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29/05/15
So your persistence and enthusiasm has finally paid off, and after dozens of phone calls and visits to studios, you've just taken a first step into the world of photography and booked your first day as a photographer's assistant.

Wait – what exactly does the job entail? Starting out as a photographer's assistant can seem very intimidating to begin with, so this month I'm going to share some tips I picked up from from my own experience.


Health & Safety First

I can't stress how vital it is to have a critical eye for health and safety; it is probably the most important aspect of the job. Photography both in studio and location is a minefield where health and safety is concerned – there are so many potential hazards. Wherever you are working, always familiar yourself with where the fire escapes are, where the relevant fire extinguishers are located, and where the first aid supplies can be found.

A lot of electrical equipment is used, especially in studio where any number flash units could be on set, presenting potential electrical and fire risks. All assistants should have some knowledge of electrical appliances, such as how to wire a plug and what fuse to use (on location, always make sure you pack spare fuses of the correct ratings). Here is a good link to get you started!

The cables for said equipment can create trip hazards. Complex room sets have been known to collapse if not constructed properly or are interfered with. To add to all this, the shoot could be under dim lighting conditions, and any number of people (who may not be as H&S-minded as you!) could be on the set.

It is up to the assistant to monitor and counter the hazards as they appear. If you can successfully relieve the photographer of this, it will make you invaluable to them as he\she will be able to focus more efficiently on the shoot at hand.

Top Tip: If working with tungsten lights, you need to be doubly careful when around them as they will get extremely hot – I have seen handprints burnt onto the barndoors of tungsten heads, and that is as good a warning sign as any!


Organisation!

It is crucial to be organised. A huge amount of work goes into a photo shoot, and the photographer will be relying on you to help keep order. If you are travelling to a location, make sure to note down the travel routes and train times (as well as some alternative routes, in case public transport fails you). You will want to make sure you have a fully charged phone as well, especially if you are meeting the photographer at the location.

Always have a notepad handy; a few things you may want to jot down include camera settings, light settings, names of the products being shot, sizes of images required and any notes for post-production. This will help the shoot run smoothly.

You may have the responsibility of controlling the computer if the photographer is shooting tethered. Keep up to date with naming the image files, deleting reject captures and marking favourites. You don't want to get behind on this. Never underestimate how time consuming this process can be – the time the assistant will save the photographer can then be used constructively on the shoot.

Top Tip: Always be on the ball. While the photographer is shooting, you could be the one viewing the images as they come up on the screen. Alert the photographer if you see any problems. Also keep an eye on the exposure, colour balance and any other relevant settings.


Get That Music On

To ensure a productive creative environment, someone needs to ensure there is a positive atmosphere to work in, and this will be down to you. Therefore, I think it is important that you know a good range of music that will be appropriate for particular types of shoots to maintain that productive atmosphere. This might not seem relevant in a photographic-based career, but when you are on a shoot yourself and the music suddenly cuts out, you will know what I mean.

These days, we have Spotify, giving you near unlimited access to music of all genres, so why not make the most of it?

Top Tip: I love a bit of heavy metal too – but perhaps check if the clients are wearing Maiden T-shirts and biker jackets first! Choose music appropriate to the client and nature of the shoot.


Remember Your First Part-Time Job at that Cafe?

This one is pretty obvious, but so important that I can't exclude it from this list. Brush up on your catering skills! You're going to be asked to make the tea and coffee, and will often be expected to take long orders, and everyone will take their hot drinks differently. If the client doesn't say how he/she takes their coffee, politely ask.

For bigger shoots with models, stylists, make-up artists and so on, it often pays to have snacks and juices to hand as well.

Top Tip: Check the date of the milk before you pour - I've yet to meet someone who takes their coffee sour!


Learn!

Above all, remember that you are there to learn. One day, if you work hard enough, it will be you in the photographer's shoes, but until then, this is your training. Take note on everything that goes into the shoot from the lighting to client interaction.

If you are just starting out and are looking to assist, feel free to drop me an email with any questions - you can find contact details on my website

 
Lee Murrells - 
Freelance Photographer
www.leemurrells.wix.com/photo