The role of the photographer’s assistant

The role of the photographer’s assistant will obviously vary with each photographer but generally the assistant’s role is to support the photographer in a way which keeps the session running smoothly and on schedule. On commercial shoots where there is a large team, the photographer’s assistant’s role may be very specific whereas on smaller shoots, the assistant’s role may be a Jack of all trades. It’s common for non-professional photographer’s assistants to be aspiring photographers hoping to soak up some knowledge so it’s important for that assistant to know boundaries and expectations.

What the assistant should do

  • Preplan the shoot with the team to know what is expected and to keep session on schedule. This is especially true for an assistant that is working with the photographer for the first time. The assistant should know the schedule of the shoot, the locations, the number of set changes, and the number of clothing changes. These things are not always known ahead of time and usually subject to change to fit the schedule but more planning is better than less planning.
  • Keep track of all gear and be familiar with them to provide them when needed. This is one of the primary roles of the assistant. He/she should have a thorough knowledge of all lenses, memory cards, and other accessories to be able to identify them and keep them organized.
  • Set up lighting as per photographer’s instructions. Another primary role for the assistant is to set up and reset lights as required for different sets.
  • Test lighting and setup to eliminate background distractions, flares, reflections, and obstructions. If time permits, the assistant should set up the next lighting setup and test for problems.
  • Test each light to make sure they are firing and in the right ratio. It’s also helpful to test other gear such as battery levels, clean lenses, etc.
  • Keep track of shots per set to keep session on schedule.
  • Download images and review them for problems such as focus, slow shutter, lighting problems.