Advice for Photo Assistants

- - Assistants

Guest post by Demetrius Fordham

Like many young, aspiring photographers I thought I’d move to New York from Colorado and start reeling in the ad campaigns, editorials and magazine covers. That was six years ago. And while I’ve shot some cool editorials and ad campaigns here and there, photo assisting is still my bread and butter, like many other photographers I know.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I’ve found it’s a steady way of earning some decent cash in the photo industry while building up my portfolio. It can help you get your bearings in the highly competitive business of commercial and editorial photography, help you build your network and allow you to work alongside some excellent photographers. Plus, it’s a great “first step” in deciding whether or not you actually want to pursue a career in photography (4am call times are not for everyone and you’ll find that out pretty quick).

So if you’ve decided that you want to foray into the crazy world of photo assisting, whether it’s to earn some money or your photo stripes or both, here are a few tips I’ve learned on how to succeed as a photo assistant, thanks to my six years of assisting photographers like Sheila Metzer, Finely MacKay and Doug Menuez.

One: Forget pricey photo schools

Yeah, you heard me. Ditch those photo schools and programs you’d drop thousands on to allegedly “learn the ropes” and just get out there. Technical expertise is taught best on the job. So go out and get yourself one: go to your local photography rental house with an equipment room, or hit up photography studios. (In big cities like New York and Los Angeles, there are literally hundreds). These are great places to learn the ins and outs of lighting, digital and the latest professional camera gear. Slog it out long enough at these places and you’ll meet like-minded photo assistants and photographers that you’ll find can be some of your best resources. Which leads me to my next tip.

Two: Network with other photo assistants

I got my first photo assisting gig through another photo assistant who I’d met at a studio where I’d been putting in some hours. See, photographers will often ask the first assistant to pick his second and third assistants. So if you have some good contacts in the industry, it’s safe to say that you’ll also get some decent and regular work. I’ve learned that a network of a few solid photo assisting buddies goes a long way. And it goes without saying that when you start to book your own photo assisting gigs (or better yet, your own shooting gigs) you’ll throw a bone their way, too.

Insider tip: If there’s a particular photographer you want to assist for, then do some casual research. Look them up on LinkedIn or Facebook (Photo Assistants Association on Facebook) and find out who their studio managers or first assistants are (these guys are the ones who do the freelance assistant hiring). Chances are, you’ll have a common friend or two. Go buy them a drink. Everyone likes a free drink.

Three: Get on the radar of production companies

Contact production companies that specialize in photo shoots, tell them you’re a photo assistant and you’d like to be placed on their assistant’s list. After some vetting on their end, you’ll be placed in a database. It’s sounds overly simple, but from personal experience there is a lot of work that comes directly from production companies. Why? Because photographers are lazy. They don’t want to worry about minutae and trust their producers to handle all of the logistics of a photo shoot. This will bode well for you.

Four: Check your ego at the door

Seriously. ‘Assist’ is the key word. You are the photo assistant, not the photographer (you’ll have your time soon enough). In the meantime, learn how to respect someone else’s shoot and follow instructions. This includes checking your cellphone at the door. Don’t answer your phone on set, don’t Instagram, Facebook or text. This is not your set. This is surprisingly hard for some photo assistants to learn.

Five: Do your homework

Research your photographer. Go online and find out their style of photography, the kinds of lighting and camera they use, and ask other assistants they’ve worked with about their digital workflow. As you continue to work with the same photographers, you’ll begin to anticipate their moves and requests before they ask you: but before you get to that point, it pays to do some research.

Go out and get some of the basic tools you’ll need on set. The more you work, the bigger your kit will grow, especially if you’re working on the digital end of things – assorted cables, cube taps, tape, tools will quickly fill your kit bag – but in the meantime, get yourself some set gloves, and a multi-tool, like a leather man. Trust me.

Before you go on set, make sure you’re an expert at your equipment. Ensure you know how every piece of equipment works, and if you don’t know, ask. Small mistakes can cost time and therefore money – remember you’re there to help speed the process along, not hinder it.

