My Extra Right Hand
To I want to talk about working with an assistant and how much easier life can be.
I think anyone would agree that having an assistant would make life easier; So why then would I post about it? While it seems like a “no brainer” I still see many photographers working without an assistant. I seen wedding photographers hire a second shooter, but no assistant and I cannot understand why.
First let me say that I have another business aside from my photography and I realized a long time ago the power that having an assistant can give you and how much pressure is taken away when I have a really hectic job to do. My other business is catering and we mostly cook on-site. For me it is not high pressure anymore because I have been doing it for over 20 years. However, I didn’t hire an assistant until about 5 years in. Sure, I had people working for me as employees, but one day I realized that “maybe I need an assistant.”
So, you’re most likely thinking “well what’s the difference between the two?” Employees in my opinion are workers who have a more or less defined set of tasks that they perform on a regular basis, whereas an assistant is someone who is by your side working and interacting with you to help you accomplish your set task.
Okay, so I only use a photography assistant when I have a really important job to do. A job that requires me to stay focused (pardon the pun) and keep on a schedule. Jobs like weddings, large project shoots or maybe just a fast-paced event. Aside from these kinds of jobs most times I am a solo act and I do just fine.
Let me describe what it is that I am looking for in an assistant because I think most people are confused as to what they really need an assistant for. First and foremost, my assistant is paid and paid as well as I can they pay them. I work the cost for the assistant into every job. They are not a family member or a friend and most times they know very little about photography. Anything they need to know about photography I will teach them and most times that is just how-to setup and take down gear such as light stands and running power cords. However most of all I am looking for an individual who in very energetic, more energetic than me. I want someone who has their own means of transportation and is also comfortable driving my vehicle too. I want some one who knows how to use a smartphone/device, can do an adequate Google search in seconds, knows how to get to the nearest, store, coffee shop, deli and camera shop. I want someone who is great with people, they can not be shy at all, they must exude common sense thinking. They must be the kind of person I trust enough to hand them my credit card/s to go buy something and they won’t steal my money. I can also hand them cash money to
hold. Essentially, I want someone who is me, but better, faster and I can trust them with anything.
About now your saying “where the hell do, I find somebody like that.” I’ll agree it is not an easy thing and it doesn’t happen overnight, but once it does you need to find a way to hold on to that person. If they are a college age student it is inevitable that you will not have them forever and they’ll move on sooner or later. At this current time, I have a few different people I use. Because it is on an “as needed basis” if one is not available usually the other one is. One is a big strong guy we appropriately call “Tiny” and the other is a lady named Amy.
Tiny works a as a truck driver and appliance installer during the week, he also works for my catering business on the weekends. He meets all the criteria described above and he is an all-around good guy at heart.
Amy is a legal business administrator for a university and she too works for my catering business. I have known Amy for years and she is a very intelligent and motivated person.
Between the two of them they no nothing about camera exposure, aperture or ISO. However, they do know everything that I need them to know, things like how to change out batteries and lenses and help me stay organized. As any photographer knows the life of a photographer is “always forgetting something,” sure it may not be something critically important like a camera body (OMG could you imagine?). It is those other little things that could turn into big things, like running back to the parking lot to get something from my vehicle or maybe finding a cup of coffee on a cold day.
Each person I work with has their strong points. If it is a wedding Amy is very good at scouting the location for good spots to shoot. While Tiny on the other hand is great with lighting setups and adjusting. Tiny can also fly a drone and have it ready when I want to do an overhead shot.
So, to sum it up into one easy statement; having an assistant is like having an extra right hand or two or three. To have that extra pair of hands to carry a camera bag, to have someone to bounce ideas off of and basically be there when things are not going as planned.
In conversation with other photographers I have found some who wholeheartedly agree with me about paying an assistant “as good as you can pay them.” However, I have had a few people disagree on the amount an assistant should be paid. Some people are cheap and don’t understand the value a good assistant can bring to your gameday.
One photographer I know who has a studio and does mostly portraiture work, she hires mostly teenagers from the community. She pays them the same as if they worked at the local grocery store. She doesn’t want to pay them more because they lack experience. I feel this is a different situation, this is more of an employee than it is an assistant. And yes, teenagers are very lacking in experience and life skills. Not to rag on teenagers and I know there are good ones and bad ones, however most American teenagers lack life skills that it takes to interact with people of all ages on a personal level. Life skills come with time and experience of dealing with people. Even when I myself was 20 years old I did not have the life skills of dealing with people as I do today.
I really feel there is a distinct difference between an assistant and a general employee or at least in my interpretation of “assistant.” And as stated earlier finding the right person is no easy task. But for me it just kind of happened, I found Amy many years ago when I placed an add on Craigslist looking for general weekend catering help. I found several people that fit the bill for what I needed. Amy however did not fit the bill, she was extremely overqualified, holding a masters degree among others and being an administrator at a university just didn’t jive with doing weekend catering work. She told me she just wanted to stay busy and make some extra money. So, I gave her a chance and she is still with me to this day. As my photography business increased and I needed and assistant to shoot a wedding I asked her if she would like to do it and it was all good.
Tiny came to by way of a friend of my wife. My wife is a Thai lady and she has many Thai lady friends living here in the USA. A few of her friend have worked with us over the years and they were all amazingly motivated people. Tiny who is Thai, moved to the USA as a young boy when his mother married and American man. I met him when he was in his mid-20s, he was looking for extra work on weekends so we brought him on board so to speak. Now he is part of the main fabric of our catering business. One day I needed an assistant to help me with a rather large project shoot. I asked Tiny if he would like to make some money for the day helping to setup lights and tear them down. He jumped at the chance. Little did he know he had to carry all the gear to the third-floor studio with no elevator. And “yes” it was not easy and yes, I paid him good.
Like anything in life and we have all heard it over and over “you only get what you pay for,” however in the realm of good photography assistants you must first find them and that is the hardest part.
The last job Tiny and I did together was covering an event. It was a private premiere showing for a yet unreleased reality TV show about a family who is in the Monster Truck business. They needed a photographer to cover the event and we had a lot of fun, plus I got to meet the producer and director and a lot of other interesting people. Yes, it was a fun time and we both made money.
Now as I draw to a close on this post, I must say I know a few wedding photographers who take a different route when it comes to finding assistants. Some will actually use other photographers. They will use the photographer as both a second shooter and as an assistant. I have actually done this, I have worked as a second shooter/assistant for weddings and really it is not a bad deal at all. I help you and you help me… just as long as we both don’t have jobs the same day. Yeah and just my luck I was on the losing end of that deal a few times and that is why I just use people who are not photographers.
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.