7 Things to Help Establish Your Foundation as a Photo Assistant

Okay, here I am. Again. Back in sunny Los Angeles, ready once again to start writing up a storm on APhotoAssistant. Speaking of storms, right now I am watching an online webcam feed in Minneapolis on the U of M campus, where there are many students building snowmen and having snowball fights in the freshly fallen snow after the season’s first major snowstorm. It actually looks like they are having fun, but it is a cold reminder of why I travel to more temperate climes when winter rolls around. At least some people can tolerate the snow and cold. Well, I can tolerate it for the most part, since I lived there for most of my life. But, these days I just choose not to have to endure it for the five or six months that one is expected to deal with winter’s wrath in Minnesnowta.

Snow, anyway…

More and more these days, students and newbie photo assistants are asking me how to find work as a photo assistant. It’s usually along the lines of, “What am I doing wrong, because I just can’t find the assisting gigs I expected or want to do?” Or, it’s something like, “I’ve talked with so many photographers but, they all say they don’t have a lot of work right now, or that they already have a list of ten to fifteen assistants that they call when they have a shoot coming up. How will I ever get my foot in the door?”

The answer to these types of questions can be many, and usually a combination of reasons. But, the bottom line is that when you are starting out in the photo industry as a photo assistant, there is going to be a huge learning curve in just about everything you do. So, unless someone in your family, or a close friend is already established as a photographer or other creative in the industry, you will have a great deal of hard work in front of you to build your foundation as a photo assistant. The nice thing about this, though, is that once you’ve begun really digging in, you will build momentum and it will carry you through, and things will become easier and easier once you have really started to get your bearings.

I have taken a few moments to put the following list together to help assistants who have the gumption to put forth the effort that will help you establish your place in the pecking order of photo assisting with the photographers you want to work with. Bear in mind that there is no real secret formula to this process, only that if you do the footwork and approach every situation with common sense and a bit of creative resourcefulness and hard work, you can succeed and begin making progress.

Persistence – when you are beginning to call on photographers to introduce yourself to them, you must be persistent, but without being a pest. Sending an email every two to four weeks is probably a good time frame to work with. Mail promotional postcards to the studio with well produced images, graphics, and copy to help get you noticed even more. Yes, photographers still love print! Pick up the phone and call the studio, from time to time, stating your interest to meet with the photographer in the hopes of assisting them sometime in the near future. Find out if they have been receiving your emails and postcards. The goal is to stay in front of them and on their welcome mat, but never give them any reason to sweep you under the rug.

Attitude – always be positive with a can-do attitude! Be pleasant, calm, and maintain discretion when in the company of those you aspire to work with. You should maintain a professional demeanor at all times. Don’t be over-eager or talk too much. Be confident, honest, and always be teachable. Don’t ever think your way is the only way or the right way. Ultimately, your personality will match, or compliment, the photographer’s personality you wish to work with. Once you have worked with a few studios you will begin to know your place and what is appropriate in those relationships.

Hard Work – you will need to motivate yourself and work hard, keeping your goals in mind. You might spend hours upon hours researching photographers work on their websites. You will undoubtedly need to develop well thought out ways to market yourself with a website/blog, emails, postcards, portfolios, etc. You might have a regular day or night job and pull double-duty in order to get your feet under you, which will allow you to take the photography leap, full-time. Whatever your situation, stay focused, have fun, and make it happen.

Network – join, attend and get involved with your local APA and ASMP chapters. If there is not one close to you, find a camera club that will keep your creative juices flowing in ways other than just taking photos. Look for ways to be helpful and assist other photographers in the camera club. You could even start your own group like The Crew Group to share your time, resources, and gear with others to work on projects and build your portfolio. Get to know the sales and rental people at your local camera store and rental houses. Find online groups on Linkedin and other sites that provide resources and ideas that you can use. Participate in photo workshops and festivals as a volunteer to meet new photographers and expand your mojo. I still do this, and love it!

Continue Learning – always remain teachable. I like learning, but I also tend to be slow to change with changing times. Photography has taught me to be flexible and more open to adapting to new techniques and workflows. I find that by keeping my eyes and ears open, and my mouth shut, I can gain the trust of others and learn something from them. Research online for new gear, owners manuals, lighting set-ups, and tricks-of-the-trade. Take a lighting workshop or attend an Assistant Training Workshop.

Patience – is the follow-up to persistence. Allow the proper time for things to fall into place, especially when you are just starting out. When I had trouble getting assisting gigs at first, I took a full-time night job which allowed me the time to continue marketing and meeting photographers, little by little, until I could establish some good rapport with them. Everyone has their own pace. And, in our fast-paced world today, many opportunities are lost in the shuffle, or the right opportunities take longer to be discovered. Stay focused, and don’t be too discouraged when things don’t seem to happen quick enough.

