ATTN: Potential Photography Assistants
I’ve had an influx photography assistant inquiries lately. People with all sorts of different personalities and experiences in photography.
If you’re one of those people looking to become a photography assistant and want to get the most out of your experience, I have a bit of advice for you.
What I’m looking for in a photography assistant
You might be surprised, but I’m not going to write down a shopping list of skills. I don’t really care what experience you have with other photographers (since we all have a different approach).
Of course, it’s nice to have knowledge and skills in photography, such as pre-production, production, lighting and post-production. But it’s not a requirement.
What’s much more important in a photography assistant is things like:
- a positive attitude
- open and clear communication
- people skills
- initiative and a bias towards action
You may have noticed that these things are harder to teach (although not impossible).
But that’s not all. In fact, you could have all of those things, and you might not be the right photography assistant for me.
There’s something even deeper that will ensure our photographer/assistant relationship is successful in the long run. I was heavily influenced by this chat I saw between Gary Vaynerchuk and Simon Sinek and have used it when meeting potential photography assistants.
As you’ll see it’s all about specifics.
Why is it that I do what I do? What am I trying to create in the world?
Why is it that you do what you do? What are you trying to create in the world?
If these two things are aligned, then we’re off to a good start.
What do you have to give (that you think I need)?
If you want to be someone’s photography assistant, think beyond what I can do for you. Start thinking about:
- What you can do for me; specifically.
- What do you bring to the table that is unique and would help elevate what I’m up to?
- How could your strengths make my life easier and support me on my journey?
This will be different for any photographer and ideally, it addresses a weakness or bottleneck that they have.
For me, I have a whole list of things that it would be great to have help with. I’m not going to share them, as I’d rather know what you believe you can offer me, instead of having you offer me something I want that isn’t in your wheelhouse.
What do you want to (selfishly) take (specifically) from me?
And please don’t tell me things like:
- “Get a better sense of the industry”
- “I want to work with great photographers”
- “Learn more about photography”
- “Get to see an experienced photographer work”
- “I want to help someone build something”
Because these things are wayyy to general. There’s plenty of photographers out there that you can get this info from. I want to know:
- What do you want to take from me; selfishly and specifically.
- What is it about my work that you feel you could really benefit from?
- What is it that makes me uniquely qualified to help you along your journey?
If you can’t answer those questions, then you’re better off looking elsewhere.
That’s because if you don’t know what you’re looking to get from me, how will I ever be able to give it to you? Over time you’ll just get bored or feel like you’re not getting what you want out of the relationship.
The Right Fit
So it’s important that those things line up: what I can specifically give to you and what you can specifically offer me.
Otherwise, the relationship is uneven. I’m looking for win-win situations where both sides get a lot of value from the time and effort that goes into building a balanced relationship.
Cause listen, if you’re just looking to leech off some photography knowledge before you move to the next photographer, do me a favour and just take a workshop.
Workshops are designed to up-skill you to the next level. The relationship between a photographer and their assistant is best when it’s long term and mutually beneficial.
Stay top of mind
If you do get a job as a photographer’s assistant, it’s important for you to be the driver of that relationship.
It’s likely that you chose that photographer because of their work, and it’s pretty darn likely that they’re quite busy as is.
Stay in touch. Ask the photographer to meet for a coffee/beer. Ask them what they are up to and what you can do to help.
If you don’t take charge, then things might fizzle out. If you take responsibility for the success of the relationship and take action to make the relationship work, then you might have just learned your first lesson on how to branch off on your own someday.
P.S. By the way, this lesson is just as applicable to client/photographer relationships as it is to photographer/assistant relationships. Consider that your second lesson as a photography assistant.
P.P.S. As a bonus lesson: if you’re meeting up with a photographer for a coffee or beer to chat about working together, read up on reciprocation, a concept I learned from The Personal MBA in the Photo Proventure Bookshelf.
P.P.P.S. If you do get a job as an assistant using any of the ideas in this post, I’d love to hear about it!