Hey there girl.
So I get lots of questions on the blog and in email form about either how to make it OR about thinking about how to start trying to make it OR getting stuck trying to make it. A gentleman named Paul emailed me a very nice comprehensive email and I started to write a very nice comprehensive email back.
Then, as I was writing, I decided to turn it into a large 4 piece post on what I think are the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer. They are (to):
Today will be about initiative #1, assisting. I will roll the other three out every couple days or so. They’re gonna be a bit all over the place but, hey, so am I. If you have specific followup questions, drop a line and I will answer them.
So here is what I have to say about assisting. People either love or hate assisting. I personally loved my time assisting. I always tried to come into shoots with the goal of learning at least one new thing by the end of the day, if not twenty. Now that I’m hiring my own assistants, here are some tips. First, stay off your fucking phone! Be observant. You’re getting paid to take in what you like, and don’t like, about the photographer’s shooting style, lighting, rapport with the subjects. Notice what you like and what works, and what you think he/she is doing poorly that you’d change when you shoot. Assisting is a great way to make rent, develop relationships, get to know gear better, learn advanced and nuanced lighting techniques, gather advice, observed how to problem solve, manage your time well before and during the shoot. Geez, I could go on and on. I think it’s one of the best tools to learn how to become a photographer. So stay off your phone. Twitter will be there at the end of the day. Don’t tune out. See what can be done, and use the time to observe everything.
It’s remarkably easy to keep getting work from certain photographers when you do your job well. It’s also remarkably easy to not get any more work if you’ve got a bad attitude, don’t work hard, space out, are constantly on your phone (can you tell it’s a pet peeve?). I was guilty of it too in my assisting days, but now that I’m on the other side, it’s just frustrating when something needs to be done, and I’m the one that needs to do it, while the assistant dicks around on his/her phone, not paying attention. Also, show intent, care, hard work, motivation to learn, and being a solid member of a team, and a willingness to make the shoot run smoothly. That’s all it takes. I assure you, you’ll get a solid rep around town and soon have more work than you know what to do with.
How to get assisting work: Net(work) your ass off. Research every photographer you can in your city. Write them specific and personal emails to them, call out shots of theirs and why you like them. It is the only way you’ll get a response, and a meeting with that photographer. You know what sucks? Getting an email from a prospective assist or intern or college student that obviously is writing 15 different photographers with the same exact email. That shows you don’t care. Why would anyone want to hire/write back/interact with someone who doesn’t care?
Anyway, digression aside. Arrange meetings with every photographer who you can in your city. Even if you don’t like their work, have some respect for their work. Don’t meet with people whose work you hate. Not worth it. Meet with them for coffee, have a good attitude, demonstrate a solid knowledge of photography, show you know some gear. Ask them for 3-5 other photographers you should be meeting with in town. Reach out to those folks, meet with them, and do the same, until you’ve met with everyone.
Also important… very important: stay in touch with these people every month, even if they don’t give you work. Do this for at least six months. Photographers (and photo editors) get courted all the time. Often just once. Be the guy/girl who rises above and stays in touch. That signifies you care, you’re not a flash in the pan. Also, from personal experience, I need reminders from people…. I can have a great interaction with someone…. but if I don’t hear from that person for 2-4 months…. guess what? I forget their name. I remember they were rad, but I can’t look them up! So if you’re reading this, girl that called me, and was moving to SF and doing the ‘assistant hustle’, and I commended you for it, get back in touch with me cause I forgot your name!
That’s all I have to really say about assisting. Oh, I will say I personally value someone who has a good attitude and is a good traveling companion over a person who has alot of gear know-how but I don’t really vibe well with. Preferably, the assistant will have both awesomeness and gear knowledge. Shoutout to my buddy Carlos, who fills this dual role so well! If you’re looking to get into assisting, show this companionship side in your meetings. But even if you’re the coolest dude in school, it’s real hard to me to hire you for shoots, cause if you don’t know how to set up a 7B, or octabank, or the right way an arm should go off a c-stand (clockwise, so the knuckle self-tightens), or meter lights individually, etc, I’ll be the one who’s gotta do it. They way to get to know gear is to offer to come work for free as a 2nd or 3rd assist and acquire gear knowledge, or work in a rental shoppe. Then, photographers will be callin you!