Monday, December 19, 2011

So You Wanna Assist?

A lot of guys ask me if they can assist. No surprise there. I'm usually shooting hot chicks in various stages of undress.

I'm guessing more than a few red-blooded males would pay an admission fee to watch me shoot... more specifically, to watch the models being shot. After all, those sexy models call to them, like they call to me, like the sirens of yore called to brave Ulysses and his lads.

Still more guys, i.e., photographers on the uphill side of the learning curve in particular, will gladly barter their time and sweat to assist me. Plus, who knows? There might be something for them to learn by assisting. Assuming, of course, they're paying at least as much attention to what I'm doing and how I'm doing it as they are to the hot models who are selling their allure in seductive ways and, as the shoot progresses, wearing less and less.

I don't often permit visitors, volunteer assistants or otherwise, to attend my sets. There's a couple of reasons for that: A) My clients are usually on set and, for the most part, they aren't generally too tolerant of visitors; B) the shoot might be negatively impacted for a variety of reasons, all stemming from a visitor or an inexperienced volunteer assistant.

Here's how the shoot might be negatively impacted as a result of visitors or volunteer assistants who aren't accustomed to being on a professional set, especially sets which feature nudity:

1. The visitor/assistant weirds out the models. As much as many of the models I shoot are accustomed to getting naked in front of strangers, they have a finely-tuned ability to sense when or if those strangers are unaccustomed to being around models, especially naked models. When they sense that's the case, there's a decent chance it will weird them out. Weirded out models don't generally make for good models who achieve the goals of the shoot.

2. The visitor/assistant doesn't understand set protocol. While I'm the kind of guy who generally appreciates good ideas and suggestions from others, I don't appreciate them being offered while I'm shooting. Unless the visitor/assistant notices something is amiss, perhaps something that could pose a danger to others or is obviously out-of-place and I don't seem to notice it, I really don't want to hear anyone's great ideas or suggestions. First, it undermines my position as *the* photographer. Second, since the visitor/assistant might not be aware of any special requirements or expectations of the shoot, there's a good chance his or her great idea or suggestion does not meet those requirements or expectations. Third, it's simply not kosher.

3. If an assistant doesn't have much experience working with equipment like cameras, grip, and lighting, why would I want them assisting me on a set? The whole idea of an assistant is to assist. Assisting is meant to make the shoot move forward more efficiently. If an an assistant can't help make that happen, they're likely to be of little, if any, help. Worse, they might slow things down or impede the efficiency of the shoot. While I consider myself something of a mentor and/or teacher, that's not what I am when someone is paying me to shoot.

4. I've spent lots of money on my gear. Someone who is unaccustomed to handling gear represents someone who is more likely to damage my gear. Certainly not intentionally but that person's lack of experience increases the odds they might do some unintentional damage to my equipment.

5. More set protocol: Visitors and volunteer assistants may not understand that being a helpful fly on the wall is part of their duties. Visitors and assistants should refrain from engaging my clients or the models in too much, if any, conversation. If those people engage the visitor/assistant, that's one thing. The visitor/assistant engaging them is another. Even when the visitor/assistant is engaged, they should keep it polite, simple, and not overly engaged... if that makes sense. Once again, making suggestions or sharing ideas, in this case with my clients or the models, is off-bounds. It will likely guarantee the visitor/assistant will never be a visitor/assistant on any of my future sets.

There's more rules to abide when you're a visitor/assistant on a professional set but the few I've provided should give you an idea of what's expected. HERE is another photographer's take on assisting.

I'm not trying to sound like a prick but this is how I make my living and it certainly isn't in my best interests to do things, like allowing visitors or inexperienced volunteer assistants on my sets, where they might, inadvertently and potentially, negatively impact my relationships with clients and models or do others things which are not in the best interests of my shoots.

On the positive side, in the past I have allowed a number of people to either volunteer assist me or, in rarer instances, simply be a visitor on one of my sets. It doesn't happen too often and it would take another blog entry to list the reasons I might have done so or might do so in the future.

The pretty girl at the top is Nikki. (Click it to enlarge.) I shot Nikki last night for a client's project. I even found some time to shoot Nikki wearing one of my Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirts... you know, being the self-promoting sort of guy that I am. If you're of a mind to purchase one, there's a banner in the right-hand column you can click to do so.


Bill Giles said...

There is no doubt that assisting would help me, but it's probably not the best course for me. An assistant needs to be just that, an assistant. An assistant needs to know what to do and when to do it. For a recreational photographer a one on one workshop scenario is probably the best idea.

Von said...

I get this all the time. Its gotten so bad that I learned to never work with an assistant

Once an assistant tried to schmooze the client during the shoot (he even brought his portfolio along)

jimmyd said...

Von: I had this one guy assist. Not a volunteer. About a week later my client tells me, "Your friend the assistant? He's been calling me trying to snatch your job." WTF???

Jay said...

I had an "assistant" and I wanted him to hold the camcorder for me as a sponsor wanted video of me in action. He brought his camera along as I told him AFTER the shoot, he could get a few photos. Every time I looked over at him, he had propped the camcorder on a cart and told me he was "tired" I quickly excused him and have never since had an assistant. I have an MUA who recruits my clients for another "photographers" events. Stopped using her.

jimmyd said...

@Jay: As usual, no good deed goes unpunished.

The Photodawg said...

I have one strict rule for my shoots: No one is allowed in the studio except the model and myself, especially boyfriends, husbands, brothers or fathers. The presence of males on the set is the most disruptive of many distractions that can occur. The models spend most of their time looking these guys, or they feel nervous while they are around.
As for MUA's, I ask them to step outside until needed again.

jimmyd said...

@Photodawg: I generally allow visitors altho my clients generally don't which means I usually don't have visitors. As for MUAs, I like to keep them standing by for touch-ups during the shoot. Plus, if something needs adjusting on the model and I have an MUA standing by, she or he does the adjusting.