Have an eye for detail: little things like double-checking the photographer’s camera to make sure it’s set to .raw and not .jpeg. Take note of where power settings are on flash packs. Have small reflectors, nets and other light-shaping tools on hand at all times to accommodate subtle light changes as needed.

Six: Learn and remember

Though it’s easy to get caught up in the fine details of the job, it’s also important to actively take stock of the things you learn as an assistant – from the business of making a production work, to how to achieve certain lighting, to adopting techniques for creating certain types of images – so that you can apply them to your own shoots one day. You learn so much about the business and technical side of the industry just by being around sets all day, and this knowledge will serve you well.

Seven: The photographer is always right

Know this, and you’ll keep getting hired.

Photo by Robert Wright

There Are 86 Comments On This Article.

  1. Kids seriously. Turn your phone off. Nothing more annoying than seeing an assistant checking his/her phone. Drives me mad!
    That is until I check my phone. Once I’m on my phone it’s cool.

      • A watch pales in comparison to a smart phone when it comes to assisting my cameramen. You might not like to see me texting, but when I am able to show the exact path of the sun with time stamps in real view, it takes away a lot of guesswork. “Is that tree going to be in our light in an hour from now?” “No, the sun will just miss it, we’re all good.” Find me a watch with the multitude of apps to make photography easier and I’ll put my phone back in my bag. Deal?

          • I don’t get upset about the phone as long as it doesn’t get out of control. When I need an assistant I send out a mass text to about 8 people, the first to respond that they are open gets the gig. If there phone was in the van they would miss out on a lot of gigs.

            • ya, don’t do that. Work shouldnt be a lottery for us. Is it for you? Does the client just email up like 10 people and hire the first one that replies???? We like to think our work ethic, skills and attitude is what gets us hired. not some weird turn of luck . It could also be argued that you will more times then not get 2nd rate assistants because 1st rate assistants missed a chance to reply to your email, cause they were busy working!

              You’re not the only photog that doesnt either which is annoying.

              • I agree with this 100%. I feel like I work hard to build a relationship with photographers. I earn their trust by always being on time (early), being part of the shoot, keeping a positive attitude, and working hard to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. I would hate to think that I got a job because I was the first one to call back.

                Also, I have my phone on me at all times. I don’t use social media while working. I don’t text friends while working. However, if someone needs to know if they can book me for a job, I don’t want to make them wait all day, and I certainly don’t want to lose the job. I use my phone discreetly. I never use it in front of the photographer’s client or art director. I might check it on the way to the restroom or while heading out to the truck to pick up some gear or at lunch. If I need to actually call someone back then I wait for a lull in the shoot and will tell the photographer I need to call someone about a job. If they can’t understand that (and everyone I’ve worked for does) then I’d rather not work for them. I can’t lose business because someone doesn’t want my phone on set. I can be discreet though and make it so you almost never have to see it.

                And yes, apps can be incredibly valuable on set.

                Sorry droops for unloading all this under your comment.

                • As an assistant I always have my phone with me on sets… However, I almost always have it on silent and won’t usually answer calls if I see them come up unless I’m on a break. I will either call back during an appropriate break or text back as soon as possible. Maybe on the way to get equipment out of a car… waiting for a backup to finish, etc.

                  My photographers know I use my phone on set but don’t mind because I am not disruptive with it and they know that I understand they still come first while I am on their set. Even while texting (which I only do during idle time anyway) I am always one eye and ears open to the shoot and always ready to put my phone away in a split second if needed. And I will make sure this happens before I have to get asked to. If all assistants understood this then cellphones on sets wouldn’t be an issue at all.

        • and i mean just flat out dumb. an assistant with a smart phone is more useful than an assistant with a leatherman

    • I’ve lost SO MANY jobs because I was on set and was trying to be respectful. I’m done with that shit. Unless you’re no phone policy is gonna pay for any lost days I missed while making your fucking coffee then I’m answering my damn phone. And isntagram, twitter, all that shit makes people, clients, etc think I’m working all the time which makes them wanna hire me. So I gotta promote myself too. Plus there is so much down time, get over it. We run a business too.

