Many among us have often felt the need to employ a photography assistant to help us manage a shoot better. Whether it is to hold up that fill flash a little higher up or to make a quick light value check so that one can dial in the right shutter speed or to just help push, shove or lift things. Even when you are shooting landscapes at the middle of nowhere I have found an assistant can be really helpful. Even if it is just to keep an eye out for wild animals if nothing else. The thing is in a shoot an extra pair of hands, and not necessarily one that knows how to operate a camera, is always welcome. Not too many, however, can afford to employ the services of one. But for those who need one and can afford one a different set of challenges await.
Advantages of employing a photography assistant
The advantages are incredible. No doubt about that. Whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors, an assistant can help set up a shot, set-up the lights, meter the scene, set up the props, help you with the bags, fetch a bottle of water and or drive your pickup truck with you free to focus on the work at hand.
Disadvantages of employing a photography assistant
Though it might be a cool thing to be able to point at your assistant and say s/he is working for me as a photography assistant, the process of employing is nothing short of a big hassle. With the advantages of employing an assistant now apparent, we move on to the disadvantages. These are some major disadvantages to employing an assistant as we shall now see.
First and foremost, you would be held responsible for any damages to properties or person inflicted by your assistant. Let’s say that you are going to shoot a real estate for some owner / agent. You know and understand the implications of property damage and have an insurance to cover for any unintentional damages to property that might happen while you are doing your work. But let’s say that your insurance cover does not include your assistant.
Moreover, if the assistant is just a casual one, not on your permanent payroll, or may be just there to help you out for the shoot for free, the risk is even higher. In an event your assistant is involved in an accident or damages any property while carrying out your instructions, you would be held liable for the damages. Even if your business is registered and you have an insurance cover that specifically covers these sort of occupational hazards, the insurance company might not entertain you for the damages done by your assistant, who happens NOT to be your employee.
In the worst case scenario if your assistant does not have insurance coverage for third party damages, you will be personally liable.
Then there is the question of our assistant screwing up the whole shoot. Let’s say that your photography assistant was callous and tripped his / her leg on the cable connecting your key light to the battery. S/he rips up the cable and puts the light out of action. The entire shoot is cancelled, unless you can somehow magically ‘glue it back’ or get yourself a second light or find a way to compensate for the lack of a key light. You have to compensate for the loss of time of the model, the rest of the crew and not to mention the client, if s/he happens to be on the set.
Then there is the ethical question of why would someone want to work for you as an assistant?
This is a logical question. Then there is the question of purpose. The first thing is why would someone be interested in working for you? It is not that you are likely going to pay him / her thousands of dollars. So that means the urge to work for you must come from something other than money.
Eagerness to learn the business side of things
An individual applying to you to work as a photography assistant or responding to your advertisement may or may not be looking at it as a career move. The urge to work for you isn’t just monetary alone. The guy or the gal might be an enthusiast photographer. It could be that the sole reason s/he is willing to join you for peanuts might be because s/he thinks s/he can learn the business side of things better of they join forces with a practicing pro photographer. As you would have realized by now, a photography business is just like any other business. You will have to understand how to run a business first so as to be successful. The business of photography, as they say, does not end at you being a great photographer.
Employing an assistant, some selection parameters
- Is s/he a photographer or a photography enthusiast?
Employing an assistant is probably the natural way to go once you have reached a threshold. It is not possible to play the role of a one man band. Not for your entire professional career. Your reputation and quality of work would necessitate a choice. That choice is to find a way to take your involvement away from the ‘menial’ tasks. Long story short, you need an extra pair of hands.
However, before you say ‘Yes’ to someone and entrust him / her with your business reputation you need to answer a few questions. The person you are bringing into your world is s/he going to make a positive difference? Let’s the person is not a photographer. In that case s/he is going to need a lot of mentoring and training to start being useful on the set. If s/he is already a photographer or has a keen interest in the subject then obviously things will be a lot easier for you.
- Are you going to employ him her as a paid employee or just as an unpaid apprentice?
In a situation where an assistant of yours do some damage to third party or property, your business will be liable to pay. In the case your insurance company refuses to pay your will have to pay up. This of course considers that the assistant is just there to help you and is not an employee of yours. That means in order to have proper insurance cover you will have to employ the person. And that means the proper registrations and setting up of a company payroll. It also means the obligation to pay the minimum wages as per law.
- Is s/he trustworthy?
The question of trust comes into the picture because you will be entrusting your expensive gear with your assistant. The last thing that you need is a person who disappears after the shoot with your life’s savings worth of gear. A bit of background check is mandatory as well as a reference from some trusted source.
The advantages of shooting with an assistant is incredible. Two pair of hands can always achieve more than double what a single pair of hands can. No denying that. But employing someone means a lot of responsibilities on the part of the individual who is hiring. You will be responsible for the person’s actions. But with that you would also be responsible for training him / her. This is so that the individual can perform his / her role well. And then finally there is the question of whether or not paying the individual and the legal ramifications that arise out of such an employment.
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