Do’s & Don’ts for Commercial Photography Assistants

by | Commercial Photography 101, On Set, Workflow & Processes | 0 comments

For many commercial photographers, working with assistants is a regular and important part of their job. 

And if you are a photographer who is new to the industry, you may have already learned that one of the very best ways to get your foot in (the industry) door is to assist established photographers on their shoots.

Assisting on commercial photo shoots has many benefits:

  1. helps you get the lay of the land
  2. see how things are done
  3. observe how the photographer interacts with clients and talent
  4. ensures you’ll know how to run the set on your own shoots

If you want to assist, (or have already been doing it), and really want to know what kinds of things the photographers you are working for care about, this article lays it all out for you. 

We interviewed 10 different photographers to ask them what their top DOs and DON’Ts for commercial photography assistants are. 

Danielle Spires:

DOs:

  • Be friendly, fun and easy to work with 
  • Know how to work a c-stand correctly
  • Be okay to grab me a snack or water
  • Stay out of the way
  • Wear all black or something that isn’t loud and stands out (if video people are involved, they tend to hate background people with bright clothing)
  • Know how to work a variety of strobes 

DON’Ts:

  • Pet my animal talent without asking first, even then best to not pet 
  • Say snarky things under your breath, no matter how frustrating the shoot is 
  • Talk over me or instruct the models
  • Be on your phone
  • Mansplain to women on the set

Tanya Goodall Smith

DOs:

  • Know at least the basics of off camera flash. I don’t want to have to explain every little detail about where to move a light and why
  • Dress professionally but comfortably, especially the shoes. We’re going to be on our feet all day!
  • Be cheerful and pleasant. I want my clients to have an amazing experience and your attitude can contribute or take away from that. 

DON’Ts:

  • Sit around. Be proactive in looking for ways to help or ask what you could be doing during idle moments. I often ask my assistants to take BTS photos with my phone when they doing have anything else to do. 
  • Be late! If you are going to be late for some reason, call or text me as soon as you can. 
  • Take photos on the set and post them or use them in your portfolio without my permission. License agreements with the end client may not permit it, among other reasons.

Jessica Stoddard

DOs:

  • Anticipate needs (as you say) I call it “read my mind”
  • Offer me water/snacks periodically. I will forget to eat and no one needs my blood sugar to crash.
  • Stay the f off your phone
  • Please God know how to open a light stand.
  • Know basic mathematical angles. I will be telling you to hold a light at 45 degrees often.
  • Understand what the word “doopy” means across all contexts. It means the thing I need and if you can read my mind we’re copacetic.
  • Bring snacks for yourself. We will eat lunch or breakfast or dinner or all 3 but you’ll want a recharge bar or whatever.

DON’Ts:

  • Leave my stuff unattended
  • Hand out your business card to my clients
  • Contradict me unless you are damned sure you’re right, and then do it discreetly to me only
  • Forget to feed me.
  • Forget to hydrate yourself.

Joshua Sheldon

DO: Keep your phones in your pockets unless we’re on break or lunch.

DON’T: take photos of what we’re doing and (duh) don’t put the photos online. 

Siobhan Beasley

DOs:

  • (Arrive on time, or even a little bit early! There are a lot of moving pieces in a big commercial shoot, so it’s nice to know that finding the assistant won’t be one of the issues to trouble shoot that day.
  • Stay alert. Keep an eye on what’s going on all over the set. While the photographer is behind the lens, you can serve as the eyes and ears of the big picture. You can let me know if there is an issue that I might not see.
  • Familiarize yourself with all the gear and grip on set that day, so you know how to use it quickly in the moment.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand the task asked of you. It’s always better to clarify and get it right on the first go.
  • Be safe. Sets can be dangerous places. It’s worth taking the extra few minutes to make sure light stands are sandbagged or weighted down, etc.
  • On a busy shoot, check in occasionally to see if the photographer needs water or a quick snack. Not sure why, but it’s extremely easy to forget food on water on set!
  • Be a team player. This goes for everyone on set!

DON’Ts:

  • Be on the phone! Down time during the shoot can be better spent helping organize gear and grip and making sure everything is in order.
  • Leave expensive gear all by itself.
  • Let clients or others on set put food and drinks next to our computers and camera gear. Fiercely protect the gear cart from giant sweaty iced coffees that loom dangerously close to getting sugary water all over our cameras and lenses.

Frankie Withers

DO: SHOW UP ON TIME.

Carrie Holmquist

DOs:

  • Pay attention
  • Let me be the Director
  • Show respect to everyone from top to bottom

DON’Ts:

  • Question me in front of clients
  • Handle my gear unless asked
  • Stand behind me while I’m working

Jamie Piper

DOs:

  • Watch me. If you can anticipate what I need next, and deliver that thing to me, we will have a fantastic relationship.
  • Clean my lenses before putting them away. It’s one less thing I have to do after a shoot.
  • Be a team player. If my producer is out and the PA is in the bathroom, don’t balk about grabbing something someone else needs when the PA can’t.

DON’Ts:

  • Leave my camera bag with $15k+ in gear in a busy urban area (or any area) unattended where it’s at risk of being stolen. 
  • Be on your phone the whole time. I may be busy shooting, but I notice, trust me.
  • Give me unsolicited creative direction. You have no idea the planning that went into the shoot, and were not involved in the creative calls; therefore you don’t know the objectives from the shot list and are in no position to comment on how I could or should be doing my job differently. 
  • Try and get work from my clients who are on set to work with me. NOPE. Not the time or the place for that. 

Christina Kiffney

DOs:

  • Keep track of all gear. It’s your responsibility to leave with all the gear we came with, put back where you found it.

DON’Ts:

  • Chitchat with clients or models. During shooting, I’m chitchatting because that’s how I create lifestyle looks and in between I’m chitchatting to create good client rapport. You should be focused on me and the equipment, not the conversations. We’re working, not hanging out!

 

DOs:
  • Please read the call sheet and familiarize the people you will work with.
  • Do battery, camera, file, and light check every interval or pause. Try to correct any inconsistencies or errors. If not sure, please check with your Photo1.
  • Communicate with photo1 and your team. You should know the schedules, any requests or concerns, and keep your photographer informed. So he/she can inform his/her boss/clients.
  • If it is the first time working with a photo1, make sure to ask (a few days before) what are the things important for the photographer expectations/workflow/project. You are not a mind reader.
DON’Ts:
  • Act like an intern or a kid being babysitted. You should be the best photo assistant that you can be. Try to be proactive, professional, and reliable.
  • Sit, on your phone, or hang out at the catering while your photographer is doing something. Unless told by photographer or being on break.
  • Deliberately showing that you are better than photographer. If you are better, then uplift him/her not sabotaging the project. Photographer will recognize your hard work and intentions.
  • Steal your photographer’s client/s by offering a lower price tag or more work, etc. Without that project, you don’t have work as well.

Many of us say the same things, and while ALL the tips in this article are important, you should consider those repeated themes ‘non-negotiable’. 

commercial photography set

The top 5 DOs & DON’Ts for commercial photography assistants:

  1. DO: be present and attentive
  2. DON’T: be on your phone all day. (GET OFF YOUR PHONE!)
  3. DO: Keep our gear safe and be familiar with it
  4. DON’T: Show up late to set
  5. DO: Be a team player

Finally- you’ll get BIG bonus points for feeding and watering your photographer. A fed and quenched photographer is a happy photographer. Or at least one that won’t pass out during your shoot! #awkward

If you follow the tips above, we’ll be happy to keep inviting you back for more work!

 

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