Being an assistant is one of the main ways those interested in working as photographers (and many other professions) get started. We will have several posts on the topic, beginning today with taking a look at what qualities a potential assistant should have. This list shouldn’t be taken as hard rules since everyone has their own preferences. However, having assisted several photographers in different environments (fashion, commercial, architecture, etc.), I’ve found that these are the things photographers value the most.
Basic Knowledge of Equipment & Software: Your main job is setting things up and taking them down, this includes – lights, cameras, backdrops, capture software, etc. You should know how to work stands and tripods, the basics of both Canon and Nikon systems, as well as strobe packs and heads. It is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the vocabulary of a set – different names for lights, types of stands, light modifiers – people will often as you to swap something in or “pass them an apple box”. You have to know what they mean. The most important thing is to ask for clarification or help if you’re not sure about something. Most are more than willing show you something once (some even twice).
Quick Learner: As I mentioned above, it’s better to ask about something if you’re not sure. What’s not okay is to ask the same thing over and over again. Try to actively remember things someone shows you and watch them closely to make sure you absorb everything. The same goes for mistakes, if you do something wrong be sure not to repeat it!
Flexible Schedule: Photo shoots often get scheduled, cancelled, or moved last minute. A great way to become the go to person for a photographer is to make yourself as available as possible. If you’re in school, make your schedule so you have as many full free days as possible, and give photographers you assist a schedule of when you’re available. If you need to have a part-time job try to make it something that you can easily move around or do on your own time.
Strong / In-Shape: In addition to the set up / take down the other task you’ll be doing is moving equipment. Big heavy equipment that needs to go in and out of cars, and up and down stairs, in the snow and in the rain. You have to be quick, careful (cameras and lights are expensive), and make sure you don’t hurt yourself in the process.
Punctual: Like everything else in life, come early and you’ll always be on time. Be continually late and you won’t get called back. No one likes late people, NO ONE.
Observant / Alert: Photographers will love you if you notice the broom that is in the shot or the tag that is sticking out of the shirt the model is wearing. Also, it helps if you know what’s happening around the set, where all the equipment is, and who should and shouldn’t be there.
Easy to Get Along With / Interesting: A big part of a photographers life is waiting for something to happen – the files to transfer, the make-up to be finished, the sun to rise. As a result, being likeable and interesting to talk to is very influential in your success as an assistant. Read a lot varied material, know the news of the day, and keep up on current trends and tech.
Good to Have
Driver’s Licence: The car might need to be re-parked or moved. Someone might have to drive to get food. The photographer might need a break on a long drive. Everyone should have a full driver’s licence, that goes double for assistants.
Valid Passport: A shoot might come up abroad and you don’t want to be stuck trying to get a passport last minute. Go get it done and make sure you know when it expires, usually you can’t use it if it expires within six months – make yourself a reminder in your calendar.
Handy: Get comfortable with a drill, hammer, paint roller, etc. You have no clue what a shoot will hold and having basic knowledge of tools and how to use them makes you that more awesome.
Smart Phone: You might get lost or have a difficult time finding a place to eat – a smart phone lets you save the day.
Drive Manual: The person you assist might drive a manual car. Also, many people don’t know how to drive manual nowadays, so knowing makes you that much better.
Speak Multiple Languages: This is helpful in any job and any extra language is good. It’s even better if you know the second language of the country you’re in.
Go through this list and highlight qualities, things, or skills you don’t have. Then set-up a strategy using the methods outlined in this post to get them.
Please be sure to let me know if I missed anything you think is valuable in the comments!