Treat Photo Assisting as Your Business – because it is! When I started out I was pretty excited to be in business! I even started out using an assumed business name. But, as time wore on, I got lazy and a lot of administrative paperwork type stuff piled up on me. Thankfully, I got that worked out with help. Don’t be afraid to use a tax service or accountant. This will save you many headaches later on when you are too busy on set and don’t have the energy to stay on top of some of your administrative tasks. If you like doing this stuff yourself, go ahead and do it. But, remember to manage your time efficiently and balance your priorities. I try to schedule, hour-by-hour, my tasks when I am at my desk, so that I am at least making some progress on all the stuff that’s in the in box.

These are just some of the things that were going on, day-in and day-out, back when I started my photo assisting business. Of course, I still have to do a lot of this, even these days, but it’s second-nature to me, now. But, in the beginning, it can be a bit overwhelming and difficult to know if you are doing all the right things that will lead to getting some good work and starting to make an impression on the photography community. I remember always second-guessing myself and having doubts that would almost paralyze me. Then, I might have a good meeting with a photographer and get some work and things would be good. It can really be a roller-coaster ride, for sure!

The bottom-line is this: Be mindful of all these things, on a consistent basis, and show the photographers you want to work with that you are the real deal and deserve the opportunity you are asking for. Do your best to set your self up to get noticed. There’s a lot of competition, so you better suit up and show up. Otherwise, all your hard work and persistence is for nothing.

So, ask yourself… What would you have to do to walk into a studio for an interview and see one of your postcard mailers on the fridge?


Photographers Value A Photo Assistant’s Mojo

Whenever I meet photo students and new assistants, they will sometimes ask me what it is that they need to know to get the good assisting gigs with all the great photographers. In turn, I will ask them why any photographer should hire them at all. Most students will say something like they love photography or know Photoshop inside-out. New assistants and others might respond with something along the lines of them being a hard worker, a quick learner, or know this-or-that brand of lighting or camera gear. This is all fine and dandy, but, I try to get across to them that in addition to a little knowledge, a good attitude and work ethic, that they need to have something in their arsenal that will make them especially unique to the photographers they work with. To have a skill, ability, network, or service that will uniquely benefit their photographer clients and set them apart from all the other assistants. [Read more…]

Photo Assistants And Renting Gear: Why Gear Rental Shops Are Your Best Friend

The relationship between the photo assistant, and the photo rental store can, and should be, a special one. Photo assistants are a very key element to the rental store getting new and additional business from photographers. And, when a photographer from out of town calls to book you and then asks if you know a good place to get lighting and grip rentals, your value increases ten-fold when you can handle their rental needs. As a photo assistant, many times you will be asked to pick-up lighting, grip, and camera rentals from rental houses. Renting gear is advantageous when flying or shooting on-location where power is limited or unavailable, since most studios and photographers own strobe lighting with alternate-current (AC). Many rental shops will have battery-powered packs (DC), such as Profoto 7A or 7B, for exactly those location needs.

[Read more…]

ASMP-MSP Annual Photo Assistant’s Meeting

The ASMP-MSP Annual Photo Assistant’s meeting will be Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 7PM, social hour starting at 6PM. Location is Minneapolis College of Art & Design (MCAD).

Whether you are a photo student, a new photo assistant just hitting the bricks, or you’ve been around a while, there will be something for everyone. The photo industry has changed a lot in recent years, and assisting has also been affected. Does this impact our role as photo assistants? How do we find jobs? Should we intern first? What gear is important to know? Freelance or full-time? What do we really need to know? Where do we start?

I will be part of a diverse panel of assistants and we will address the many questions facing photo assistants in today’s photo industry. So come on out and rub elbows with all your assistant and photographer friends.

Hop on over to the ASMP-MSP site for more info. See you there!

Klinko & Idrani 2010 Student Photo Competition

Bron Imaging Group has partnered with the iconic photographic team of Markus Klinko and Indrani.

The Bron Imaging Group bi-annual BIG ED photographic contest will be hosted by the power couple this spring. The theme of the contest is an intimate portrait of the girl or boy next door. The image could be a brief glimpse of an intimate moment, something that plays on the voyeuristic. Possibly the image could be something more Rockwellian centered around a boy scout troop or a combination of the two, remember it is M&I…

The competition will run from February 1st to July 1st. Markus Klinko and Indrani will select the winners, along with a hand picked panel of stylists and magazine editors.


