We use a lot of photographic assistants in our business. So many, in fact, that today we have former assistants running the office, managing all our post-production, and as our special projects manager. When we travel, we’ve picked up local assistants in dozens of cities nationwide. So what makes for a good assistant — and how do you find one?
The Assistant’s Job
The photographic assistant is there to make the photographer’s life easier; make the photographer look better; remember everything that the photographer forgot; know what the photographer needs before they need it; load and unload all the gear — yourself; get up early and stay up late; make sure the photographer is awake; and whatever else the photographer says to do. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration.
John Birk, who is Philadelphia-based, is an example of an awesome assistant. He’s got it down. Cleans sensors (after asking if you want him to), anticipates what you need before you need it, and knows when to speak, and when to keep quiet. Oh, and he knows carry-on regulations so well he saved me from having to check my ThinkTank Airport Security full of cameras/lenses with a size change for a recent trip to the Baltics.
All Assistants Are Not Created Equal
Keep in mind that the “photographer’s assistant” is not an “assistant photographer.” An assistant photographer is often also called a second photographer, a backup shooter, and so forth. If you are working for a photographer and you have a camera in hand that will deliver images to the client, you’re an assistant photographer.
On the other hand, if you are unpacking gear, setting up lights, driving, getting food, making photos/video of the shoot in progress and/or the setup for the photographer’s use, holding an umbrella over the client’s head, pulling power, and so forth, then you are the photographer’s assistant.
Then there’s the second, and the third. On large shoots, you have the “first assistant,” “second assistant,” and sometimes a “third assistant.” After that, anyone assisting on set is usually called a production assistant. The first assistant often travels with the photographer, and knows what the photographer wants, needs, and so forth. The second sometimes travels, but is often picked up locally. When you’re the second assistant, you do what the first tells you. When you’re the third, again almost always picked up locally, you do what the second tells you. Neither the second nor the third should be going to the photographer for anything. Go to the first.
Many photographers got their start as assistants, but not all. Then, there are people who never want to be photographers but really just love assisting; these are known as “professional assistants”. To each their own, I say.
Finding an Assistant
If you’re looking to find an assistant, visit this link at the ASMP Web site, which lists all their chapters nationwide. Each chapter not only has a “Find a Photographer” listing, but most, if not all, have a “Find an Assistant” listing, or they have a list of assistants on their site.
No list? Call one of the photographers there and you’ll find they know who the best ones are. And APA has a link to locate an assistant on their national Web site –here.
[tags]photography assistants, photography business, photography advice[/tags]