Especially before summer, but also during other times of the year – students and budding photographers are looking for photography assistant positions. This was a tedious task when I did my BA studies, since I had no idea in which direction I wanted to go to.
Did I want to see a fashion photographers way of working or was I more interested in a photography artist, to see their creative process?
Indeed, assistants can be students that are looking for in depth experience from the field. But before becoming an assistant, internship can be also an option. Some days you’ll be on location or in the studio, assisting an artist or photographer and getting invaluable insights into the creative process.
But you can also apply for an assistant position without being a student. Whichever choice you’re going to make, do some thorough research before you decide on any specific position, and if you indeed need to be taking a trainee program before starting as an assistant.
First questions to ask yourself are
- What kind of photography interests me ?
- Am I looking for a paid or a free internship
- Do I want to work as an assistant with a proper pay ?
Internships last about 3-6 months depending on your institutions guidelines and your own orientation. Some locations lets you work on the side, especially if they are not paid internships. Assisting jobs can be full-time or part-time and can last a period you decide with the artist you going to work for. Some jobs only last a period of time because of a high season.
During your assistant position you should learn (depending on the type of photography they are doing)
- How photo shoots are prepared and executed – from planning to the end
- What is the process of casting models – where you can cast them from and what are the fees
- What is location scouting and how the photographer handles that
- How do they prepare their treatment for an assignment
- What are their usual days like – what is their main focus etc.
- How they are applying for grants – even better if you can look at their applications and see how they are built
- How to prepare lighting and other equipment for photo shoots both outdoors and in the studio
- Learn how they edit their photos
- How they gather their team – stylists, make-up artists and art directors
- Learn about their journey to the place they are now at; what did it take to get them there? What did they have to do and fail to be able to work like this?
- Printing tips; where do they print and frame their work, what is the necessary information you should know about printing? (colors etc)
- If they’re photography artists; how they apply to- and build their exhibitions, what is their creative process to produce their pieces
This list is no means the extensive and ultimate one, only the main things I learned and noticed to be of use afterwards in my photography. So learn everything you can, and find enthusiasm in seeing someone working up close.
Professional photographers are likely to be freelancers, and offer different services such as portrait and editorial photography, photojournalism and commercial photography.
As an assistant on location or in the studio, you may be responsible for the equipment and lights, managing the models and the team. You will also learn the importance of post-production in the industry.
When applying for an internship, you can also apply in print and online magazines, where you could learn about layout, editorial standards and print processes.
Places a photography student could apply to
- Artist’s studio
- Photojournalism agency
- Photo desk at a newspaper
- Portrait & wedding photography studio
- Arts events company
- Art book publisher
- Contemporary gallery
- Freelance photographer (commercial / contemporary)
You can write an email or a dm to them along the lines of:
I found you through ______ and really liked your work. You really have a way of telling a story with your work which is such a fascinating process.
I’m studying __________________. I’ve mostly done _________(type of photography) but am also quite interested in ___________. It’s now my ______ year and during this spring I should be doing my internship.
To give you some insight on my experience, I’ve worked __________________. I’m familiar with studio equipment and am pretty quick to learn the things I’m not familiar just yet. As a person I am ________________. I’ve also studied __________ before.
I’m not familiar on how you usually hire or need assistants/ interns, but I would love to do my internship with you and see your way of working up close.
Working as a photography assistant is a great way to expand your network of people when you’re not yet in your professional stage of your photography journey. Learning form someone who has been in the field for a while and can point you in the right direction.
Since photographers are mostly freelancers, they also work mainly alone – having a network of like-minded people will help you understand the field and have the support in moving forward.
How can you find locations to work in?
We all have inspiration coming from somewhere – if you instantly think of a specific photographer, go check their information and ask if they take interns. Discussing about money might seem difficult, but you should be able to know and distinguish if the internship is free or paid. Be firm and ask this before you make any decisions.
The answer will determine if you would need to work somewhere else simultaneously during the internship, or if you are eligible for financial support.
List different photographers you come up with, inspect closely their style of photography, to determine if it actually what you would like to learn. You can also look into interesting magazines and other platforms, many of them work with interns.
You would also need to determine, whether you’ll have to move abroad for your internship – this will hands down be the best decision and will provide you with an intense learning experience.
If you are located in Europe, places like FOAM are great environments to learn. Otherwise you can look up interesting photographers from magazines and exhibitions you go to.
[Photographs from the set of Sabrina Bongiovannis’ collaboration in Amsterdam]
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