Advice need for aspiring photographer's assistant : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi all,

Would like to hear from you all,roughly how many years does one need to study under a professional photographer (commercial/advertising), before he/she is capable/should set out on his own? I have NO way of getting a formal education from college, so I would like to know the average number of years one needs.

And how soon should one change mentors.(quite a dumb question, but though I just ask...)

Your advice, much appreciated. Thank you all.

regards, Sa

-- V Keen (, March 18, 2002



In the markets I've worked in (which do NOT include yours) it is almost impossible to get assisting work without a degree. Indeed, when successful photographers look back on their educations, they often reflect upon their favorite instructors and who they introduced them to.

The first question at almost every interview you'll go on is "what school did you attend?" Without a positive answer, you'll have little chance for a second chance to get in the door.

I am well aware that my advice contradicts most of what's said on the web, but it's my own experience. I was a freelance assistant in NYC for many years and a full time one for several years before that. It's what happened to me.

As for your second question; It took me about five years of assisting before I was able to make images that the market was interested in. Even after the first six months, I was able to copy the boss, but making a shot that could sell and wasn't a copy of the boss...?

Good luck!

-- Brian Yarvin (, March 18, 2002.

I agree It'll probably take around 5 years until your ready to go on your own. However where I am, chicago, I don't think you need a photo degree to assist, I teach here and encourage even my photo I students to try to do some assisting in the summer. Keep in mind though that if you have no degree and little experience it will be tougher and you will have to charge less than the going rate for your services, here in chicago somebody just out of photo school can start around 125 per day but somebody with out a clue might go for 75 per day. Just be really up front with people you contact about your lack of experience, some people are willing to take on a new person as a second if they are cheap, I know I would. most of what you're doing in the begening is carrying cases and cleaning up so you don't need much skill. As far as bouncing around I says yes these days not many photogs have fulltime staffs so expect to jump around to lots of different people for jobs. I know I learned more assisting than I did in school so keep your eyes and ears open.

-- doug (, March 18, 2002.

probably at least three years of assisting. You'll know when you need to change jobs. Also choose the photographer you work for carefully: find one you respect and who has a reputation for respecting others, not just a "hot" name.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, March 18, 2002.

it can depend largely on the skill set which the prospective assistant brings with them to the job - some are more prepared than others. my newest apprentice for HABS/HAER recordation has a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's in historic preservation. she brings an extremely good eye to the job, but does not have a large amount of photographic experience, so while i spend a small amount of time discussing composition and image balance with her as we work, i have to spend a considerable amount of time teaching technical aspects of the work we do. in my estimation, it will take this person about 4-5 years before she will be ready to handle projects on her own. she is very professional in her approach and seems to enjoy the work immensely, which bodes well for her longevity in this type of career. i have had student interns in the past who brought an enormous amount of photographic experience with them, having shot small and medium format cameras for years - with them, i did not have to teach exposure or technical issues, but rather had to teach them to "see" architecture and engineering structures in ways which described them appropriately for recordation purposes - this can be quite a change for people who have been trying to do "art" previously. also, teaching them to work at a more deliberate pace with a LF machine, both physically and mentally, can be quite a challenge. for much commercial work, the personal skills involved in finding and keeping clients may be more difficult than the photographic concerns. best of luck - it is a wonderfully rewarding career.

-- jnorman (, March 18, 2002.

Pretty much agreeing with all that has been said here, not to get you discouraged! This is one of those "lifestyles" that you really have to put in your time to get where you want to be in 10 years. I've been at it for over 25 years, done the assisting route, school, more assisting, got a corporate position, gone out on my own, had assistants (full and part time), had the bottom drop out in the late '80's and went back doing corporate where I am now. It is a definite must to find a receptive shooter that his/her work is respected by you! Stay with them as long as your learning the craft (we expect you to move on after a year - 3 so that you can grow and another assistant will come in and give us a different view on things). It is a two way learning process but don't expect to change the shooter. This is why I say... find a receptive shooter. I think I looked at 12-20 starting portfolios of assitants everytime I would look for another assistant. The good part of moving on is that you will learn another style and therefore hone your own style. Be prepared for some rejection. It's not personal! That is just the way it is. If you have a shooter that dresses in chinos and you come in with every part of your face pierced or tatooed, well, the styles are different and may not be compatable. You are looking for a job so treat it as such... be on time (if not early) be honest up front and present yourself well! As another poster stated, it is a great lifestyle/career and can be ALOT of fun, I know it is what I have and still love to do!!! Good Luck and stick to it.

-- Scott Walton (, March 18, 2002.

I'm an amateur so I don't know about the other stuff, but this caught my attention:

"I have NO way of getting a formal education from college"

Now admissions is what I do, and so many people sell themselves short. Every school has some kind of diverse qualification admissions, mature student category, or an agreement with a feeder school. You should go talk to a recruiter or advisor at your local college/university. I'll get off my soapbox now. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, March 18, 2002.

Dean, I think Sa knows the situation in Singapore better than us, don't you?

-- Alec (, March 18, 2002.

I apologize, I was off topic. Best of luck Sa. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, March 18, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