101 Uses for Gaff Tape

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I thought it might be fun for all the readers at A Photo Assistant to get involved on a post and help me compile a list of all the different uses for gaff tape. Just take a moment to consider all the applications for gaff tape on set, on location, in the production van, and anywhere else you might find yourself assisting or shooting. Just use the comments section to share a predicament you found yourself in and was saved by our trusty friend, Mr. Gaff Tape. Just go for it!

I’ll start things off with some of the more common uses of gaff tape…

1.    Tape cords, head-extensions cables, and other wiring to floor to prevent tripping.
2.    Lay blocking markers on floor for models, actors, props.
3.    Tape two 4×8 foamcores together to make a V-flat.
4.    Tape gels and ND onto light heads.
5.    Tape down seamless to floor.
6.    Mark camera, light positions on floor when checking other lighting direction.
7.    Lock off a position on a zoom lens.

Now your turn… share your normal, and crazy, uses for gaff tape!

Photo Assistant’s Burnout

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Not feeling yourself lately? A little crabby, even after your morning joe? Making mistakes on-set that are typical of a newbie? Getting upset at all the monkey-business going on around you? Is your patience and energy level easily drained? If any of this sounds familiar, you’re probably experiencing some burnout, man.

Recently, on location, I experienced some red flags. They came up, out of the blue. I knew I was tired and a little off, but I really hadn’t considered how bad things were, since I was caught up in the moment. It’s difficult to stop and consider what can and will go wrong involving all the circumstances you find yourself day-in and day-out. I thought I could endure most anything since I’ve pretty much seen and experienced it all. Well, I’m here to tell you, don’t ever get that cocky, even with yourself, because you will never be able to be everything to everyone.

The past couple months, I have been working three to five days each week. Many days were eight and ten hours, but also some twelve and fourteen hour days, here and there. If you add travel into that mix, as I was doing, you’re definitely asking for trouble. I had also been working on a few other projects of my own, that I’ve been trying to get going. I knew I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, but I also needed to stay busy. Work this past spring was spotty, at best. This past month seemed ridiculously busy and it was good to be getting caught up on some bills. I also found a sweet used lens that I wanted to buy, and I needed a few extra bucks to seal the deal. So I was trying to justify burning the candle at both ends, even though it seemed all I was doing was working and sleeping. I was grumpy and constantly tired. I was getting restless and irritable. I was getting burned-out, big-time.

At some point, you will experience burn-out. The key is to recognize it before it’s too late. Before you’re about to climb that tall, shaky ladder, and you’re even shakier… STOP. Consider asking someone else to set the light. Before you open you’re mouth to offer a suggestion to the photographer or client… STOP. Consider if you’re point is valid and if it’s even wanted, depending on your circumstances. Before you tell a coworker you’re tired of their goofing-off while you’re working your ass off.. .STOP. Consider their situation and if they’re even aware of their actions, or if you’re just being a grump. Always take a moment to consider the ramifications of your actions before you open that can-o-worms… especially if you’re burned-out. If your tired, your mental capacities are taxed and you just might be digging yourself a deep hole if you’re not on your game that day. Always use your head, but if you’re having an off day, maybe you’re best bet is to keep it to yourself and be extra safe, since your head maybe isn’t working so hot.

So, it’s important to recognize your well-being as you consider your work schedule. If you’ve been assisting for any time, you know what I mean. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day and lose track of your senses when you’re busy with work. And, it’s easy to discount some of the warnings you feel, especially when you consider past slow periods and bills and other expenses piling up… so, you keep plugging away. But, you need to remind yourself that if you’re operating at a sub-par level, you may be risking your reputation and ability to provide service to photographers that have come to expect great things from you. Pay attention to these things, or you might just find yourself sitting around wondering why the phone isn’t ringing. Learn what your limitations are and don’t try to be a hero at the expense of your safety and well-being, as well as the the safety of others on-set. You need to be on top of your game so you can be of maximum service to the photographer.

ALWAYS Have a Back-up Plan

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Inevitably, something can, and will, go wrong.

