The role of the photographer’s assistant will obviously vary with each photographer but generally the assistant’s role is to support the photographer in a way which keeps the session running smoothly and on schedule. On commercial shoots where there is a large team, the photographer’s assistant’s role may be very specific whereas on smaller shoots, the assistant’s role may be a Jack of all trades. It’s common for non-professional photographer’s assistants to be aspiring photographers hoping to soak up some knowledge so it’s important for that assistant to know boundaries and expectations.
What the assistant should do
- Pre-plan the shoot with the team to know what is expected and to keep session on schedule. This is especially true for an assistant that is working with the photographer for the first time. The assistant should know the schedule of the shoot, the locations, the number of set changes, and the number of clothing changes. These things are not always known ahead of time and usually subject to change to fit the schedule but more planning is better than less planning.
- Keep track of all gear and be familiar with them to provide them when needed. This is one of the primary roles of the assistant. He/she should have a thorough knowledge of all lenses, memory cards, and other accessories to be able to identify them and keep them organized.
- Set up lighting as per photographer’s instructions. Another primary role for the assistant is to set up and reset lights as required for different sets.
- Test lighting and setup to eliminate background distractions, flares, reflections, and obstructions. If time permits, the assistant should set up the next lighting setup and test for problems.
- Test each light to make sure they are firing and in the right ratio. It’s also helpful to test other gear such as battery levels, clean lenses, etc.
Keep track of shots per set to keep session on schedule.
Download images and review them for problems such as focus, slow shutter, lighting problems.
Run errands as needed such as feeding parking meters, getting food, moving gear.
Provide food and water to the model and other staff as needed.
Hold reflectors and other lighting modifiers as instructed.
- Shoot behind the scene images and video if explicitly required by the photographer. If the session requires behind the scene shots or videos, the assistant may be asked to perform these tasks but the assistant should never do this unless specifically authorized.
Meter light and report settings as required by photographer.
- Hold gray card for reference shots.
What the assistant should never do
- Shoot images or video unless specifically authorized by the photographer. This is a big no no unless permission has been granted by the photographer and that includes snapshots and cell phone pictures.
- Interact with the model socially or professionally. The assistant is there to do a job and support the photographer. He should never flirt with the model or try to solicit the model for other shoots.
- Post any images from the shoot online unless specifically authorized by the photographer. The model release is for the photographer and other creative team members such as makeup artist or stylist. Before posting any images, the assistant should make sure this is authorized by the photographer and model.
- Copy images to a personal memory card. That would be an excellent way to get kicked off the set and told to never return.
- Represent images from the photographer’s set as his own work even if the assistant shot the images. The photographer is the creative lead in the session. Even if the assistant has set up the lights and shot the image, that image should never be represented as his/her own work. If the assistant wants to take credit for a set, he/she should set up their own shoot and not be there in the role of the assistant.
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