“Words from the Trenches on Assisting
a Fashion Photographer”
Here’s the facts: I’m super busy. I hit the ground running in 2012 and I’m still running. I spent 6 weeks in Los Angeles and shot 4 editorials, 2 commercials, collaborated with Dimitrios Papagiannis on 3 experimental films and even found time to shoot some personal work!! I have literally thrown myself back into my photography and it feels amazing! With upcoming work trips to Berlin and Brazil, this year is promising to be rather stellar! With all this said, though, I have to keep up with this blog! And that’s going to be a little difficult with all the work. So what do we do when we realize we’re going to have to switch up the game? We decide to expand the blog and invite guest writers to post about their experiences in the fashion photography business. You’ll hear from assistants, make up artists, agents and other young, aspiring fashion photographers about their journey’s in the industry. I promise to review each post and only provide the most interesting content. And of course, as my work becomes published, I will keep you updated on what the latest and greatest happenings are going down in my world. Along with a whole new re-design, The Fashion Photography Blog is going to continue to take you on the epic journey of what it’s like to be a fashion photographer but we’re going to take it the next level! So without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first guest writer. A person very near and dear to me because he is vital to my process. Tyler Mitchell has been my first assistant for over 2 years and I rely on him more than I rely on any other person in my life. Without a great assistant, I can’t do what I do as well as I do it. So now that I’ve introduced him-
Let’s hear what Tyler has to say about being an assistant to a fashion photographer:
So you’re fresh out of school or you’re trying to change your job, and you want to get into fashion photography. Where do you even begin? For a lot of people, working as an assistant is the best way to get a peek into the industry and learn the standards and etiquette that are required in order to succeed in this industry. In fact, from my own experience, I strongly recommend that anyone who is serious about trying to shoot fashion needs to start by assisting. I feel like I have learned in a couple years what would have taken a lifetime on my own. Rest assured, there are plenty of hungry kids who already know this and who are out hunting for every job they can get. Getting assisting jobs, though, is not as easy as it would seem. The reality is that there are jobs out there, but there are also a lot of talented people looking for them. The majority of photographers that are working consistently already have a team with a 1st assistant, digital tech, and maybe a studio manager and an intern or two, and then they hire other assistants from lists of people that they have met or that come recommended from someone that they trust. As much as assisting is a fun job, it is hard work and at times you can be responsible for tasks that are vital to the shoot. This makes it hard to break into working as an assistant, because photographers want to know that you’re not going to mess up. They also want to know that you will know how to use the gear properly, safely, and quickly. Working as an intern for a little while is a good way to meet people, and to see everything else that goes into running a photography business, and although you probably won’t be that involved in the actual lighting, you will get to see a crew work together and pick up things that will help you later on.
Do’s and Dont’s
If you decide that you want to try to find work as an assistant, be it freelancing around or trying to get yourself into a full-time 1st position, there are a few things that you need to do, and not do. Most of it you will figure out on your own, and that’s how it has to be because that’s how the rest of us ended up where we are. We love what we do and we study it and think about it every day. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you probably won’t get hired back.
The first thing that will most likely happen if you are lucky enough to get in touch with someone when they are looking to expand or replace someone is you will go meet them. Sometimes they will want to see a resume but you most likely sent this when you contacted them in the first place. And when you created your resume, you definitely kept it on one page, because people who will click off your site in 3 seconds if it doesn’t load certainly don’t want to read your life story when they’ve never even met you.
Hopefully, you also have some relevant experience from interning, or you know some equipment/cameras/software from school or your own gear that you can list, and if you’ve been freelancing you can list some photographer’s you have worked with. If you have looked at capture one twice, don’t say you know it. If you’ve never set up a superboom or an octabank or bi-tubes, don’t lie about it, but make sure that you’re eager to learn and when you do get on set, pay attention to everything you see more experienced people doing.
Stealing a Photographers Contacts
Another very serious “don’t” that I want to go over is that you are not ever on set to promote yourself. If you work with a certain photographer enough, you may get comfortable enough that they will give you a contact, but it is never something you should go after on your own while working for someone else. We had a second assistant in LA, who came on set and was more or less doing a good job, and at the end of the day he was nowhere to be found. As it turns out, he was showing his book to the stylist and the client. Guess who got a talking to, and their phone number changed to “do not answer”? This is very, very important. You are there to help the photographer in any way possible. While you get to learn form your job, it is never OK to approach anyone on set in regards to your work unless suggested or approved by the photographer. And if you like your job I’d try and wait a little while before asking, as it is a tight, competitive industry and some people will be more open to sharing their contacts than others.
“You Have to Really Want it”
I guess what I’m getting at is that there’s a lot that goes into assisting, but it’s an extremely valuable opportunity to anyone trying to come up in the photography industry. If you move to a city and are trying to get a job, don’t be surprised if it takes a while. You have to really want it. We get people asking to assist or intern all the time, but the reality is.that we have a crew of people that we use and trust that is usually deep enough to cover our needs, and as long as those people are available, it’s going to be extremely hard to get in. That’s just how the industry is. There are a lot of talented and hungry people so you have to make yourself stand out. There is also something to be said for simply getting along really well with a photographer. If you both like being around each other everything is easier. The more you can educate yourself on the trends of your specific piece of the industry, and get yourself up to date on a lot of different gear, the better chance you have of getting called back and getting regular work from someone. Same goes for your actions on set… you should be anticipating what the photographer or next assistant is going to need, be ready to problem solve if something goes wrong, and most importantly you can’t stress out or start throwing attitude around. If you start doing that, there’s a huge chance you’ll never get called back. There is always something to be done, and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know where to start.
Keep Yourself Busy
The last thing that I want to say about this crazy process of becoming a photographer is that you have to remember to shoot for yourself. Its easy to keep yourself busy just trying to keep money in your bank to eat, and to forget to shoot. Even though you might be working around photography almost every day, if you aren’t actually shooting something for yourself you are just getting rusty. Most likely, even though you think your photos are cool or you did well in school, you don’t really have a book yet. It takes time shooting good stuff and bad stuff to try to figure out your style, so use this time that you have working a side job or assisting to shoot for yourself. My roommates were a Godsend for this. I live with three photographers from the college I went to and a writer. Ian (the writer) recently started a magazine, which is a huge project, but I hopped right on it because its a chance to force myself onto a schedule of shooting for myself. With everyone working together on projects like RELAPSE mag, we are able to really push each other do do more, and do it better. I think thats why we get the jobs that we do, and why we’re generally lucky enough to have the life we have. We didn’t get handed a loft in SOHO, we didn’t get into fashion to sleep with models, we didn’t get into photography for cameras. The fact that we are all clear in what we want, and love every second of donating our blood sweat and tears into our art, makes us both better assistants, and better photographers. Good luck, keep it real.