"Like many successful people, Gage Thompson didn’t wait for work to come to him—he sought it out." Perhaps this is why PDN Magazine recently named Gage an "All-Star Assistant." Gage was recognized not only for his array of photography skills, but also his unwavering work ethic and great sense of humor. Gage has worked with many notable photographers, including widely published lifestyle and sports photographer, Mike Tittel. It’s from these photography assisting jobs, his educational background at Hallmark Institute of Photography, and his own passion for photography, that Gage has managed to make quite a name for himself as a first-rate photography assistant. He offers his top 10 tips to be a great photography assistant.
Essentially a photographer assistant’s job is to put the photographer at ease so he or she can focus on the creative aspect of the shoot. The last thing the photographer should be thinking about is why the rim lights aren’t firing and where they put their morning coffee. There are a number of ways to be a great assistant.
1. Be an enjoyable person to be around.
Sometimes you’ll be on shoots that last a week or more, and typically you and the photographer will be spending 24/7 together—sitting next to each other on long flights, eating three meals a day together, and possibly sharing a hotel room. The point is that no one likes a downer and everyone likes an upbeat positive attitude. You should strive to be someone the photographer would like to hang out with after the shoot. If you have the right crew photo shoots won’t seem like work.
2. Arrive early to every shoot.
It doesn’t matter how good of an assistant you are, if you show up late to a shoot odds are you’re not going to get hired again. So think of being on time as late and being early as on time.
3. Be prepared.
Make sure you have the right attire. Nothing is worse than showing up to a shoot in the snow wearing flip flops, right? Eat a good breakfast. Have a print out of the call sheet. I’ll even program the crew’s numbers into my phone. Have a fully charged phone battery that you will only use for shoot related tasks. Make sure you have a full tank of gas. Bring anything else you think you may need to help the shoot run smoothly.
Photography Assistant Gage Thompson on set. Photo by Mike Tittel.
4. Be a hard worker.
When the photographer asks you to do something or get something, you do it right away. Even when the set is up and there is nothing to do but wait for the talent, do your best to appear as if you’re still working hard. Coil some cords, clean up the set, offer to get some water for others on set, etc. Going the extra mile always pays off.
5. Know the gear.
There are many different cameras, lights, power packs, stands, modifiers, etc. You should know how they all work. If you don’t know a particular system, simply download the manual before the shoot and learn how it works. Also learn the proper terminology for the gear. Asking if the photographer wants the "really heavy stand or the really really heavy stand" just won’t cut it.
6. Be one step ahead.
You should constantly be thinking of what needs to be done next. From how to fix a PocketWizard if it stops firing to being prepared to cover the gear if it looks like it’s going to rain, you should be ready. Problem solving is a big part of being a great assistant and there is nothing a little gaff tape and creativity can’t fix.
7. Take pride in representing the photographer and his or her brand.
Remember you are there as an assistant, not a photographer—so leave your portfolio and photography business cards at home. During the shoot you are an extension of the photographer and their brand. Anything you do or say directly reflects on the photographer.
Photography Assistant Gage Thompson on location. Photo by Mike Tittel.
8. Always maintain the set.
Appearance and safety is important, and no one likes a messy set so make sure cords are coiled or taped down and the camera gear is sorted, clean, and ready to go. Doing this will save you time down the road and help prevent any kind of unnecessary accidents.
9. Never answer a question on the photographer’s behalf.
If a client asks you a question like "Can we photoshop out her stray hairs?" tell them to talk to the photographer. Unless you want to spend unpaid hours of your personal time photoshopping the files because you said they would be photoshopped.
10. Be seen not heard.
A photography assistant should be the silent hero of any photoshoot. If you notice a problem don’t point it out so the client can see it too, just fix the problem. If you notice the photographer accidentally stopped down his aperture find a way to discretely notify him or her or the first assistant depending on your position.
Being a photography assistant can be a very fun and rewarding job. If you implement these 10 assisting tips, you’ll be on your way to becoming a great photography assistant and photographer.
Photo by Gage Thompson.
Photo by Gage Thompson.
Photo by Gage Thompson.