THE MYSTERIUM OF BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT BY EVA SCHWANK

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The Mysterium of being an assistant.

What does it mean, how can I get in, what do I have to do? .. there are so many questions and when I look back I had them all. So let me give you a little inside into the assisting world and demystify it a bit.

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There are so many different ways to become a photographer by studying at a university or in an apprenticeship (which you can’t do in the UK I believe) but the most effective one and the one you learn the most is assisting photographers.
So how to start - first of all I would say look who you want to assist. Do your research and look up who inspires you. Of course if you are absolutely new to photography it is wise to start not too ambitious - maybe even consider working in a photographic studio as a studio assistant to get going in the industry. But if you have already some knowledge why not dream big, research photographers you want to assist and get creative with your application. I designed a whole website as an application including a little video of myself where I introduced myself to the photographer. Mention why you like their work and why they need you. Show them your creative side and that you are passionate about assisting. You can even write photographic agencies with your CV but they often prefer experienced assistants.

Before we dive in any further let me split up what kind of assisting jobs there are.

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Lighting Assistant:

Your task is to set up lights. Sounds simple when I say it like that but you really need to know your stuff. The photographer will either give you concrete instructions how he/she wants the light set up to be or you are just left with a reference and you need to recreate the light.


Sometimes you also need to get a lighting list ready for the photographer to send it to the hire company, so you really need to know what look each light creates and what is needed.
Be prepared to lift HEAVY! Trust me you want to have some muscles when you need to lift an HMI light.

In the beginning of the day you need to make sure that all the equipment that was hired is there and that everything works. Get everything out of the boxes and prepare the set up.


The days can be absolutely maniac with different light set ups, moving location to just holding a reflector - but trust me even that takes it out of you - imagine standing on a roof with heavy wind and holding a reflector - not the most of fun. Also you need to be careful with the reflection because you don’t want to blind the model.

On bigger sets there are more than one lighting assistant so the 1st lighting assistant is the lead. Set ups can be as simple as one light to massive, super complicated set ups which can include 8 lights or more. There is really no limit. It also depends if you are on location or in a studio, how big the location is you want to light.

I could write loads more but lets keep it short and simple. Now let’s have a look at what I have been doing on set.

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Digital Operator:

My job was the one of a Digital Operator - if I would have told that to my younger self I would have probably said shut up as I was always quite afraid of all those super technical things.
Your job as a digital operator is everything around the camera and getting the files on the laptop. Setting up camera, lenses - make sure all the lenses are clean. Connecting the camera to the laptop or tower. Test that everything works. Make sure there is no dust on the sensor. You get the drill - basically all the technical camera and photo equipment bits are yours to look after.
Now your day will be to work with Capture One, which is the picture software most of the professional photographers use. Make sure you know your way around Capture One, there are so many tips and tricks.
Either the photographer will shoot to card or tether directly into the laptop. You will set up a session for the day and create folders for every single shot. After that you create a colour profile (in cooperation with the photographer of course), checking focus and double checking the images fit into the desired crop - on advertising campaigns you can have up to 10 different crop versions one image needs to fit in. If you are outside and you have a sunny day with some clouds (digis fave) you also have to make sure the exposure is right.

CAPTURE ONE EDITING PROGRAMME

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If you are outside and you have a sunny day with some clouds (digis fave) you also have to make sure the exposure is right.

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CHECK

IF YOU GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED. CABLES, SD CARDS, CHARGERS, BATTERY ETC.

Also you might need to process low res jpg, high res selects etc of each shot. Every job is different and has different requirements.
On top of that you need to back up the session on the go after every shot or you schedule it - there is a very clever program for that called Chrono Sync. You will get back up paranoid when you hear all the stories of what can go wrong on set, imagine the photographer is on the last shot of the day and the computer crashes/ won’t turn on anymore and boom the whole job is gone because there is no backup or you are on a trip and the computer gets stolen or lost on the flight back. Always make sure you have plenty of backups of the job!

It is all very complicated to explain and trust me the easiest is to look over someones shoulder and learn it, as there are so many things to keep in mind and so many little tricks. There is so much that can go wrong in a day - sometimes I believe the computer or the camera has its own mind.
Other tasks on set are creating mood boards in Photoshop, which include pictures of each shot to make sure the story flows etc.

A plus is if you know your way around photoshop as there might be some on set comping or something else the photographer and client wants to quickly see and make sure it works. Most of the time the digi is the last to finish, especially on trips, getting a third backup done, processing edits after photographer and client have picked etc etc.

Digi set ups can be as easy as one camera and a laptop, two different cameras and lenses a tower and external screens for the client to view the images as well.

I hope this gives you a little bit of an insight into the assisting world, the best to learn is dive in and be on set as a 2nd or 3rd assistant or to work 1 to 1 with a photographer who takes you under his wings.

As there is always the option to become the photographers assistant, which is quite often a full time job to work in their studio where you are basically their helping hand for everything.

If you are passionate you will learn a lot and always remember that you are a team that wants to do the best job. Also the photographer of course always has the last word, you are there to support her/him and make sure she/he can do the best job possible.
Once you build a little network and work with different assistants they might recommend you for another job they can’t do and tada you work with a new photographer.

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