I started off my career as a photo assistant and it is still a large part of my business. I have been assisting fellow photographers for about two years now. In that time I have seen many photo assistants come and go. Some straying from photography all together and others that hit it big in their own photography. I think that assisting is one of the most valuable tools for a young photographer. It allows you to learn the ropes of the professional photography world. You learn the business side, the lighting side, the camera side, the client relation side...you learn everything and you learn it fast. You also teach. You teach the photographer you are working with about their self and their personal style. You always bring something of your own to the shoot. One of the biggest lessons you can learn from assisting is that good photography is often a team effort. An effort shared by wardrobe stylist, make up artist, hair stylist, assistants, photographers, production assistants, location scouts and countless others. That beautiful photo on the cover of Vanity Faire this month did not com from the effort of just one person but a team of people that worked together for a common goal.
Now for some actual tips:
1. Be on time! Really folks the first rule is to show up on time. If you are late espically on the first day this is bad. It is not that hard to plan ahead and be on time.
2. Be on point. Be ready to move when the photographer needs something. Always be thinking ahead.
3. Always keep busy. On a set their is always something that needs to be done.
4. Bring an assisting kit with you. I genearlly carry a knife, a multi tool, gaff tape, AA batteries, cell phone, extra CF and SD cards, sharpie, and some paper.
5. Be quiet on set. The photographer is usually trying to convey detalis to the model also if you are speaking to much you might miss a critical instruction.
6. Know your role. Generally their is a 1st assistant 2nd assistant take your cues from them. The job is the technical nitty gritty so the photographer can focus on the creative.
7. Going with be quiet on set, never push your own agenda. You are their for the photographer not social hour with the client. Don't talk to the client about your own work that is very poor taste also a quick way to get kicked off set.
8. Have a good attitude. Do what the photographer says with a smile. Serve him. Take care of his needs first.
9. Be positive. Be positive about the shoot at hand. Be upbeat and fun. If we are out in a swamp full of misquotes chances are that everyone knows this don't complain about getting bit, life will go on.
10. Ask questions. If you don't understand an instruction or know what to do exactly just ask. Not knowing something can cost extra time and money. If you put up a light wrong and it ends up falling on a clients head because it was not safety tethered... you get the picture ask questions.
11. Be willing to really dig in and work. If that means cleaning the bathroom and windows then do it. It will go a long way. Also be willing to help on personal projects.
This is just what I have gleaned from working as an assistant and a photographer over the last few years. You are welcome to add to the conversation. This is a photography community and everyone can take part.