The Importance of a Photographer’s Assistant

It is rare that I do photo shoots without an assistant and or intern.  The Photographers Assistant is an important and often under appreciated individual, that I consider the unsung hero.

Above Photo from: “A Photo Assistant”

I cannot tell you how often one of the many assistants with whom I have had the honor to work with, were instrumental to my growth in many areas. Being able to bounce idea’s off of an assistant and gain valuable knowledge on the fly is often key to a successful production.  Assistants do a lot more than aid in setting up your lights or loading the SD card or images in to your computer.  Many assistants I have worked with are amenable to sharing their idea’s with you about lighting, concept etc. when you are in a tight spot and perhaps are running a bit low in the idea’s bag.

It can happen to anyone.  Where you have a concept and it isn’t working as well as you thought and you start freaking out and thinking “Think, think,what can I do to get out of this conundrum…?”

Some assistants may feel uncomfortable or reluctant to share idea’s with you in fear of invading or stepping on your creative space.  They would love to but won’t unless you openly and sincerely invite them to do so.  Openly invite them to share their idea’s with you if they feel so inclined. I always make sure to give my photo assistants credit in any job I do and they will always appear in the credit of the Fashion or Beauty story being published.

I won’t go in to the technical knowledge attributes that are required from an assistant, as that will depend on what your own requirements are for a specific job.  But I do know that most assistants I have worked with are quick learners and are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty when called upon.

My only suggestion, is if you are using a first time apprentice, you might want to use him/her with a more experienced 1st assistant.  You should also be open to answering questions at appropriate times that you can set out with the assistant in your morning briefing with the entire team.

As to finding a good assistant, I find that quite easy, in that I am solicited frequently by Photography School students.  If you need an assistant, you might consider School Photography Clubs, dedicated Photography Schools or Photography Clubs.

An assistant can learn more in one day doing a hands on session than what they can learn in a month or more by only attending classes.

So the next time you are approached by an enthusiastic assistant, give them a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

PS: Would love to hear from anyone on either side of this topic regarding your impressions and thoughts.

About Benjamin Kanarek

Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…

  • Jeff

    Great article!

    “So the next time you are approached by an enthusiastic assistant, give them a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.”

    I’d like to add to this: Even if you don’t intend to use someone that has reached out to you, it would be really nice to send a quick e-mail back informing them of this. It may be tough to take “no” for an answer, but it’s better than having no answer at all. I understand life can be very busy, however a quick one minute reply would suffice.

    Too often I feel my e-mails have been ignored by a photographer I am attempting to communicate with re: assisting / retouching / etc.

  • thank you. it is nice to be appreciated 🙂 three years of bonded labour to one of India’s top fashion photographers –

    about being hired, I was too scared to approach the top guy – most of the smaller ones refused + just for the jazz approached atul last. got hired. best three years of my life.

    I do appreciate my assistants nowadays. sometimes. +the inputs are always welcome. esp at the fag end of the day when you just gotta get the shoot done with.

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  • Its good to hear that photographers actually like input from assistants, It usually takes a gig or two for an assistant to feel out how a photographer works but in my experiences giving an opinion never hurts, the worst that can happen is the photographer saying that your wrong, and from that you learn. also, when working as a 1st with a 2nd, the more you can teach that green assistant the better, it will make everybody happier in the long run

  • Calvin

    Maybe an article on how to get hired as an assistant? Seems like most photographers already have a solid team, how are you to approach them out of the blue looking for work?

  • Nice to give credit to those “unsung heroes”! I found that when I’m given an assignment that especially involves shooting other people, an assistant helps me in making the subject feel more relaxed and comfortable during what can sometimes be agonizing for them (& me). Thanks for sharing.