In Part 1, Nonni and I wrote what makes a good assistant. There are more qualities and tasks that can up level any assistant’s game and make one an even more valuable photographer’s assistant.
Leave your EGO at the door!
The most crucial point to take away from this is to understand that you are part of a bigger whole, and your reward comes when the shoot is a success, not from being the star or getting credit. You have ideas; you want to flex what you know and be recognized for the knowledge and skill sets you have in the photography industry. Maybe you are only assisting to learn and someday set off on your own. However, if you can impart these beautiful things about yourself with humility and respect, I promise you will learn more, and the relationships you build will be more critical in the long run than being the star on set.
Ask questions (No Assumptions)
Here is where humility is key: It saves time and avoids potential embarrassing disasters if we just ask about something we are unsure of. It is better to ask than to do something wrong or worse, like break something on set in front of the client. Part of our job is to make the process seem seamless and stress-free for the client, so when you ask for help, always be discreet about it.
Make the photographer look good no matter what
This is part of the magic. One thing that will help you be appreciated asked back, and even recommended to other photographers is understanding how to show respect towards the photographer, the client, and the entire creative vision. Minimize problems, anticipate the needs on set, and redirect when there is a problem to make it seem to the client that everything is under control. It is your job to scramble so that the photographer does not have to. Discretion in communicating to the photographer and positive attitude with everyone on set can go a long way.
Know your gear!
Gear is always changing, and photographers are as individual as they come. Sometimes they get attached to vintage equipment that you have never heard of and you have to google the heck out of something just to know where it might be used if the photographer asks for it. Leading up to a shoot, especially working with someone for the first time, I always ask what equipment we will be working with so that I can research whatever I am not familiar with before I am on set. Youtube!!!! We should all have a basic knowledge of lighting and photo gear, but it is quite often that there is something new (or old) that I have not used and I need to be quick about learning.
Anticipate (Learn how to read minds)
Every photographer is different and has different individual needs in which they will normally tell you about (if it's your first time with them). The longer you work with someone, the better you will understand what they need. Soon you should be able to get it to them before they even have to ask you.
To anticipate the next move, you have to find ways to listen and react quickly. Stay in learning mode, take it all in and observe. Act when you can and listen to the conversations between the photographer and the client, so you know what’s being expected in the photo.
I always take a few minutes at the beginning of the shoot to open and look through cases to familiarize myself with their packing system. This helps to find things faster and be quick when asked to get something and keep from losing gear when you are packing up.
Understanding the basic needs on set, for every set, no matter who you are with will help the learning curve:
- Keep track of the gear and keep it organized.
- Keep batteries charged and lenses clean.
- Understand basic electrical safety.
- Gaffers tape is your best friend so have it close by at all times.
- Knowledge of lighting is essential for light and reflector placement. This can save a ton of time in the testing shots if you do not need to move the lights 100 times.
- CARDS CARDS CARDS CARDS!!!! Be so sure and careful that you put them in the memory card holder correctly (Each photographer has a system that they follow, so make sure you know it.)
- Safety on set: Keep cords neat and tape where people are walking (asses and avoid potential dangers).
- Be quick, but careful. You are responsible for expensive equipment so you should look like you are taking care of it.
- Take care of your body. Keep the photographer, and yourself, fed and hydrated. Ok, this one might seem silly, but I promise it’s essential. Our job is extremely physical, and we have to stay fit and healthy to do a good job for long hours and even long term. Also, when we are all busy on a stressful set, it is so important to be the one (if there isn't a PA) to keep the photographer (and yourself) fueled up and happy. This is so things do not turn downhill if and when the stress rises. I always bring snacks.
HAVE FUN! Always take your job seriously, but if you can bring a little joy to the set it will just be that much better. Be yourself!