, Matthew’s, Avenger and Kupo) has amazing websites. A ton of info is hidden there, and if you have more in-depth questions, you can contact the company’s tech department for answers.
All assistants should have a real interest in the tech stuff as photography is currently evolving rapidly. However, if you find yourself knowing more than the photographer about the flash duration, recycle time, or the max repetition flash sequence of the strobes being used on a job, your job as an assistant isn’t to educate the photographer in the middle of the shoot. Doing so makes them look bad in front of the client. Instead, the assistant should wait until the photographer asks for his/her opinion. Then the answer should be given discreetly.
Another great resource for learning and getting work is to go make friends with the local video grip and/or stills strobe rental houses. Offer to work for free one day. Show up early, have a “yes sir” attitude and be a go- getter. Show up on set dressed well but ready to work. In the case of us guys, too many assistants show up looking like bums with shitty beards and dirty clothes. Looking sharp, smelling good and being clean cut goes a long way! The same antics may work when approaching local photographers the assistant wants to work with.
Assistants need experience, so that means you may have to connect and do some low end jobs. One’s presentation, appearance, and ability to work long days is important. A lot of my work is corporate, so an older, well dressed assistant is of value. I can’t tell you how many assistants show up for a corporate job in shorts.
I am so appreciative of the knowledge these three pros shared. It’s a community like this that makes me love this industry. I hope you can take this information as a stepping-stone moving forward into your career of becoming a professional photographer or even a professional assistant.