II. When you have work
1. Always be on time. In fact, always show up early.
Make a photographer late for a shoot, and she will call someone else the next time.
2. If you don’t know, ask.
When asked if you know how to set up a Canon 580 flash with a Pocket Wizard, don't nod your head yes if you don't really know. Don’t be afraid to ask the person you are working with to show you.
One of the first times I worked as an assistant, I was unfamiliar with loading and unloading Hasselblad film backs. When the back reached the last exposure, I simply opened it, not knowing that the film needed to be wound out past the last frame. I ended up fogging the last scene we had photographed. We were able to immediately re-shoot, so I did work again for that photographer – but you may not be so lucky.
We all learn from failure, but learn to be humble and admit when you don't know something.
3. Keep chatter to a minimum.
Shoots can be fun, but focus on the work. Being on a shoot is not a time to chat on your cell phone. You're being paid to help the photographer, not your social life.
4. Remember who is in charge.
As a freelancer you will be working with different bosses, each of whom has their own personality. While it's important for you to make creative suggestions and point out obvious problems, every person you work with will handle your input differently. Sometimes you will have to bite your tongue.
5. Be helpful and exceed expectations.
That you should be helpful may sound obvious. The reality is that the more helpful you are on the job, the more likely you'll be hired in the future.
6. Babysit the photographer.
An assistant is a babysitter for the photographer. I once heard this from an assistant, and its truth has been borne out many times. A photographer I used to work for once used his wallet to prop open a door. When it came time for lunch, you can guess who remembered this.
7. Be a sponge.
I absorbed so much knowledge by simply observing the photographer I assisted. Sure, I learned about lighting and propping, but just as importantly I learned about interacting with clients and running a successful business.
Read the other parts of this series.
Look for Part 3 next Monday.