Booking Gigs, Scheduling Conflicts, Holds, And Photo Assistants On-Ice

Well, shoot! I’ve been crazy busy. Hardly enough time to think let alone get caught up, here, on the blog. My apologies for leaving you hanging. Being extra busy the last couple months has lead to some scheduling conflicts when booking shoots, so I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about them here on APhotoAssistant.com.

Many freelance photo assistants may have one to five photographers who they always work with, almost exclusively. If you’re not there yet, no worries, you will get there. Lately, I’ve been working, a lot, out of town. Traveling, and just being generally busy, will easily complicate your schedule and make it difficult to always be available to the main core of photographers you work with. It’d be great if everyone was so busy that we could just book 3-5 days each week with the same photographer, but let’s face it, that’s probably not gonna happen–unless you are a full-time studio assistant. A good gig if you can get it, but that’s whole different topic for another time.

If you have some A1 photographer clients who always call you first, take some time to talk with them about your relationship with them when it comes to being unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. Find out what’s important to them in these situations and if there is anything special you can do. If they are adamant about working with you exclusively, let them know that you appreciate their loyalty to you, but you need to seek work with other shooters to fill in the open slots between their gigs. Suggest to them that they get an intern from a local college to help them out when you’re unavailable. Your should also have your own list of other assistant’s that you can recommend to fill in for you. Make it easy for the photographer to fill your shoes with good help and you will continue to get work from them, even if you’re unavailable from time-to-time. They will appreciate that you are looking out for them, even when you can’t be there.

Sometimes a photographer will put you on HOLD for a future date(s), until they get confirmation about the projected dates, locations, or other logistics, from their client. When this happens, you can usually expect a call from another photographer to book you for the same day. Usually, this is a simple hurdle to jump, as long as the second gig is nailed down and firm. Tell them you are on hold for that date, but will call the other photographer and see if they will release you. Also, if it seems probable that you will end up booking the shoot with the second photographer, explain to them that if their job should be cancelled or postponed, that you will need to bill them a kill fee, since you are about to let go of another opportunity, to assist them. Most photographers will understand this. But, always get this out in the open right away, before you accept the gig. If they are resistant to this proposal, you can kindly let them know that you are doing them a favor by rearranging your schedule to be available for them. If they are still not accepting of your terms, you can either drop it without making any further fuss, or, keep the first job before being released. Every situation and personality is different, so, use your best judgement. If your terms are met, you can then call the first photographer who put you on hold, and tell them that you have a solid gig for the date, then ask them if they want to either confirm their date, or release you. Always give the hold photographer the opportunity to lock you in before you tell the second photographer you will accept their job. If  you are released by the first photographer from the hold, ask them if you can help find another assistant for them. Always go the extra mile, no matter what.

Another twist on the hold scenario may come up involving half-days. Just last week I was booked firm for a shoot this Wednesday, but the photographer wasn’t sure if it was going to be a half-day or a full-day, as she was still waiting for the shot list to be finalized by the client (this is also referred to being ICED). Sure enough, I got an email from another shooter, wondering if I was available for a half-day, but in the evening hours, something like 5-9PM. Now, it’s NEVER a good idea to double-book half-days on the same day, but I thought I would at least check out the possibility, since the second gig would be in the evening. I called the first photographer and explained that I had a firm half-day to book in the evening, but needed to know her schedule and call time to determine if I could actually book it. She emailed me back saying that she was maybe 85-percent sure that it would be a full-day, but couldn’t confirm any times. So, I had to relinquish the evening shoot since I couldn’t be sure if and when I could show up. Now, if you’ve been around, even for a little while, you know things can easily go wrong on-set and schedules will fly right out the window in order to get things done to the clients specs. If you have to leave the set because of your schedule, even if you’re working overtime, I guarantee that you will not get a call back from the photographer you left hanging. So, as a general rule, NEVER double-book half-days on the same day, even if the call-times and schedules are firm. Something will go bad, schedules will change, and you will probably end up losing both these relationships, even after the dust settles. This is one of the main reasons why your half-day rate should be 60-70-percent of your full-day rate, so you can still make a fair day’s wage without compromising your livelihood.

As I mentioned earlier, whenever you can’t be available for a photographer, ask them if you can help them find another assistant. If you’re at the top of their list, they will respect, appreciate, and even perhaps expect your input. This will help insure you will still get the first call for the next shoot, no matter who they used. Just make sure that any other assistant that you refer is a good fit for the photographer. Don’t recommend anyone you don’t know personally or haven’t worked with, since your reputation may be on the line. So, when you are working with other assistants, make sure you get biz cards and contact info from assistants who are hard workers with a good attitude–photo assistants who have a similar work ethic as you. This is a great way to build rapport with other assistants and have them refer you, too! If the photographer wants to find their own assistant, remind them to check out photocrew and ASMP and APA.

