I’m kicking off the blog with a continuing series called “What I’m Learning.” Since I am nowhere near at an expert level to teach anyone anything, I figured I would share what I learned as a learned it. Whether it’s from seasoned professionals or former classmates that have amassed more skill than me, this section of the blog will show my journey to become the very best (Cue Pokemon theme song as I nerd out. Don’t even get me started on Pokemon Go, but I digress) photographer I can be.
The past weekend, the Atlanta chapter of APA or American Photographic Artists held a photo assistant workshop at Bad Wolf Studio. Our instructor for the training was local industry photographer Mark Hill who does a lot of photo work in the T.V. and entertainment industry. APA Atlanta’s Assistant Liaison, Forrest Aguar, also chimed in on this segment as a current photo assistant in the field, as well as Jeremy Freeman, a photographer for Turner Broadcasting. Before we learned how to do anything that an assistant would be asked to do we learned about what all should be carried with them to be useful on a shoot. I definitely have a bit of shopping to do to get my assisting kit together.
Gaffers tape and/or painters tape/paper tape
Belt clip/Carpenter’s belt
1 or 2 tether cables (probably one Nikon and 1 Canon or 2 universal ones
Sturdy Shoes (I am definite need of these. My feet killed me after this training)
Mark Hill went on to discuss set etiquette, such as no posting of behind the scenes before a project comes out and just no phones in general. He told us we were there to make the photographer’s life easier and we should be focusing on the work at hand. He moved in to how to get work here in Atlanta. From cold calling or nowadays emailing photographers to posting in photography Facebook Groups like Photography Resources Atlanta. Hill also spoke highly of getting to know the owners at local rental houses such as the big one here in Atlanta being PPR or Professional Photography Resources and Aperturerent. When out of town photographers come in and rent gear, they may sometimes ask for recommendations from the rental houses for assistants or other people they need for their team. Owners of photography studios were also good people to know for the same exact reason. Lastly, Hill mentioned a site called Make Create which helps photoshoot producers find a crew. From photo assistant and hair stylists to catering, rental houses and location scouts. It’s invite only so you have to apply to get in -Crossing my fingers currently- but it’s free to join once you get in and can help in getting jobs.
One of my favorite parts was talking about money. Who doesn’t love to talk about money and getting paid. Mark Hill went over over how much an assistant should typically get paid, asking about overtime if the shoot goes beyond the allotted time frame and when/how to get paid. Low end rate assistant, like me who is someone just starting out assistant should typically charge around $250 for a day rate. Those with more experience and specialize in things such as lighting can charge up to around $550 a day. Invoices, which can be created in Google Docs, Excel, some random app, you name it, should be sent no later than the next day to make sure you get paid. Hill mentioned that a W-2 should be sent along with it, just in case for the photographer or the magazine’s tax records. If they have paid you more than $600 a year then you are a contractor at that point and they have to give you a 1099 form. Don’t even get me started on the complexity of taxes. That’s another post for another day that I need to consult better expertise for.
Now that the lecture part was over, we got into gear. Hill, Aguar and some of the other assistants there showed us how to set up C-stands or century stands and the differences between the different types of C-stand bases, as well as where to place the sandbags and how to position the knuckle. We went over scrims, cookies (which are used to break up light), apple boxes/half apple boxes/pancakes, half inch pins, Cardellini clamps, how to set up an Octobox/Octabank, speed rings and strip banks. We went over power packs and how to determine how much power we could use based on the circuit breaker in whatever location we were shooting. Say we were shooting in a house, we as assistants would have to find the circuit breaker and see how many amps are available, multiply that by the pack’s voltage and get how many watts we can use. The power packs have the amount of wattage they use. If the amount of wattage that the house produces is less than the amount that the packs used you can blow a circuit. Lastly, we went over how to do a seamless background set up, which I am a pro at because of SCAD and how to set up a 12x12 silk. That was probably the hardest part of the training because it essentially is a 2+ person job.
After this plethora of information, we took a break for lunch and then met back up for the competition portion to test what we had learned that day. We split up into teams of 3 and competed in a sand bag relay, pop-up reflector relay, Octabank relay, 12x12 silk set-up and seamless background set-up. Although my team didn’t win, I learned plenty of skills that will help me in my current goal of becoming a photo assistant.
Here are some snapshots I took during the whole experience. Forgive the horrible iPhone photography.