Are you thinking of becoming an assistant? Trust me; assisting can be brutal, yet it can be exciting as well. It really depends on who you assist. Working in this role is the best way to gain lots of experience, especially when you're working your way to becoming a professional photographer. Working closely with a professional gives you valuable insights on equipment, processes, and techniques.
There are lots of factors that can define an assistant, but here are the five key things that can make you a great one.
Discuss the shoot and goals. Often, a photographer heads a shoot without communicating the plan to their assistant, or an assistant doesn't ask what the plan is. Communication is a critical part of any relationship, and it is a very key tool to succeed as a team. Remember to communicate if you're wondering what to do or if something is not going according to plan. This will also save plenty of time during the actual shoot.
Be ready! It's important that you check whether there is anything you can do to aid the main photographer in ensuring they have everything they need in place. There are times when we tend to forget small things like batteries or lenses. It helps if you meet with the photographer prior to the shoot day to discuss what's essential to bring in your equipment pouch. Helping the photographer scout locations can make it easy for you to know what the photographer is going for. Don't be afraid to ask if you can take photos of the location; this can help you remember where you scouted and can also get you some great brownie points from the photographer.
Be Clear on Your Role
Discuss with the photographer what your role for the day is. You need to find out how you will be of most use to them. It may be as simple as transporting gear or keeping an eye on the equipment, such as light settings, checking for extra batteries etc. Be in tune with each other, because there are times when a photographer can't seem to achieve the creative goal and being in step with the photographer can help him/her achieve what they're missing on a shoot.
Follow the Lead
Let the photographer introduce you to the clients and crew. Remember that it's not about you; it's about the job at hand. If you're thinking of assisting a celebrity photographer, it is very important not to get starstruck. Losing your focus can very well mean an unsuccessful shoot. Remember you're there to assist, not to get selfies or autographs from the subject.
It's up to you to concentrate on what's going on within the shoot so that you can be ready to provide the photographer with the correct gear and adjustments. Think like the photographer, and always be ahead of the game. We live in an era with awesome cell phone technology, and being on your phone texting or looking at your Instagram is not being ready. The photographer needs to count on you when he needs a light placed or a smoke machine to work. Being on your phone can cause accidents; refraining from using it or just simply turning it off will help keep you focused on the job at hand.
Once you find that right person to work with, everything will flow perfectly. You will both be in tune with each other to the point where you know what the other person needs to get the job done. Take it from my assistant, Jerome. He has been my assistant for many years, and he has proven himself as one of the greatest assistants that I can ask for. Jerome has been on crazy shoots, long travels, and hours of standing, staring at a bright light. Yet, he is an aspiring actor. Over time, Jerome acquired many skills. Nevertheless, I can use his gorgeous, sweaty acting face as a stand-in. Before photographing my subject, I tend to perfect the lighting that I want. To achieve that, I use my main man, Jerome, as a lighting dummy. Come on now, we all know that we've used a c-stand with a hat before, and nothing beats that, other than a trusty assistant sweating behind the scenes.
Here's Jerome standing in for Camilla Luddington. He does a fine job looking beautiful as ever.
Here's Jerome standing in for Jill Wagner. He does an awesome job looking fierce.
As you can see, he does an outstanding job being a stand-in. He also has other skills like being a companion while holding the lights. This is a great example of my assistant knowing what I want to achieve.
He also gives suggestions like lighting the subject right above her face.
If I don't need him to be a boom or a talking stand, I can definitely use him to hold reflectors and flags, facing the sun. No matter how hot it gets, he never complains. A great assistant will go out of his/her way to get the shots you need.
He is great at being a model for some artsy iPhone shots when we're location-scouting. Having an actor as an assistant can get awfully useful at times.
An assistant being in tune with the shoot can help a photographer see the small things the he/she misses, like removing a piece of hair on the subject's arm or making sure that all the small pieces of lint are gone. These can help minimize post-production.
When we are not doing commissioned work, I can always count on my assistant to go crazy, and hang out with the Power Rangers.
So, if you're thinking about assisting, think of Jerome. It can be fairly difficult to find the right assistant. And most professional photographers would love to have their own Jerome lingering behind the scenes. Remember the five key components that will help you succeed as an assistant..
- Pre-shoot preparations
- Be clear on your role
- Follow the lead
- Be ready
Becoming an expert at assisting can take some time; you won't become a professional assistant in your first week. Focus on these key methods, however, and before long, you will acquire those skills that will make you succeed as an assistant.