  2. Great article, Demetrius! I’d encourage new assistants to really work at networking with other assistants and getting to know producers and production companies, as you’ve pointed out. If you want to work with a good crew and the right photographers, this is the company you need to keep. Usually, photographers who get the big ad campaigns and higher-end jobs are smart and delegate the logistics and certain production aspects to people who are better positioned to take care of every detail. This is especially important as you are starting out, because these types of shooters are probably not going to sit down with you and look at your portfolio. Know the right people, know some gear, work your ass off.

  3. Great post!
    I’d add a few things.

    1. You are not a spectator at an event but there to support it. Be couscous of the flow of the shoot and try to anticipate the shooter’s needs before he/she does 2. 2. NEVER make creative suggestions to the client, even if asked, always defer to the photographer.
    3. NEVER, solicit the client for work (Yes, it has happened on my set)
    4. Don’t discuss financial arrangements with the client (or anyone else) that’s between you and the photographer.
    5. Be friendly & nice
    6. It’s OK to chat, just keep it social and brief.
    7. Be a self-starter, don’t sit around during idle times, look for tasks that need to be done..and do them!

    • I don’t mind if my assistant makes creative suggestions… Especially when its a long time trusted one that knows how I like things.

      Too many of these silly (and obvious) rules make you look like an asshole that assistants will make fun of at the bar later. Better to treat them like professionals and then simply not rehire the ones that don’t make the cut.

      • I agree with long-time people who know the way you work.
        In my market, there are few of them these days.
        Nothing is cast in stone for me, I actually tell people I work with I’d appreciate their input and ideas, said to me out of earshot of the client.
        When I work with new people I have a short chat just to let them know my expectations and how I work and see how it goes. If I run into some of these issues then it becomes a bigger issue. With people starting out in the business it doesn’t hurt to set some guidelines, how else would they know?
        I once found an intern sitting at my workstation making creative suggestions to the client. I’m sorry but that’s just not cool. IMO creative input needs to come from one scource, the photographer, that’s why you’re getting paid what you are. It’s fine to get suggestions from others but ultimately it’s up to the shooter to decide what’s communicated with the client.. Don’t want to confuse the creative’s on whose concept it is….

  4. A Busy Assistant

    A note for photographers:

    1. Make sure we’re fed and have coffee. Unless you explicitly inform us, it’s assumed there will be a meal towards the start of the shoot. It’s amazing how much more productive and happy we can be.

    2. Make sure there’s enough of us. It can be the difference between getting 8 shots or 10 shots. It’s amazing how much more productive and happy we can be. It will show in the work, the client will notice.

    3. Pay us appropriately, or better. It’s amazing how much more productive and happy we can be. I’ll answer your calls and emails quicker, my schedule will be more flexible for you. If I’m not available, I’ll put you in contact with good people. If you’re terrible to work with and pay poorly, I’m not going to put you in touch with my good guys. It’s a small world in LA and NY, we know who you are.

    4. Unless you’re on Art + Commerce or Art Partner, I have a different day rate if you want me off my phone. I book jobs on a moment’s notice, by text, email, and calls (See #3 where I talk about being paid well and responding quickly). Sorry, this is how it is.

    For Assistants:

    1. Unless your career aspirations are being the world’s best photo assistant, you shouldn’t try to be. The day rate of a mediocre photographer is much greater than the best photo assistant.

    2. Make sure you drink beer or whiskey. You’ll book plenty of work over drinks, and it will be much better work.

      • You may buy them lunch but you don’t pay them in a timely manor.
        And assistants give thanks when they are treated with respect.

      • Stephen, I don’t always thank the photographer for lunch because I assume it’s billable and the client is paying for it. I wonder if a lot of other assistants think the same way. I am happy to get lunch and don’t always expect it, so maybe I should start saying thank you. I do always thank the photographer for the job. I know they don’t have to hire me and I do appreciate it.

