Fellow photography students often ask me about my experience assisting and second shooting, and it is something that has been so incredibly beneficial to me, so I wanted to talk about it here today. I'll be sprinkling in some fun behind-the-scenes shots :)
One thing I'm asked all the time is how did I get this job. In the fall of 2012 I was just starting to take classes at Harrington College of design after completing some gen-eds at community college. I e-mailed Caitlin of Hazelton Photography, a wedding and portrait photographer working out of my hometown. She happened to be loosing an assistant and was happy to interview me! I began an un-paid internship with her, there was much I needed to learn about her style and process. As I learned, my editing skills and speed improved and I began shooting weddings with a photojournalistic approach. I made myself valuable and it turned into a paid position! Ever since then it has been a steady pace of moving forward. She has trusted me with more and more responsibility and I have grown so much because of it!
I've got to say, there isn't a big secret to getting these internships. Of course you have to be friendly and be able to give a good interview. But the main thing you need to do is simply start trying. Do a little research and make a list of local photographer whose work you LOVE, and then don't be afraid to reach out and contact them. Send a professional e-mail, explain that you are a student and ask if they might have any need for an intern or assistant. Tell them what specifically you enjoy about their work and why you want to work for them. The worst they can do is reply that they are fully staffed. Be open to working for free for at least a little while. Learn, work hard, and always be making yourself useful to the photographer.
I have learned so much through working with Caitlin. I often call her my Yoda because she is an incredible teacher. Not every photographer you assist is going to be like this, I know I got lucky to find her right away. My advice would be to try to assist many different photographers. You'll certainly learn how to assist different types of shoots. But also, if you are lucky enough to find someone like Caitlin, it is also very beneficial to build a working relationship with such a photographer. My work has come so far since I started with Caitlin. She has always been open with her knowledge, always willing to answer my questions and point out how I can improve. She has shared her workflow and even business knowledge. What could be more beneficial than the advice of someone who has been doing this for years?!
I asked Caitlin some questions to get her perspective, so here's a little Q and A!
Q. What are the most obvious ways that you've seen my second shooting improve?
A. I have noticed you are exposing better, and you are taking more initiative to get the good angles/shots/creative photos. I like if you have an idea, you aren't afraid to suggest it, even if I am shooting. I don't have a big ego, & art isn't created in one mind. But you are also a good listener, and are easy to delegate to.
Q. What are the mandatory qualities you need in a second shooter/assistant?
A. Willingness to learn, good communicator, someone who loves people and weddings, someone who knows how to use their equipment, someone who knows about lighting. Someone with a positive attitude and will listen to me when I tell them to do something. Someone who enjoys my style of photography and wants to find their own style but still compliment mine with their photos.
Q. What advice would you give to students/photographers looking to start assisting?
A. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Not all photographers are open with information or opportunities, but you never know who will be the one. Start out with several photographers whose work you admire, and send out a well worded and spell checked email that is personalized to each photographer (we can tell when you have copy/pasted to hundreds). Link to your work if possible. Reach out and ask to meet -- I can't offer anything until I've met with someone to make sure our personalities click. Be humble -- don't feel you are entitled. Everything is a learning opportunity, and although you should get paid if you are working, an internship or learning experience could be invaluable.
So... GET OUT THERE PEOPLE! Reach out to these local photographers you admire. You never know the benefits it could lead to. In this industry you have to really want it and you have to go make things happen for yourself. Go get the hands on experience now. Get in Facebook groups, network, join the community. It is a great community we are a part of.
I'll finish with a HUGE thank you to my Yoda, Caitlin Hazelton. I'm so grateful for our relationship and how much you have taught me about this crazy photography life. It's been an adventure so far and I can't wait for more. Thank you for letting me be myself, for trusting me, for being easy and fun to work with, for being the best Yoda. Thank you for everything.