A couple weeks ago I got a call from a digital tech friend of mine who wanted to refer me to a photographer he was unavailable for on an upcoming shoot. The photographer, Paul Aresu, was flying in from New York and photographing Brock Lesnar, prior to his defending of his UFC Heavyweight Title against Frank Mir, which just went down Saturday, July 11 in Las Vegas. Congrats, Brock! When I got the call from David Anderson I was more than happy to take the gig. We had a great phone conversation during which he wanted to make sure I was available and could rely on me to help him help the photographer in this situation.

The only trouble was the date was not nailed down specifically, due to Paul’s shooting schedule, Brock’s training schedule, the client’s schedule, and the video crew’s schedule. I assured David that I was available during the three-day window that the producer was looking at. I did have another shoot on Monday-Tuesday that week, but Tuesday was just a half-day anyway. The Brock Lesnar shoot wouldn’t happen until Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday… Friday being the probable date. No Problem!

Well, Saturday night rolls around, the weekend before the shoot, and the producer in NY still can’t give me an exact date for the shoot, but it kinda looks like it might go down on Wednesday now, but not for sure yet. Well this is kinda making me just a little concerned, with all the variables at play here, because I needed to pick up lighting and grip gear from two different locations, the night before the shoot, meaning Tuesday. So now, I’m thinking, “I’m booked a half-day Tuesday. Will I have enough time to pick-up gear from both places before 5PM?” Not to mention that I still had to drive two hours to the location. And what if some other conflict comes up and the dates change altogether, to a Tuesday shoot date? Then I’m really screwed!

Sunday morning, I called the photographer I was working with on the Monday-Tuesday shoot, just to confirm times, and explain my situation. He appreciated the call and assured me all would be fine. Just to be safe, I called another assistant friend of mine and asked if he would be available to make the pick-up runs on Tuesday before 5PM with his truck if I couldn’t do it. No problem!

I called the producer back Sunday afternoon and left a message. I told her I had everything covered, so long as the shoot didn’t change to Tuesday, for whatever reason that could happen. She called me back right away and told me she had just gotten all the confirmations from everyone for a Wednesday shoot date and that she was in the process of making all the reservations. She assured me the shoot date wouldn’t change now, as there wasn’t enough time to modify the reservations for everything and everyone. She apologized for the haphazard way things came together and thanked me for sticking with her through it all. Whew! I knew what she was up against, trying to coordinate everyone’s schedule, flight and hotel reservations, gear reservations, and probably another thirty-one things back at the studio.

The shoot went down, without any real imposing problems. Christophe, Paul’s 1st Assistant, was incredibly resourceful and borrowed a bed-sheet from the hotel as a fill-card for Brock. I managed to secure a Dyna-Lite head with bungee-cords (who needs a super clamp?) to our 20′ overhead rail rigging for the hair light. The light stayed put through five hours of shooting. It was a fun shoot and I was happy to be a part of it.

Nonetheless, I dodged a bullet here, big-time! ALWAYS have a back-up plan! NEVER assume anything about a production schedule, even after the reservations are made. And when the conflict is obvious, make sure you communicate the issue with the powers-that-be, lest you make a bigger cluster-f**k of everything. All problems can be addressed and handled, if they are known. Communication is key. There are way too many times that I’ve witnessed communication problems in the communication (photo) industry. DON’T be a part of the problem. Use common-sense and make sure you CAN do your job according to what is expected of you.

Many thanks to David Anderson, for the referral, and for his trust.

All Photography Jobs Are Not The Same

One of the best things about being a freelance photo assistant is that almost nothing is ever the same. One day you’re working on a product shoot surrounded by strobes, the next day a lifestyle/fashion shoot for a big ad agency, then maybe a day on location at the L.A. Times press production plant, then a day shooting interior and exterior architecture, and then cap off your week with a grueling day on the beach with body-builders and bikini babes. And yes, that day on the beach will be grueling, if you’re not accustomed to it!

