Photographer’s Assistant Guide: Types of Assistant – Studio Assistants

Assisting up a ladder in the studio
An assistant doing a vital job – ensuring the photographer doesn’t fall off a ladder. To be honest, it should be the assistant up the ladder, but I’m a control freak.

Studio assisting used to be seen as a very happy medium between full time and freelancing, but in the current economic climate (how often is that phrase used as an excuse..) I don’t quite think it’s the case any more. Many hire studios have assistants on their payroll, and some of the time they are employed full time, with a proper salary and some of the perks. These days however, it’s much more likely that they’ll only be called in when there’s work to be done – namely when the studio is booked, or if there’s major stuff to be done in and around the studio. This removes the stability that always used to be one of the main advantages of being a studio assistant. Still, the fact that a studio assisting position implies a certain amount of regular cash makes it a very attractive option to all the struggling, starving masses out there, and as such applications tend to be very over subscribed. This in turn means it’s a buyers market as far as the studios are concerned, and wages and conditions stay fairly low!

The nature of the work can be a bit varied, but tends towards the mundane side of things. Most photographers who rent studios will have their own assistant, and they’ll be handling much of the interesting stuff on the shoot. In this instance a studio assistant will generally be concerned with fetching and carrying, rather than setting up lighting, running Lightroom, and so on. From time to time, and odd though this may sound, people turn up to the studio with no knowledge of what they’re doing, in which case the studio assistant is required to step up to a more involved role, and will take on a great deal more technical responsibility. Another perk that sometimes goes with studio assisting is use of the facilities – it’s not uncommon for an assistant to be able to use the studio space for free or a very reduced rate when it’s not in use. Obviously, opportunities like this should be grabbed with both hands, as anything that lowers the costs of producing a portfolio should be taken advantage of.

Studio Assistant Rates

The day rates for studio assistants tend to be lower than freelancers, and range from £50 to £100, though it’s not unheard of for overtime to be added on when it’s required. Which brings me to another point – the hours. Working in a studio can lead to some horrible hours, as you’ll generally need to be first in and last out, and as such that can mean some very long days indeed. Most of a Studio assistants time will be taken up with fairly workaday things – painting coves, clearing up, making thousands of teas and coffees and so on. Despite this it can be a very good vantage point from which to observe the working methods of lots of different photographers. You might not be able to stand at the back of Nadav Kander’s set, and nick all his lighting ideas, but all the same, you’ll see a pretty broad range of work coming through the doors, and should be able to build up a good range of technical insight. The simple fact that there will be a steady stream of different photographers through the doors also means you should be able to build up some contacts for freelance work, providing you remember to impress them with your professionalism and aptitude!

This post forms part of my Photographer’s Assistant guide. The other posts in the series are:

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