        • Never assume it’s billable, per se. We often work with fixed budgets, small to large and most everything is costed out in advance. So, any expenditure draws from that set amount.
          I once sat with a client an an assistant for lunch. The client and I each ordered a sandwich and a drink, my assistant proceed to order a full meal and a number of side dishes and desert which he didn’t finish. The client gave me the hairy eyeball and no thanks was given. That’s a single incident that sicks. The norm is not that and most people do order appropriately and say “thanks” . I know you guys work hard and bust ass…as do we. It’s the little things that make the difference and get noticed.

          • Noted, Stephen. I will be more generous with my “thank you”s.
            And my rule has always been, don’t eat more than the photographer. I care more about getting hired back than I do dessert. My other rule is, if there is catering don’t eat the last of anything. It is a little embarrassing when a photographer/art director/producer/client comes to the table late and really wants to try something that is no longer there.

    • A Busy Body

      It IS all about you!!
      “A different day rate if you want me off my phone”, what an arrogant twat you are.

      • A Busy Assistant

        And a note for you British and French shooters; we don’t work for $100 here. For that rate I’ll come by set and wave hello, let me know what time works best for you.

        • A Busy Body

          Tea time would be good. All the rest of the crew, who actually “get it”, will have time then, to see what a pretentious jerk you are.

    • Hard Working Assistant

      What a fucking Diva. What are you, unionized or something?
      You’re giving yourself reasons to be a shittier assistant. I can see why would anyone pay you less.

      Learn to learn. Unlike this guy, check your ego and attitude.
      And before you show up, eat a good meal. Be Ready to Work, you never know how the day will develop.

      • If you’re a jerk and half-ass your job as an assistant, your career trajectory will be similar to the flight path of a penguin.

    • Another Busy Assistant

      More advice to assistants:

      1. If another assistant hooks you up with a job, return the favor when you’re asked for referrals. If you’re still starting out, get that other assistant a coffee/beer/whatever as a thank you.

      2. If another assistant hooks you up with a job, don’t be an asshole on set. Make that assistant look good by showing up on time, being productive, being helpful, and being polite to others on set.

      3. ALWAYS introduce yourself with a sincere smile and a handshake first thing in the morning to the people you meet. Not everyone knows everyone on set and being out-going and friendly goes a really long way.

      4. Leave your emotional baggage at home. Have a bad week? Save it for your BFF after the job is over.

      5. Don’t dominate conversations unless you’re specifically asked for your opinion.

      6. Invoice your producer/photographer within a day or two after a job. Lagging your paperwork means you’ll wait longer to be paid.

      7. Keep a pre-scanned W9 with correct info and signature on your phone/computer ready to be sent out when requested.

      More advice to photographers:

      1. Pay assistants within 30 days of an invoice.

      2. If you are using an assistant’s personal resources for production purposes (car, gear, expendables, etc), reimburse them appropriately.

      3. Please do not use assistants as a profit center for your bids. If you’re estimating $350 for an assistant, give that to the assistant. Don’t tell assistants there’s only $250 in the budget so you can keep the rest.

    • “1. Make sure we’re fed and have coffee. Unless you explicitly inform us, it’s assumed there will be a meal towards the START [my emphasis] of the shoot.”

      I don’t understand that request- maybe I need more context? I read your whole post and I think you could be pulling our collective legs or writing mild satire. But if you mean it in earnest then I ask you:

      Do you work mostly on movie sets or huge advertising shoots/ video productions where there is a kraft services table present?

      If so I might understand where you are coming from…

      Don’t most grown-ups arrive at their job ready to work? Does a typical employer provide a bowl of porridge and a piping hot cup of coffee for their employees when they arrive at work in the morning?

      i understand having a proper lunch break during a 8+ hour shoot or grabbing a bite during a lull in the shoot but when I was an assistant or later a photographer I’ve never thought a meal should be provided BEFORE the shoot started. head scratch.

  5. Another note to photographers: Get your assistants paid ASAP. One thing I always try to do on my shoots is pay my assistants that day or by the end of the week. I know from many years of assisting how much better that makes it possible to get the good assistants. The studio gets paid up front, so does the rental house and the caterer. Getting that day rate is a big thing for assistants who are scraping by in a an expensive city.

