assisting – top 10 things for your first day

Though it was many years ago, I still remember my first days of photo assisting. You may feel like your entire career hinges on doing a great job that first day you work in a studio. Each individual studio will set their expectations slightly differently. Here’s how you should prepare:

1. Make sure you are there a few minutes early. Plan to stay late, if necessary.
2. Be dressed appropriately. I should have mentioned this in an earlier post, ask (in advance) about how you should be dressed for the day. You may be painting walls or you may be meeting the President of a large corporation. Each requires very different dress so prepare in advance.
3. Don’t be surprised if different studios have different names for light stands, photo equipment, etc. If you can’t figure out what they mean, then ask. The same thing applies to using the equipment. If you aren’t sure about the strobes then ask for a quick lesson before the pressure is on.
4. Understand who it is you should report to. Is there a first assistant you work with or do you work directly with the photographer? Or will you be assisting the set stylist on this day? Work with that person unless you hear otherwise. Realize, though, that the photographer is always in charge. If they ask you to do something then do it.
5. You will probably be in the background of the shoot but keep conversation with clients to a minimum. It’s good to be friendly but this is not the time to show everyone how much you can talk so be professional. Get a feeling for working with the studio and they will help you define your role.
6. If there’s a problem let the proper person know right away. If a power pack doesn’t work or the coffee maker is making a funny noise, let the proper person know in a discreet way.
7. Discreet…that is a good word. Be discreet and don’t draw attention to yourself or the concerns you may have.
8. Oh, and here’s my absolute favorite (are any of my assistants reading this?). You’re going to be amped up so when anybody asks you to get something you will want to spring into action. That’s good. What’s not good is springing into action before your supervisor is done talking. Wait just one extra second to make sure they are finished with their sentences. Jumping too soon means you may only get the task halfway done.
9. If you have questions about how or why a photographer did things a certain way or used a certain piece of equipment, save it for the end of the day, after the shoot. Don’t question the photographers choices or decisions unless you know them really (really) well and have developed a great working relationship.
10. And do realize that you’ve taken a big step: this is the beginning of your professional photography career. The people you meet today might be working with you for many years. Someday you might be the professional photographer working with the art director you meet on this day. So start acting like a professional on the very first day, whether your only job is making coffee or steaming and pressing shirts.