Assisting Colin Crisford – Gutweek 2000, every bit as exciting as it sounds!
There are broadly speaking 4 different types of assistant, although the definitions can be fudged quite a bit in practice. They are; full-time, studio, freelance, and digital.
Full Time Assistant.
Predictably, a full time assistant works for one photographer full time, and as such should draw a regular wage. This aspect makes a full time position the holy grail of many people, and when a full time position is advertised somewhere like the AoP job board there are usually hundreds of applications. Besides the stability that comes with a regular income, the other big advantage of being a full timer is that you get to the whole picture of how a photographer runs their business – you’re there on days when they’re not shooting, as well as days they do. You’ll get an insight into all the admin tasks that they have to contend with, all the pre and post production that goes into jobs, and how much it takes to get large shoots together. There’s also a good chance that you’ll build up a working relationship with their regular clients, and this may come in very handy indeed further down the line.
It may be obvious, but it only tends to be established, well-off photographers who can afford a full time assistant, and as such there are not many positions around. Usually an assistant works full time for a year or more before moving on. Like any other close working relationship, a certain amount of patience will be called for, and at times it may even feel like a marriage, along with all the silly-but-serious arguments that are likely to break out. Guys I knew who were full time would usually only gripe about the snapper they were assisting – they were never brimming over with praise, as too much exposure to the days when the snapper wasn’t shooting and was tetchy, impatient and snappy(!) had taken the shine off the job for them.
The other downsides to working full time are that you won’t actually be paid all that much; compared to a freelancers day rate, most full time wages are just about minimum wage. You may also suffer slightly from the fact that when you leave to go your own way, your range of experience may be slightly limited if you’ve only worked for one person. You’ll also be doing an awful lot of work that doesn’t feel anything like photography – walking the photographers dog, taking the bins out, filing, paper pushing, floor cleaning and so on. Despite this, in an ideal world you’d walk out of college, full time for someone for a year or so to get started and build a little security around yourself, then freelance for a while. It certainly used to be the standard recipe when full timers were more common, back in the day when people had more money…
This post forms part of my Photographer’s Assistant guide. The other posts in the series are: