Why Pay for a Professional Photographer's Assistant?

How a good assistant saves the client money and contributes to the value of the shoot.


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is John Lacy,
a commercial photographer
based in the
metro Detroit area.

We produce high quality photography mostly for business to business marketing.

Our principal markets are the construction industry and the automotive manufacturing industry. A significant portion of our work is also divided among the hospitality industry (hotels, resorts, casinos & restaurants)

Our specialties include

>> Architectural
(interior & exteriors),
(interiors & exteriors,
studio & location),
shooting manufacturing facilities & equipment.
>> Environmental & Studio
Executive Portraiture
for Editorial, Annual Report and similar,
Studio Product
including electronics, glass, plastic, package goods & food.

In addition to photography we also offer
>> Digital Retouching
>> Large Format Printing
>>Graphic Design & Offset Printing for brochures, catalogs and promotional materials and
Website Design & Hosting.

We've been in business since 1987


I know how valuable a good photographer's assistant can be. I worked for over 100 different photographers as a freelance assistant before shooting on my own full time over 15 years ago.

A client may ask "why should I pay additional for an assistant? Maybe I can assist you or maybe I can assign one of my staff to help you"

As a photographer I would like to concentrate on the needs of my client and the technical and aesthetic aspects of the shoot. But part of the process of a shoot production is moving a number of cases of equipment (for a location shoot) from our van to the site of the shot, setting up the lighting equipment, monitoring the equipment to be sure it's working properly, moving the equipment from setup to setup, packing up the equipment and getting it back into the transport van.

It is much more cost effective to the client to have an experienced assistant perform these duties while the photographer concentrates on setting up the camera, interface with the client, subject and other parties contributing to the shoot and give him the opportunity  to concentrate on the objectives of the photo and brainstorm solutions to perfecting the results.

While the total cost of a shoot production is increased by the addition of 1 or 2 professional assistants. The cost for their time is a fraction of the cost of the photographer's time. Usually less than 1/10. But the increase in efficiency for the shoot, whether realized by the total number of setups/shots or the quality of those shots out weighs the additional cost by many, many times.

So why not just use an inexperienced assistant? Or have the client assist the photographer in moving equipment?

While a client can and sometimes does volunteer to help carry a tripod or a case it is not their job to do so. The potential savings on the total cost of a shoot is minimal and the expertise a professional assistant brings greatly exceeds this cost.

A professional assistant will know that the lighting equipment is delicate and must be handled with care. They will know how the equipment works and can not only set it up, but quickly determine that it is working properly. As electrical equipment the lighting kit is also potentially dangerous or can produce hazards on location with its extended cables and cords as well as elevated top heavy lights on lightweight stands. The professional assistant is instructed by the photographer on the safe and proper setup of the equipment.

The assistant can move lights while the photographer evaluates changes from the position of the camera. They also contribute an additional set of experienced eyes to many times catch a potential problem such as an unnoticed element in the background or a strobe source reflecting in a window for example.

The additional cost of a professional assistant is money well spent.

On some shoots the assistant may be included in the photographer's production fee. On other shoots the 1st assistant is typically $200/day with the time measured from when they arrive at the studio to when they leave the studio (differing from photographer's location fees which typically apply from arrival to leaving the location).

An additional "2nd Assistant" working as an assistant to the 1st assistant or as an extra hand on more complicated shoots that might benefit from the additional personnel is typically billed at only $100/day.

A stylist/assistant is a photographer's assistant with the additional skills of "styling" which may include interior decoration, flower arrangement, hair and makeup, or food styling skills. This assistant may or may not also assist in the lighting setup. These specialized assistants may bill out at $250-750/day depending on the level of skill and their potential contribution to the shoot.

Some examples of professional assistant's contribution to shoots; On a shoot of several executive aircraft interiors I brought my best assistant who also does food styling. While I setup the camera and lighting within the small space of the aircraft cabin she prepared plates of fruit and cheese, a dinner entree and fake examples of a glass of Scotch (apple juice) and poured glasses of wine (sparkling grape juice) for the shots.

In another example I was shooting in an industrial environment. While the client had cleaned up much of the equipment we were asked to do an additional shot of the back of the equipment which had not been cleaned. My assistant was able to clean the equipment in the view while I worked on anther setup. When I was ready to shoot the back of the equipment it was now clean and ready.

In another example I was shooting at a location not very far from our studio. The client asked if I could do a shot which required a piece of equipment I had not brought with us. My assistant was able to drive back to the studio while I setup a different shot and retrieved the equipment we needed to meet the client's needs without stopping the shoot. 

On many shoots we setup a shot prior to the subject being available or necessary. Many times I'll have my assistant stand in for the subject as I refine the lighting.

As always assistants costs can be included in estimates or quotes for the full cost of a given production in advance.

Written commentary 2006  JOHN LACY All rights reserved.

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