    Assistants: Make sure to sure to ask the money questions up front. What is the rate? Is there going to be overtime (you’d be amazed how many people don’t pay it, right or wrong)? Are the travel days paid (they should be but sometimes people try to not)? Once you get the money issues taken care of, you can put them out of your mind and do the best work you can for the photographer without any sort of disdain towards the end of the day, because it shows when you are happy on set and when you are not.

    • Thanks for posting this! I have a few photographers that pay me within a week, and you better believe I go out of my way to do what I can for them. I give 30 days and am happy if I see a check within 30 days. If someone pays late then I definitely think about that next time they call. There are too many good photographers around that pay on time to have to worry about whether I’m going to be able to pay my rent on the 1st because I’m waiting for a check.

      • We typically follow this:
        – If we have a production deposit paid before the shoot, everyone gets paid same day (or week). This happens on complicated shoots with big expenses.

        Smaller shoots, or last minute jobs where there just isn’t time to secure a deposit, or the client is one of those where getting a deposit would be an act of congress and delay the shoot a month (really, the accounting departments at many large companies are highly dysfunctional), then it is whichever comes first: client pays or 30 days. I’ve never take longer than 30 days to pay a crew member, even if meant draining my own account.

        Even though photographers are making more in a day than their assistants, you’d be surprised at how tight cash flow can be in a month. We also work commensurately less billable days. And more often than not, it takes more (sometimes far more) than 30 days to get paid ourselves.

        • Thanks for outlining this Craig.

          I know that once I make the leap to photographer getting paid from the client in a timely manner is going to sometimes be a problem. I would never want to take that out on an assistant though. I start to feel taken advantage of as an assistant. I know everything else was paid for – food, equipment, studio, etc. I feel like if I don’t get my check on time it is because the photographer knows there is nothing I can do about it. And I know that it is not always the case, sometimes the photographer really just doesn’t have the money. In that case I wish they would call or email me so I know what to expect and I can figure something out. A little communication goes a long way.

          The problem for me is that if I’m not getting paid in 30 days I might not be able to afford to stay in this business. I have rent, student loans, utilities. I just can’t afford to work for people that pay late. And I’m not talking a couple of days, I mean two weeks, a month, or longer.

          It does help that you put this in perspective though, and hopefully I will have enough savings in the future that I can be more patient with payments.

          • If we’re renting a studio, catering, traveling etc, we’ll be in the realm of production deposits and everyone can go home paid up. I or the producer should have checks ready.

            If it’s a flush month we’ll pay the others quicker than net 30

            I should also point out that some photographers don’t actually pay the invoices – their producer or agent does. When I was assisting this was almost always the source of late payments. Speaking of, always have an invoice ready asap! For bookkeeping, we need an invoice to write a check.

  6. All good advice. I also hope there were some tiedowns on that overhead above the car! A small gust would take those lightly weighted stands far…

  7. awesome article! thanks for the great tips, demetrius. trying to break into photo assisting myself and these r helpful.

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  9. Great article. Totally spot on. Also:
    -Be early.
    -Wear good socks- you never know when you have to walk into a rich dudes house, or on seamless.
    -Don’t get jaded, like some of the people on here. Your getting paid to help take photos. You could be laying pipe, cleaning toilets, or worse- sitting in a cubicle (all completely respectable occupations, by the way). Stop your bellyaching people, you are living someone else’s dream (this goes for assistants and photographers alike).

    • Hmmm… I wouldn’t entirely agree with that. Most photographers out there realise that hiring the best person for the job is the main thing – not whether they are male or female. Of course, I know photographers who will only use male assistants and some who will only use female assistants but there will always be a minority who are like that.

      I think what I would agree with though is that males are often assumed to make better assistants due to their stronger build and greater inclination towards technology and tools. Prove you can keep up with the boys though and you will honestly have no trouble getting work at all. I am surprisingly strong, although still not as strong as a boy. But I can move gear around just as efficiently because I understand how to spread pressure or use balance and leverage to physically move gear at an efficient rate. I also use initiative and thinking. Perhaps I’ve done some research and know a better entry point to the set location that the photographer wasn’t aware of… saving everyone energy but also time spent on gear lugging. This beats having a strong boy carrying 5 lights on his shoulder from the other side.