Along with assisting, I put in some time studio-managing and also help out part-time at a local lighting and grip rental shop. Doing work like painting cycloramas and other maintenance, delivering lighting gear, and checking inventory are all in addition to the photo assisting work I do. Many times I cannot be available for this work, as I put my assisting first. But, when things slow down on the assisting front, this work is golden. Don’t be afraid to stretch your wings and make yourself available to other opportunities which can help you gain even more experience. If you can find some of these opportunities, I think you will find that they can be very flexible, if you don’t mind working some odd hours every now and then.

These circumstances, of course, are situational, and by no means are meant to be dealt with without some degree of flexibility on the part of the assistant. We are a service-oriented industry, and care must be taken to develop and build good relationships with photographers, other assistants, and other photo crew. Being of service to your photographers and keeping everyone happy is very challenging when you are tied-up on other shoots. You can’t be everything to everyone… but you have to try. I only share what has worked, or not worked, for me, based on my experience. Keep in mind that my methods may not work for you. But, if you consider the experience of other assistants and photographers as a starting point, use your best judgment, and be fair in your assessment of your situation, your work ethic will go a long way to help you build solid relationships with your colleagues.

Comments

  1. says

    Good advice tim- I have a question though.. Say you have a week (or longer) hold that is say 75% and a solid booking of about 2 days but you have to agree to take right away? I’ve encountered that more than once and have actually lost both before. A word about emails as well – I lost more than week last week by waiting till lunch to check that email… Those requests tend to be the most tentative in my experience.

  2. says

    Thanks Tim, great post! I came across your blog a week ago and it’s loaded with great advice! I’m just starting out as a photo assistant, and your site is very helpful.

    I’m always amazed how simple things like turning up on time every time or being enthusiastic about your work can leave a huge impression on the photographers you work for.

    Even though I’m not yet being buried by assignments, scheduling conflicts already occur and it’s great to get some advice from a much more experienced assistant!

    Cheers
    Bruno

  3. says

    Half day assisting? Really, are you kidding? Unless you’re charging $600 or so a day, WTF! NEVER charge half days unless it’s a favorite photographer (i.e. you get a TON of work from them) AND the whole job can be packed and wrapped in 3 hours or less. Otherwise you’re just working on the cheap.

    NEVER, EVER, EVER book two jobs in one day!!! The one goes hand in hand with the other. Same as I tell clients when they ask for a “half day rate,” I don’t work by the clock and until I’m on set I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Besides, you’re not selling time, you’re selling a service and your experience to guarantee a smooth job.

    Example – a few months ago I was commissioned to photograph the CEO and Board of Directors of a Fortune 500 corporation for their annual report. Assistant and I arrived two hours before the shoot to prep and set the location. We were done in 40 minutes so we sat, waiting. CEO and gang comes in exactly on time (to the minute). Shake hands, show them where to stand and start burning pixels.

    ((TIP – you know the subject is rather persnickety about time when they show up to the minute. Another clue, check out his watch. Mr. CEO wore a Breitling timepiece. This isn’t a usually fashion statement watch, it’s an instrument of precise timekeeping.))

    Six minutes after Board folks walked on the seamless we were done with the group, two more minutes for Mr. CEO and I said thank you, we’re done, we have it. He walks off set shakes hands and turns to the agency executives who came to make sure everything went right and said “I like this guy, he’s quick!” Smiles all around.

    Total time from arrival to break down was just 3.25 hours. My assistant, however, got paid his FULL rate because I hired him for his EXPERIENCE and EXPERTISE to make sure the job would go smooth and without a hitch. I respect him because he’s a professional and brings much more to the table than a strong back. He knows what he’s doing and should be paid accordingly.

    Stay busy!

  4. says

    Dave-

    It’s probably best to book the for sure gig, even if it’s only a day or two, compared to a week hold. If the hold photographer can’t firm you up, book the solid shoot and give your hold to a trusted friend. Of course, use your discretion… I’ve encountered this before also, and loyalty to a certain photographer may come into play.

    I’ll admit that the answering email or phone call issue is difficult, especially when you’re on set. It always seems like you get work requests while you’re working, and timing is always crucial in order to book the gig before the next guy on the list. Perhaps you can employ an email auto-responder or have a calendar available on your website that will show your available dates. Also, you could let the photographers you work with regularly know specifically when you are working from week to week, with a simple email on Sunday, so they can time their correspondence with you better.

  5. Dave says

    Totally Tim! Great advice for sure. At the time of posting this question I sort of realized that but figured you might have some interesting solutions. another thing that happens that is really great is when you take the for sure gigs you inevitably will get calls for the rest of the week. Things just tend to work out like that. Oh and one more thing I’m working 2 jobs in one day next week :) the clients are only 4 blocks from each other and one is a pre pro so no biggie, it happens once in awhile.

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