But, I suppose if your existence thrives on rote routine, you’d be just fine with your employee position, working for the man, and you probably wouldn’t even be reading this blog post. To me, the very thought of punching a clock, going to my cubicle or assigned work station, and performing the same mundane duties, day-in and day-out, in the same drab environment, makes me want to dive into a drum of stop bath. There was a time when I played these work-a-day rituals, even while working in the photo industry while at a few different commercial labs, and I was very unhappy and unfulfilled in my ability to eek out a happy and creative existence.

So, being a photo assistant and photographer is usually never boring. But that doesn’t exactly mean it’s all fun and games. In fact, there’s been many times, at the end of the day, when I felt like I had never worked harder in my life…

Try fifteen hours, on location, in an old historic theater in downtown Los Angeles, lugging in every imaginable piece of lighting gear (kino, strobe, HMI), grip, hundreds and hundreds of feet of Bates cable for power distribution, props, and of course, a gazillion pounds of sandbags. Set up six or seven shots for 35mm digital and film, medium-format digital and film, and video. All the while remembering you are in one of the most historic buildings in the L.A. Theater District, and must be careful not to bang shit into the walls and doorways, stay on a track of heavy-duty kraft paper to minimize dirt and wear-and-tear on the carpet, and keep everything moving quick and smooth, despite your every carefully calculated move. Then pack it all up into the truck within an hour because production ran too long and the two security guards are going to bill production triple-time after the hour is up. Then, after that, deal with L.A. traffic for a relaxing two and one-half hour drive home to Palm Springs. Well, that last part is just me whining, but I’m hoping to gather a little sympathy, despite the fact that I was living in Palm Springs at the time.

Then there’s the shoots where you fly into Vegas for a couple of days to shoot young, twenty-something’s partying it up in a newly remodeled Vegas casino and hotel. Call time is 4AM because that’s the slowest time on the casino floor to get that money shot at the craps table. Then you hit the poker room and get the lighting dialed-in for three different angles. Then lunch and right back at it to start staging the big dance club shot, shooting from a boom-lift out on Freemont Street, overlooking the second-level balcony terrace. There’s people everywhere wanting to know what you’re doing and where they can see the photos later, after publication. After four hours of setting up the lighting and layout, the pretty models do their thing and everyone is having fun and then your radio battery dies and you can’t hear the photographer out in the boom-lift and hell breaks loose. After some creative mesaage-relaying, we get the shot, and it’s off to the new sushi restaurant for the last shot of the day. Everything goes off without too much trouble once we get all the lights set just right for all the model positions, but you’re constantly on guard for casino patrons who are busy looking at what’s going on rather than where they are walking, and possibly tripping on the head extension cables, even after you taped them down all nice and neat. Can you say liability? Then you discover one of the strobes isn’t firing and after replacing batteries in the pocket wizard, switching out the head, then the power pack, you finally determine the head-extension cable is bad from some lady stomping on it with her high-heels. Hey what about my dinner? The buffet closes at 10PM? What time is it now? 9:50! Aw man….

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all whining and complaining about the long hours, short meal breaks, travel, heavy lifting, gawkers, and inconvenient special circumstances. Well, maybe just a little bit. But if I was crammed into some office or warehouse I’d definitely be kicking and screaming all day long and feeling miserable and making everyone else miserable. But, working on-set, at least I know I’ve been thoroughly challenged, overcome those obstacles creatively, enjoyed myself being a part of the production team, and feel appreciated by the photographer and the client. And hey… I’m in Vegas!

The bottom-line is that every shoot is different. Different photographers, different production crew, different locations, different gear… variety is definitely the spice of life. And, on a photo shoot, you just never really quite know what’s going to happen until you find it staring you in the face. To me, that’s awesome! I would rather work my ass off for a few days a week doing a variety of things I love, instead of mindlessly running on the hamster wheel for someone else. I would never get to have the same experiences that I’ve had sitting in a cubicle and taking two weeks vacation every year.

What it Takes

In order to be a great photo assistant, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades. Being resourceful will be your greatest asset. Even if you don’t know a particular camera, a certain lighting manufacturer’s equipment, or some software, you can make up for these by being creatively resourceful. Sure, you will need to eventually learn all the gear and techniques, but as you’re just starting out, it will be enough to just be teachable.