      I am also savvy with technology and know my assisting programmes pretty darn well… I’ll often end up teaching my photographers a thing or two.
      I also possess common sense, am attentive, work quickly and quietly, am friendly without seeming to be socially dominant and most of all – I make my photographers look awesome in front of their clients.
      I am also a very small, short and “girly looking” girl. But I can assure you that I am by no means short of work and am able to charge as much as some of the assistants around my city who have double my experience.

      Gender is not really an obstacle at all if you engage your brain, work hard, possess the right attitude and can prove your worth. If anything, I would say age is a bigger barrier, mainly for insurance/legal purposes.

      Don’t be put off just because you’re female! Best of luck.

      • Gender is a huge obstacle; it was in the 1980s in NYC when I was there and seeing as the author refers to “buddies” and “guys,” it is now, too. You don’t get to prove yourself if you never get hired in the first place. Sure, a few photographers might hire you once in while, if you’re young and cute, but don’t fool yourself—it’s a boy’s club.

        • In my experience, that is to say in the current state of the industry within my own town (I’m not from the states) – if it is an obstacle then I definitely haven’t felt it. Perhaps I am lucky with my experiences, but also I work pretty darn hard and surely that has something to do with it.
          There are definitely more established male assistants around… by a long shot (where I am based I think the ratio would be about say 1:5 of females to male top assistants), but the point here is that being female has not challenged me in finding work. And trust me – if the sort of photographers who hire me do so because of “young and cute” – then I really do not have any inclination to work for them. The photographers I work for are serious about what they do and expect the same of me as they would of their other male assistants.
          I’m sure times have changed since the 1980s when you were assisting…. workflows are different now since digital took over. Lighting and photo manipulation is also much more accessible – putting things like gender, age and even economic differences on a more even playing field.

          • I encountered a few female assistants during my assisting years in 1980s NYC (The Assistant’s Round Table), and never noticed any gender preference at the time although, I would probably agree that it did exist (I actually assisted a female photographer ). My current assistant is female and gender had nothing to do with hiring her. She’s smart, knows the equipment, has a great work ethic and is committed – this is really all that matters.. Her part-time job is teaching digital photography to high school students and young adults although; she’s quite well-versed in analog film and film cameras.

  10. I think it’s important to realize that no matter what professional level you’re at, you just wont get along with every photog you work with. I will say this, I get along infinitely better with photographers that used to assist (more than a year or whatever) than photographers that didn’t.

    The photographer is generally more prepared (and significantly more structured and calculated), so you don’t have to pull a hail mary out your ass, they know you work hard and will help you if they have a moment, you learn more, you have to be more attentive because they used to do what you do and probably better.

    You don’t care what excuse the agency or mag makes for paying you, why would we want to hear what excuse you have?

    and #7 is retarded, photographers are sometimes wrong plain and simple. Ive seen veteran photogs put the knuckle on the left.

    • Droops, you are so right in saying that! Photographers who have assisted before are usually (but not always) in my experience much better to work for. They just get it. They tend to have more technical and practical knowledge – and also aren’t stressing me out because I’m having to run around after them fixing up weird/dangerous little things they do that they haven’t told me about… all while being discreet about it so they don’t look silly in front of the client! Photographers who used to assist are also often faster, more practical and more organised.

      “you have to be more attentive because they used to do what you do and probably better.” – that part is particularly true!!!

      Having said that – I worked with a photographer who assisted for a long time and was one of the top assistants in our city while he was doing it. Once he started shooting, his expectations of his own assistants were so high and patience so diminished that he would honestly make me feel like a sack of crap while working for him. I don’t think he means bad… but I now understand that he probably assisted for way too long and just got really bitter and never quite recovered.

      • When I was an assistant I could always tell what photographers were an asst before.

        The ones that weren’t treated assistants like pieces of equipment – ignored unless they needed something and bitched at when their vague directions weren’t followed correctly. Also these non-assisting photographers tended to come from privileged backgrounds where they didn’t need to work all that much to begin with and that didn’t help with their social skills.

