assisting – and you get paid, too
As a freelance photo assistant you’re in business for yourself. This means that after you work for a photographer / studio you will be billing them for your services. And, generally speaking, there will be no payroll services or taxes taken out by the studio, the responsibility for paying taxes on this income is your responsibility.
Pay rates for the Cincinnati market
If this is your absolutely, positively first experience working for a photographer then they (or you) may suggest that you work at no charge for the opportunity. This seems to be more acceptable than it once was but I’m not particularly fond of the arrangement. Personally, I feel everyone should be paid for time invested.
In this market we may pay $10 an hour for a rank beginner but try to move them up to $100 / day when responsibilities increase. A pretty standard rate for a competent assistant (locally) is $125 / day and, once established, quality photo assistants bill $150 / day. One hundred miles away, in Columbus, Ohio, the upper rate is $200 / day, and in Chicago it may be $250. It all depends on the market. I will say that the assistant rates in Cincinnati have remained constant for some time and I’m not sure what it will take for them to bump up to the next level. For now it’s $150 / day for a quality assistant.
It is standard for you to bill and be compensated for mileage that you drive during a job at the standard rate of around $.50 / mile. You will not be reimbursed for the mileage driven to and from the studio, nor can this be deducted for tax purposes. Your first and last mileage of the day, getting to and from your job, is not deductible (as I understand it). It is recommended that you get a business rider for your auto insurance so that you’re covered when using your auto on the job (it is reasonably priced, check with your insurance agency).
Do keep track of mileage and any other expenses you incur while on the job. It is customary for studios to buy lunch for assistants when clients are present and on location jobs. If you are working for, say, a catalog company or a company’s in-house photo studio then you may be on your own for lunch. Be prepared either way.
Assistants generally bill for their services on a weekly basis for the number of days worked. We ask that assistants submit an invoice either by US mail or a pdf emailed to us. Create a letterhead for your business that contains all of your contact information. With your very first invoice to a new employer it is smart to attach a filled out W-9 form that gives them your taxpayer information (your Social Security number, basically). When working with a large company your payment may be delayed if they have to request this info later.
Each invoice should list the days worked, the basic duties completed (it can just say “photo assisting”) and the job worked on. Our studio uses job numbers that help us track expenses so we ask that you include that information. At the least, list the client or a job reference associated with your work for that day or time period. It helps the photographer bill the job and we all appreciate things that make our lives easier.
At Daylight Photo we pay invoices 30 days after receipt and that’s pretty standard. Some photographers may pay the very day of the job (though this is not common) and some may not pay until they are paid by their client. In those cases it may be awhile before you receive payment. You can see that payment times may vary widely so don’t be afraid to ask when submitting your invoice. Do put your own terms of payment on your invoice (30 days is standard). You’ve put in the work, you deserve to get paid and you deserve to know when you’ll get paid. It’s pretty simple, just ask questions.