Photographic assistants…a luxury or a necessity?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Eposure_Tim, Mar 23, 2012.

  1. Eposure_Tim

    Eposure_Tim TPF Noob!

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    With the birth of digital age and the use of post-production techniques playing an important role in photo shoots, it makes me wonder about today’s use of photographic assistants. Are there fewer opportunities to keep learning the art of picture taking, once graduates have left the educational fold?

    OK here’s a few questions:-
    - With equipment getting smaller, lighter and budgets getting tighter, is the use of an assistant a luxury rather than a necessity?

    - Are tomorrow’s photographers missing out on invaluable exposure to battle hardened professional senior photographers, and is this to the detriment of the future standards of photography?

    - With fewer opportunities to assist, are graduates left with no other alternative but to take the plunge to become photographers and just learn on the job?

    Would be great to hear your thoughts

    Tim


     
  2. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I'm not sure that I see the digital age as having anything at all to do with the fact that assisstants seem to be a dieing breed; that I think is far more a matter of economics and that many (Most?) of today's professionals are 'one-man bands' with a shoe-string budget and lack the means to hire an assistant. Lights, stands, reflectors and backgrounds still weigh the same as they did 20 years ago (more or less).

    As to whether they're a luxury or necessity, well, I think that depends on the type of work. A casual family portrait? Luxury. A huge commercial job producing the cover shot for a major fashion magazine? Necessity.

    I do agree that there seem to be fewer opportunities for aspiring photographer sto start out as "assistants", and I think that is a valuable learning experience. What the solution is? No idea.
     
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    On one hand, access to other photographers (and other resources) is exponentially better now, than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Without the internet, there would be much fewer photographers today.

    We are well into the 'digital era' now, and I think it's fair to say that learning photography (or at least picking up the basics) is much easier because of the instant feedback of digital cameras, and the fact that it's easier to access and use a 'digital darkroom' than it was for a traditional wet darkroom.

    So the result of that, is that there are far, far more "professional" photographers today, than ever before. My area (province of Alberta in Canada) tends to have a pretty strong economy, which means that more people can afford (what they think is) and expensive camera. This has lead to the area (Edmonton and Calgary) having some of the highest densities of people calling themselves digital photographers.

    So back to your question...this abundance of photographers means that there is actually quite a lot of opportunity for someone looking to become an apprentice or assistant. Of course, this also means that there is much more competition for those assistant positions....and it's certainly not a given that the 'professional' will really know what they are doing anyway.
     
  4. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    I can only think of two things I used to do in the film days that I don't do today: I don't shoot polaroids so I don't need to change backs between set up and actual shoot, and I don't send films to the lab. As Tirediron said the equipment is basically the same weight as before (actually, I find DSLRs heavier than most 35mm film cameras, lol) but I seem to have more of it than in my last studio. So, no, assistants are not a luxury. Not for me anyway.

    To be honest, from what I see around me, I don't see any less opportunities for assistants. Every commercial photog I know has at least one assistant and most have more. I run 3 shooting spaces in my studio and half the week they are in use at the same time, the rest of the week being spent on shoots or shoot-preparation where I need all of them with me. So without my assistants and my PP person I wouldn't do a third of the work I do.

    Again, assistants are not a luxury. And assisting is a very useful step in any would be photog's career path because, not only is it a great way to learn, but it is also a way to network with other photogs/future photogs and potential future clients.

    In another thread, I talk about a friend who works in the industrial insurance photography field. This guy is retiring at the end of the year and the business is being sold to, guess who!, his oldest assistant. Oldest in terms of time spent with him, 20+ years, and although a starting assistant will not make more than minimum wage (here in Europe. I made a bit more than twice that in the US when I assisted,) his salary today is about 10 times the minimum wage. This guy can run the show when and if my friend is sick or something, and very good assistants get paid very good money.


    When I worked as an assistant myself I met a couple people who were their photogs' main assistants and who had no desire to go any further in the business. They were paid well, they enjoyed their work and, big big thing, they didn't have a quarter of the stress the photogs had :)


    Assistanship is not dead, is a very useful learning tool or can become a career in itself, but like any other employment opportunity you need to study it well. Working for the right photog is key to your possibilities.

    Hope that helps.
     
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  5. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    One thing I forgot.

    Requirements for skills for assistants may vary depending on your location.

    Here in the Paris area, because of the outrageous traffic, any person applying for an assistant position MUST have a motorcycle/scooter license.
     
  6. Helen B

    Helen B TPF Noob!

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    Whether shooting digital or film + Fuji instant I don't think that assistants are a luxury either, and I know that the guys in the numerous other studios nearby don't think that they are a luxury. I generally only have one assistant (there will be another assistant for the art department), but most use at least two - one assistant for camera and lighting and one digital tech.
     
  7. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Depends what you're shooting and where. I'll pick friends to assist me and I'll pay depending on what I'm doing. I've used an assistant to help when I was shooting a family outside in a field on a windy day and needed a large light modifier and had a case that weighed over 100lbs with all my equipment.

    I've had assistants on a shoot I did for a local music artist in the middle of a creek where we had to walk about 1/2 a mile up stream from the car through swampy grass. That was fun when I forgot something important and had to walk all the way back to pick it up.
     
  8. DiskoJoe

    DiskoJoe Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    There will always be a need for someone to hold the reflector :lol:

    But a second shooter is more of an assistant for most people today. It is always good to have someone with a bit of experience to bounce ideas off of too. A good team is always better then a good idea.
     
  9. Tony S

    Tony S Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I always use an assistant of some kind. Whether they have or want photo experience depends on the shoot. It's good to have someone hold the reflector, turn it, adjust light positions without me having to move, keep an eye out for hazards, hold the spare flash or camera. I always, always, always have an assistant when shooting seniors or kids. First off it gives me another set of eyes to see the little things like cell phone bulges in pockets, gum or that stray bra strap that have a negative effect on the photo. But it also gives me another person there to witness what is actually going on and prevent someone from coming up with a story that would cause all kinds of life long grief (learned from the experience of a friend on this one).
     
  10. mcap1972

    mcap1972 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    It's nice to have an assistant on the shoot. I all depands on how big is the production. I would say 99% of commercial shoots are done with assistants of different sort.
     
  11. 2WheelPhoto

    2WheelPhoto TPF Noob!

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    I have my assistant help set up my lights, operate a light meter, hold reflectors, pose, fix hair, point out details i miss such as bra straps showing on subject, fingers goofy, help load at the end, contribute to client's fun time, etc etc. She's also my GF so I get her at a bargain =)

    She even saves my light after I told her "naw, no wind today don't worry about sandbagging it with more"
    [​IMG]

    She holds the light meter patiently even when i forget to turn on the pocket wizards and she gives me reading "zero" heh
    [​IMG]

    She helps with set up and test shots ahead of clients arriving =)
    [​IMG]
     
  12. pgriz

    pgriz Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Quick! Marry her before someone else makes her a better offer!
     
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