  11. How do you go about becoming an assistant if you live in a city that does not have rental studios? What are some tips for networking in a rather small city if it is absolutely out of the cards to move to a large city? I am married with a child, so moving is out of the question. We live in the capitol city, but it’s smaller than any other ‘city’ in the state. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • You’ll have to find the photographers in your city or area and start talking. Get friendly on social media and use sites like ASMP or APA to find photographers you like. Many assistants who live in places that do not have rental houses (most of the south comes to mind) purchase their own lighting, grip, and rent it out to visiting photographers. It’s not cheap, but with good business skills, you can make your purchases back over time.

  12. Nice compilation Demetrius, and regarding no. 7, if the photographer is wrong quietly help them fix the situation without making a fuss. That’s a skill you will need and use in any number of opportunities in your career.

  13. I stopped using assistants from the local photography school. They didn’t know jack, were lazy and arrogant. I don’t patronize the local camera store that employes them either if I can avoid it.

    I’ll pay someone to travel, treat them well and feed them. Each days paid on completion.

    I ask up front just be sure they didn’t attend the ‘B’ school because they’ll be ‘B’ grade assistants, useless.

    • It’s the same situation with our local photography school. My partner will be explaining how we work and most of the time we get this arrogant, “Oh, I already knew that” tone. Confidence is one thing, listening and learning is another.

  14. Christopher

    This is gold!

    I just arrived in New York 4 days ago to further my assisting. I’m good, have a fucking great attitude, and know my gear:


    Is no one else going to use this for some shameless self promotion?

    What’s the local bar for assistants? I’ll buy someone a beer for some more of this banter. Hah!

  15. What a great article. I live in Hollywood, CA, and would love the opportunity to assist! I live a few blocks from Siren Studios and near several other rental studios. I have been a photographer for years but I need the experience and the knowledge and the networking that comes with assisting. I am so eager to do it! 4am call times? No problem. I know how to act on set, have knowledge of equipment, have no inflated ego, and as a former military guy I have a strong work ethic.

    If anyone is looking for an assistant or any local photo assistants would like to meet please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you! 323-389-5234.

  16. Rule number one – don’t be late for a shoot! It’s difficult to to rely on public transport, but delaying the photographer ( especially if that makes them late for their client) is not the best start to a shoot day, so arrive in the area early and grab a coffee.

    Agreed, pay assistants as soon as you receive their invoice. I’m often shocked to hear that stills production companies in London haven’t paid assistants for months after a shoot (or at least until they get paid by their client). This is just wrong.

  17. Thank you for the advice. I’m not quite sure why but its been suggested that I give my name to photo production companies in town several times and still have not done so!! Grrrrr! Thank you for the reminder there, I think that’s what I’ll be doing today.

  18. Do not lecture the photographer about anything. Do not ask incessant questions when the photographer is trying to concentrate. Never ever ever be late, if you are running late pay out of your own pocket for a cab.

    • don’t be late! that’s my number one rule. If my assist is a minute late and haven’t called or texted to let me know where they are, I leave without them. I’d rather work solo then be late to a gig.

  19. i have assisted for many years before i started shooting and can tell you this. most photographers, besides the upper tier, are lazy, indecisive, and lack confidence. i was constantly holding photographers hands cause they had no idea what they were doing, but just had good contacts. its unfortunate that photography allows for non creatives. unless you are steven klein or nick knight shut the fuck up and have fun. if its a bullshit job get through it, be professional, then go have fun. i pay my assistants very well and they are psyched and have a reason to problem solve with me. then we go out and party. its about having fun and going further then you think you can…

  20. The suggestions in this article are very good and very relevant. A couple of things I’d like to comment on. Assistants, please, please limit your smartphone time. If I want you to find the track of the sun or tomorrow’s weather, I’ll ask. If you get a call or a text about you getting a booking, I understand you need to take it or reply quickly, but if we are right in the middle of setting lights, or directly working on the shot, you’ve got to wait a few minutes. Stay off of Facebook, don’t text friends. I’m not shitting you. It’s annoying and disrespectful to everyone in the studio. Also assistants, there are no dumb questions. If you have a doubt or concern, ask away. Photographers, buy your assistants lunch and snacks, that helps to keep a happy studio. Pay up! I pay my assistants on shoot wrap day 99% of the time (as long as the checking account can handle it). Mutual respect goes a long way in maintaining a happy and productive studio. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing a few brews when the day is done.

