Setting Terms and Conditions as a Freelance Assistant / Digital Tech

Image Courtesy Karl Herber

It is easy as a freelance photographer’s assistant, digital tech, production assistant, or stylist’s assistant to feel like you don’t have the power to be in control of how your business operates, but it is never too early to start developing habits and processes that will help you as your business grows. The following is a guide to help navigate client relationships.

One very important business habit, even as an assistant, is setting terms, conditions, and expectations between you and your clients. When this is done upfront, it builds trust, helps to avoid uncomfortable miscommunications, unexpected disagreements and bring some clarity to sometimes gray areas. Transparent, honest and timely communication is essential for a successful and sustainable business and for building trusting relationships between you and your clients.

Some questions you may ask:

1. Who will you be working for? (Photographer/Producer/Stylist)

2. A basic overview of the project.
a. studio or location
b. product or live talent

3. Expectations of your position. (This helps you determine your day rate)
a. Will you be running a 2nd camera? (2nd shooter)
b. Will you be doing self-directed lighting? (Lighting Tech)
c. Will you be driving a grip truck? (Added fee)
d. Will you be managing merchandise? (Merch Coordinator)
e. Will you need to provide any gear? (equipment rental)
f. Will there be travel time? (Travel rate)

4. Is this a Hold or a Booking?

5. Is this a blanket hold or will the project span all of the hold dates? Does it include weekends or unique hours/call times?

6. Inquire into any budget constraints

Setting Terms and Conditions:

After you have gathered all of your necessary information, you can decide to either accept the hold/project or pass on it. If you decide to take the hold, first set your terms and conditions in writing/email and request a confirmation. This will make sure that all parties have the same expectations and give you a record to refer back to if any disputes or issues should arise.

1. Set your day rate and hours.
2. Set your overtime rate.
3. Define services provided.
4. Define terms for cancellation of booking (time frame, % of rate, exceptions).
5. Set gear rental rates
6. Set mileage rates.
7. Set payment terms. (i.e. net 30)

It is common practice for a client/producer to inquire about your availability and request a “hold” on your time. A “hold” can be fluid and change or be released as the details of the project are being sorted out. Once the details are set, the client/producer should “book” your time. This should be done in a reasonable time before the project starts and may be defined within your terms.

Once you are “booked”, your client/producer is committed to the terms you have agreed upon for the length of time agreed upon. This commitment should be in writing, at least an email with an agreement to the terms if not an actual, signed purchase order. While the booking can always be expanded, at this point the booking should not be shortened or cancelled without a fee. A cancellation fee, a percentage of your full rate, is often determined on a sliding scale based on how close to the booked date(s) you are when you receive word of the cancellation. The closer to the booked date(s) the higher the percentage.

Setting clear expectations and boundaries will help you to develop healthy, trusting professional long-term relationships with clients and producers.

Glossary of Terms:

Day Rate: Amount of money you charge for a pre-determined number of hours per day.

Hold/Ice: An agreement to reserve availability for services. Is subject to change or release with no penalty.

Booked/Confirmed: A formal, binding commitment from the client for your services on a specific time/date.

1st Hold: Client has priority for booking of agreed upon hold dates. Is subject to challenge.

2nd Hold: A 2nd client interested in the same time as your 1st hold and is willing to move to a 1st hold if the original client cancels or releases.

Challenge: If a 2nd client is ready to book your time that is being held by another client you may contact the 1st Holding Client to “challenge” the hold. The Holding Client must book or release you within a timely manner.

Release: When a client no longer needs your services, they may “release” their hold. This must be done in a timely manner (per your terms) to avoid a fee. A client may also release a booking, in which case a cancellation/kill fee should be incurred.

Kill/Cancelation Fee: If a client has booked you, then releases you, you’re are entitled to charge a cancelation fee per your terms.

Mileage rates: Generally, mileage rates apply to any miles driven beyond getting to and from the studio, unless otherwise agreed upon.

Lighting Tech: An assistant who is making lighting decisions and adjustments independent of the photographer.

Grip Assistant: An assistant who operates, moves, and adjusts grip gear at the direction of the photographer.

Production Assistant: An assistant who takes direction from the producer and photographer and supports all on-set needs.

Digital Tech: A technician who manages all of the digital workflow details from camera, to capture, to file delivery.

Retoucher: A technician who manages and performs post production image manipulation.

Net-30: Term that requires payment within 30 days of receipt of invoice, to avoid additional fees.

Call Time: The time you are expected to be ready to work at the provided location.

Timely Manner: The amount of time that you feel is reasonable for a response to a scheduling issue. If a rapid response is required for anything, be sure to mention this in any correspondence.


1st Client:
… are you available for the weeks of 10/4 and 10/10

Thank you for reaching out! I will check those dates on my calendar. I would love some more information. Below are my questions:
– Who is the photographer/client?
– Will we be in studio or on location?
– What are we photographing/
– Are you looking to hold me as a grip assistant or a lighting tech?
– Are you ready to book or hold?
– Is it likely that the job will fill the full two weeks or will it likely be smaller?

1st Client:
We will be working with Jenny Photog for ABC retailer, shooting athletic wear with a two days in studio and the rest on location. We will be shooting 6 days of the two weeks depending on whether merchandise arrives on time with one pre-light day and one wrap day. The photographer shoots primarily on location with available light so we will need you as a grip assistant for location days, but could use your help with some lighting in the studio. May I hold your time for the two weeks?

Sounds like a fun project. I am certainly interested and will hold the time on my calendar.
– My day rate as a grip assistant is $xx.xx/8hr day, with an overtime rate of $xx.xx/hr after 8 hours.
– I do provide lighting tech services for the in studio days at a rate of $xx.xx/8hr day with an overtime rate of $xx.xx/hr after 8 hours.
– I also have some lighting and capture gear available. I am happy to provide rates if needed.
– For the location days, I am available to drive and manage the grip truck for a fee of $xx.xx/day.
– For location days, I charge $.xx/mile for mileage.
– Do you have any idea when this project will be able to book? I will reach out if anyone else inquires about these dates.
– If we move forward with a booking, my cancellation fee is xx% of my day rate if the project is cancelled within 48hrs (not including weekends) of the first day of the shoot.

2nd Client:
Hello, are you available for the week of 10/4.

You: (to 2nd client):
I already have a hold for those dates, I can offer you a 2nd hold.

2nd Client:
We are ready to book if you can challenge your 1st hold.

You (to 1st Client):
I have just received an inquiry into my availability for the week of 10/4. They are able to book. Would you like to book or release me?

1st Client:
I will check with the other client and get back to you within the hour…

1st Client:
I have just received word that I am able to book you for 10/5-10/7 as a lighting tech and 10/10-10/17 as a grip assistant with your grip truck driver fee.

That is great to hear! Thank you for checking on that for me. I will inform my other client that I am not available and move you to “booked” on my calendar.

Producer (within 48 hours of start date):
Unfortunately, merchandise has not arrived for our first 3 days of shooting and the shots will be picked up by another crew.

Okay, thank you for letting me know. I will bill those days as a cancellation fee at the rate we agreed upon previously.

You could then reach out to the 2nd client to see if they are still looking for someone and let them know you have become available.