Check ‘Em Out Shout Out! — Sara Montour

image © Sara Montour

I found Sara Montour’s blog and website after I replied to a tweet of her’s… saramontour: when people say phertographer . furtographer . phortorgrapher . #thingsthatmakemyearsbleed #phuhtahgrahpherAPhotoAssistant: @saramontour …or photog… saramontour: @aphotoassistant Once toured a Lifetime Fitness & guy asked what a did. Said I was a photographer & he said “ahhh, a PHOtog” I joined Bally.

Sara is a Tacoma, Washington photographer who shoots portrait, wedding, and concert photography… plus a whole lot more cool stuff from everyday life. She has a fresh, contrasty look and I really dig her vibrant images. Check out her stuff at SaraMontour.com

20 Useful Resources & Blogs for New Assistants & Emerging Photographers

I have assembled some of the top blogs from my Bloglines Feed that I read to stay on top of what everyone else is doing and talking about in the photo industry. The list is in no particular order, and serves only as a representation of some of the content I like and find useful. I hope you do too!

A Photo Editor
A Photo Editor (APE) is Rob Haggart, the former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine.

Burns Auto Parts
Internationally-known creative/marketing consultant Leslie Burns (-Dell’Acqua) has been working in the creative industries since 1992. With experience on both sides of the fence, Leslie brings an analytical mind, quick wit, and depth of knowledge to all her work. Specializing in working with commercial photographers, particularly those who shoot for advertising, design, corporate, and editorial clients, she has been offering her expertise for many years. She started Burns Auto Parts in 1999 (where has the time gone?) and since that time has helped photographers with everything from email promo subject lines to portfolio edits to full on marketing plans. For more information, check out the Burns Auto Parts site.

Heather Morton, Art Buyer
Heather Morton is a freelance Art Buyer based in Toronto, Canada

Stobist, David Hobby
Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to more effectively use your small speedlights. There are more than 1,000 articles about lighting. Over two million photographers from around the world have learned small-flash lighting techniques from this site. We’re thinking you can, too.

Chase Jarvis

Seattle-based commercial advertising photographer.

Annual Report Photographer, David Tejada
This Blog is for commercial photographer David Tejada. David shoots assignment photography for fortune 500 companies worldwide. He has specialized in annual reports, corporate brochures, editorial and advertising work for 26 years.

ASMPproAdvice: For Student & Emerging Photographers
Yahoo groups forum where students and emerging photographers can discuss issues and seek answers to questions related to commercial photography from established, experienced working professionals.

Yahoo groups forum: A network of advertising photographers, hosted by Advertising Photographers of America.

Yahoo groups forum: a network of advertising and stock photographers wishing to discuss self-contained digital capture (small and medium format), film scanners (for those scanning both old and new work), digital workflow (including required specialized software for digital capture), delivery standards, and billing issues.

Joe McNally
The thoughts, notions, and ideas here come from thirty years in the field as a shooter. Twenty plus on the road for National Geographic. LIFE staffer. Sports Illustrated contractor. 54 countries. 50 states.

Digital Photography School
Discover how to use your digital camera with our Digital Photography Tips. We are a community of photographers of all experience levels who come together to learn, share and grow in our understanding of photography.

Pro Photo Resource
ProPhotoResource.com is an online community and resource for professional level photographers and amateurs serious about the business of photography. ProPhotoResource serves as an information hub for anyone who is or aspires to be a professional photographer. At ProPhotoResource.com we are as serious about creating a professional level community as you are about the craft of your photography.

Photo News Today
A smattering of daily news about everything photography.

The online community for the photo industry.

1 Pro Photo
New York based photo community with blog, forum, and industry listings.

LightSource Studio Photography
Helpful lighting tutorials and much more.

Lighting Essentials for Photographers
This site is devoted to photography, and photographic lighting in specific. We want to feature items that photographers of all kinds will be interested in. Tutorials, online workshops, assignments, fun shoots, show-n-tell and more. We will present lighting information and lighting tools from DIY to the top-of-the-line pro gear.

A daily blog covering the Los Angeles photo scene.

Photo Focus, Scott Bourne
Photofocus is not a blog per se. Instead, it is an online magazine about photography. We publish several times each day, with the intent of informing, entertaining and educating people who are interested in photography.

Black Star Rising
This is a group blog featuring articles to educate professional photographers, aspiring pros, and photography buyers alike. Our stories offer advice and viewpoints on the art and business of photography, based on the personal experiences of our contributors. We give our bloggers the freedom to write about issues of interest to them.

A Photographic Benefit for the Survivors of the Haiti Earthquake

From MagCloud:

Several photographers including the iconic photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark, have donated the use of one or more of their works to help create this issue as a fund-raising photography magazine to benefit Haiti. The title Haiti: One Respe comes from a traditional Haitian greeting meaning “honor and respect.” See the article at OneMag.