  21. Nice article, Demetrius. All of these rules/suggestions/tips boil down to the following three tenets of succeeding at pretty much anything:

    1) Work hard.
    2) Be nice.
    3) Pay attention.

    The rest tends to take care of itself, in my experience.

  22. For those new to photo assisting or those that need training I highly recommend checking out the Photo Assistant Boot Camp at
    The instructor James is great and the depth of his photographic knowledge is almost overwhelming. I learned more from that 2 day workshop than I did in 4 years of photo school. We must have dome 18 different lighting setups in those 2 days. Sounds like a lot but James is really a thorough teacher and incredibly patient with those needing extra attention. He was able to give individual attention and still kept the flow of the class moving. I really can’t say enough about how informative this event was. And with my new skill set I was able to make back the cost of the workshop in the following 10 days.

    I should add that I also attended the APA assistant training event in the past and was very disappointed.
    They were not even close to being as well rounded as the photo assistant boot camp.

  23. Don’t try and be a hero on set and undermine other assistants / the digi tech because you think the photographer is going to be impressed.

    Particularly in reference to getting jobs through other assistants.

    Amazing how niave some people are about this.

  24. I think the most simple advice for assistants: Grow up and be professional. Getting there on time, being polite and not going on facebook during work are rules that apply whether or not you’re assisting a photographer or working at the checkout in a supermarket.
    The only people who don’t know that are kids fresh out of school who had never had a real job before. I guess there’s quite a few of those.

    On the other hand photographers have to realize that assistants are employees, not lackeys. You have no right to be rude or insulting to an assistant just because you pay them. If you’re not happy with the service they provide you’re free to not hire them again.

  25. Is “Assistants Crack” in the urban dictionary yet?

    Advice for humans:

    1. Be nice.
    2. Be patient.
    3. Be aware.
    4. Be creative.
    5. Eat something and drink tons of water.

    The rest will take care of itself.

  26. well…depends of what kind of assistant a photographer wants.
    i am creative but i do my suggestions to the photographer, not the client…same stuff with critics.

    Maybe some guys want assistants that lick their ass, but i guess assistants that have a good portfolio themselves and skill resulting out of it get booked pretty good because you have a second PHOTOGRAPHER on set, not just a damn assistant that might be brilliant in all that shit but doesn’t help you on the creative side…

    Why shouldn’t an assistant have his phone with him? He is self employed, he has other costumers. Everybody else has his freakin phone on set and will answer it if there is a period of time or it seems to be really important.
    You are NOT the photographers ass…photographers should learn that they are nothing than a helpless peace of shit with an expensive camera without the help of their assistants, post guys, digital operators, hair & makeup and on and on and on.

  27. Erin Molly

    This is amazing and useful… I left assisting people for the past year and a half and Im wanting to jump head first back into it. Thank you for the refresher!

  28. Hey D,
    I’ve always felt lucky and grateful you were there for me, and you always impressed me with your smarts, sensitivity and endless endurance and grit. But I didn’t know you could write like this, man, it’s a great piece! Nice going. Actually inspiring to me too, because as you know we never stop paying our dues. It goes on and fucking on for the rest of time – but that’s also how you stay fresh. And yeah, people take a tip: turn off the phone, you’ll be glad in the long run you respected the moment.
    Glad to be your friend

  29. I have recently started assisting and I am eager to be the best one I can be. I have found that there is sometimes down time on set. What is the best use of time during these periods? What is your list of things you do/ take care of? I want to be respectful of the photographers time and feel like I should be moving %100 of the time. I feel like starting out I don’t yet know how to be productive once everything is set up/taken care of ect and I certainly don’t want to just stand around.

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