Assisting is the best way to learn the business of photography. Period. It’ll teach you more about running a professional photography studio, than any photography degree. I should know, I don’t have one.
I began my career as a photographer by assisting for 4 years in Chicago, Miami and New York. I got to work with photographers such as Richard Avedon, Arthur Elgorth, Bruce Weber, Steven Klein, Dominique Isserman … and traveled to Africa, Europe and all though the US. I didn’t just learn what makes a great photo, in terms of composition, lighting, etc., but more importantly, how to produce, how to travel with gear internationally, how to deal with clients and what it takes to put together a successful shoot.
So here’s my advice to you: stay humble, remember you’re learning and (at least at first) you don’t know anything – even if you have a degree in photography. You won’t know how the photographer you’re assisting for works, what he or she expects from you or how they run their set. Pay attention, ask questions, take notes and most importantly LISTEN.
When I ask my assistants to do something, I only have one expectation: I’d like them to do exactly what I ask. Especially when you’re starting out, don’t assume, don’t second guess, don’t believe you know it better – trust me you don’t. If you’re not familiar with a task or a piece of equipment or our workflow, ask. We’re happy to walk you through it, to show you or to explain our workflow.
Sets are full of expensive equipment, potentially dangerous situations and many times tight, fast moving schedules. There’s always time afterwards to ask why something was done in a certain way. (The only exception to this is if you see a safety hazard – tell the photographer immediately.)
Trust me, eventually, you’ll be able to anticipate your photographer – but that’s gonna take time. In the beginning, just watch, listen and learn. There are some really neat tips and tricks you can pick up. For instance – do you know why you would want to use a welding mask glass on a fashion shoot? (If you know, shoot me a tweet @photosbydepuhl #TipsAndTricks.)
Personally, I will hire someone with a good head on his/her shoulders, who has no ego, and who wants to learn over anyone – even someone with a photography degree – any day of the week. Photographers want reliable, hardworking, smart assistants, who make the shoot go smooth and easy.
P.S. Some set etiquette:
– Don’t give a client your card or show them your book. Assisting is a time to learn – not to promote your work. That’s one of the fastest ways not to be hired again.
– Tell the photographer if you don’t know how to do a task you’ve been asked to preform. We’d rather you ask than do it wrong.
– Don’t tell the client that you would have been able to do a better job (even if you think that’s true). Good photographers are happy to hear your suggestions. Tell them out of ear shot of their client.
– Don’t fall asleep on set. Don’t do drugs. Don’t wander off. Don’t break out your camera to take pictures (unless the photographer has asked you to) – you’re here to work for the photographer and you’re not on vacation.
– Think ahead. Be polite. Stay on your toes. Work your butt off. Ask questions.
– Oh, and don’t forget to LISTEN.
P.P.S Who knows? Maybe you’ll have your picture taken by a famous photographer, with two supermodels, when your a stand in for someone famous …