5 traits of a great photography assistant

 In For Photographers

This blog post is dedicated to Akiko, the best photography assistant we had so far!

Being a photography assistant is not an easy task. From doing small things to being the supporter of the main photographer, a photography assistant works in the shadows. The work of a photography assistant is not always rewarding, but don’t let my first words demotivate you: being a photography assistant will give you access to a vast amount of knowledge. You will be exposed to mistakes you can avoid when launching your own business. You can learn how to jump-start your career. You can also learn how to handle delicate issues. All this by being the photography assistant, and without being in the firing line.
However, not all photography assistants are created equals, and being a great photography assistant is the difference between building a niche for yourself, or being sent away a week into your assignment.
Do you want to know the 5 traits that make a photography assistant a great photography assistant, a fantastic asset to every photographer?

1. Be a selfless photography assistant

To mock a very known line “there is no I in photography assistant“. Well, there is, but if you want to be a great photography assistant, then your ego should be the size of a peanut. If you want to be someone’s assistant, you need to understand that it is not going to be a same-level deal. The photographer will carry the burden of a business, and you should be there to help her in any possible way. Be her PA, prepare the coffee, set up the cameras, use the reflector and all of these without expecting anything back.
Does it sound unfair? Well, that’s already too much ego. Not because it may not be true, but because the deal is that being a photography assistant is being in the presence of someone who can teach you how to be a better photographer and a better business person. In being the photography assistant of someone who has moved her business through the troubled waters to a stable economy you are exposed to things that may be the deal maker in your future career. As a photography assistant you are in the unique position of seeing the history in the making, without being responsible for any mistake.
If you still think that’s not fair, try and launch your own business. Try to decide how to invest a lot of your money with the knowledge that you may invest them in the wrong place. Try to think having someone to help you which has an ego you have to┬ámanage on top of everything else.
First rule of being a great photography assistant: be selfless. It is not about you.

2. Great photography assistants don’t ask

As a photography assistant you will be exposed to all the thought processes of a working photographer. When you will be on the other side, and you will have your own photography assistant, you will realise that the time you can spend training them is extremely limited. A great photography assistant is always ready to capture the unsaid words. Being a good observer will give you access to the thoughts that drive a photographer. Of course, you cannot live without having some questions unasked, but knowing when to ask them is the difference between a photography assistant and someone who can get kicked out of the set.
It is not because the photographer is a Prima Donna, but because in certain moments a photographer needs all the concentration she can get. Someone constantly asking questions will be a distraction.

3. Anticipate the photographer’s needs

The worst experience with a photography assistant, was when I was supposed to do things for her. The second worst experience was turning my head towards her and seeing her sitting down with a blank expression on her face.
A great photography assistant is always in the photographer’s mind. If during a shoot I turn towards my photography assistant, I expect her to have my other camera, already switched on and ready to go. If I am at the phone, talking to a client, I expect my photography assistant to bring me some paper and a pen.
There is no space for someone who is not proactive, who does not think what the photographer may be thinking. And that’s the real point in being a photography assistant: you can invest your time in thinking like a seasoned professional. You can anticipate her need because you can think like her. This will make an amazing photographer, as already as a photography assistant you will have the right mindset.

4. Don’t expect to be a photographer

I don’t expect my photography assistant to take photos of my clients. More importantly, my clients don’t expect my photography assistant to take photos of them. The fact that many good photographer will try their best to give their photography assistants time to shoot, taking photos should not be on top of your priority list.
You should be looking at the photographer, knowing why she takes photos with a specific lens from a specific angle. You should be ready to anticipate her needs, but you can’t do any of these things if you are trying to take good photos. Again, it is not about you, and the way you can learn is more deep than clicking away. The most important tool for a photography assistant is her brain, and how she can train it to make the most out of the opportunity to shorten the list of failures she will face when she will be the photographer.

5. Don’t promote yourself

As a photography assistant you will probably face your boss’ clients. There is nothing worst than speaking badly about the photographer you are assisting or promoting yourself personally. Doing this will give you a one-way ticket out of any studio and a bad reputation that will spread like wildfire. We mentioned that a good photography assistant is selfless, she works for someone else, in the shadows. Your time as an assistant will help you jumpstarting your career, making you avoid costly mistakes. You need to realise that it is never about you.
To be a great photography assistant make sure you always have a good word for your boss, help her out when needed and be ready to give away her business cards.

Being a great photography assistant is not simple. It requires dedication, it requires time and effort. Being a good photography assistant will show you a world made of tough choices, mistakes, attempts and will open your future: the better you will be at it, the more you will be appreciated as photography assistant, and the more you will have more and more doors open.

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