Advice for an assistant (A Photo Editor Post)


1. In college, learn as much tech stuff as you can. This will make you more valuable as an assistant. Don’t just be a navel gazer with a 5D.

2. In college, take business classes too. You don’t want to be one of those stoner kids that just reads and ponders life. You want to APPLY what you learned.

3. In college, take as many philosophy classes as you can. Try to think BIG. Try to care about the world. Try to get a grip on the big picture.

4. In college, take a year off and drive across the country, and camp along the way. Do it with good friends that are smart; not dumbasses that just want to get high. Bring some books. Bring some audio books if you can’t read.

5. Make sure and take some acid somewhere along the way. Preferably in Monument Valley or Canyonlands. I know that sounds dumb, but everybody needs to do that once or twice.

6. When you start assisting, consider putting away your cameras entirely for a few years, and concentrate on being a servant. Get into a servant mindspace. Be in a supportive role. Trust me, it helps. This is your time to be a giant sponge and learn as much as you can. It’s not your time to shoot. (Ok, maybe with your iphone, but nothing more serious than that). THE ARTICLE SAYS PUT YOUR CAMERA DOWN. I SAY PUT YOUR EGO DOWN. I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED AND HOW YOU WOULD DO IT UNLESS I ASK. PUT YOUR EGO DOWN FOR THE JOB PERIOD AND THEN RUN HOME AND START SHOOTING.

7. Think how you can be most useful to a photographer. That will get you hired, and keep you getting hired.

8. Eliminate excess Drama from your life.

9. Live beneath your means. Keep things simple.

10. Be a good conversationalist. Be well read. No one wants to drive five hours with an assistant that doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation. And it better be better than how to make web galleries from Bridge, or something geeky like that.

11. Keep your mouth shut around clients. Just be a good energy, but sure as hell, don’t offer ideas. The photographer has his own agenda, and he needs to work that out with the client.

12. Don’t be late for work. And if you are, call ahead and let the photographer know. Don’t just show up thirty minutes late, especially if it’s on the way to LaGuardia.

13. Be loyal.

14. Go beyond the call of duty.

15. Don’t order expensive drinks after the job, especially if it’s editorial. Be aware of the budget.

16. Turn off your fucking cell phone during the job. Fine to check messages during lunch, when it’s your time, but don’t be sending text messages to your girlfriend, even if nothing is going on in the job. Trust me, even though you’re not aware of it, there is something ALWAYS going on in the job.

17. Reread 16.

18. Be prompt when submitting Invoices. Don’t bitch about photographers always paying late, if you wait twenty days before you Invoice a job.

19. Be a sponge. Notice everything. Notice the way the photographer deals with the client. Notice the issues that the clients have, and be sensitive to these. You, as an assistant, are privy to a ton of valuable unspoken information; make the best use of it. Learn from it.

20. Travel out of the country as much as possible. Learn how other people live. Learn that America is not the center of the universe, and learn that you don’t need your cell phone 24 hours a day. Again, be a sponge, about how other people live.

21. Don’t show up hung over to a job. It’s just not cool. No matter how hard you worked the day before.

22. Dress well. Doesn’t have to be Prada, but try to look competent.

23. Learn your job. Learn the subtleties of a Profoto pack. Learn about the fuses in a Pro 7b. Try to learn CaptureOne, even just the basics of it. You are Support; try to know your craft. Even the geeky details. It’s the geeky details that’ll sometimes save a job. That’s when you’ll be the hero, and you’ll get an extra beer that night at dinner. (But don’t show up the next day hung over).

24. Go to the Times today, and read the Norman Mailer Obit. Try to create your life to be half as interesting as his life. If you do that, you’ll be fine.

25. Always order good Catering. That’s all the client really cares about. And make sure they get put up in a nice hotel.

26. Learn as much technical stuff as you can, because Rule Number One is, the client doesn’t really care about your vision of the world. They care about their vision. If you show one thing in your book, chances are, you’ll be called for something else. So have a good grab bag of tricks, for those days when you walk into a beige conference room, and have to shoot a fat guy on the corner of a desk.

That’s all that Old Geezer knows for now. Maybe someone older can write up another twenty-six.

Good luck with your careers, young people. God knows the world needs another photographer. With SVA and Art Center and the like cranking them out by the hundreds, soon we’ll have enough photographers to handle all those big budget jobs that we all turn down.


Handle your rent; handle your car. Handle your parking tickets. Nobody wants the Sheriff to show up in the middle of a job, with a bunch of parking tickets in his hand, asking to see the assistant. Don’t ask to leave early, “cause you gotta go pay your rent or your phone bill”. Handle all that stuff outside of work. Again, you are Support; you are not the star.

And I forgot the worst one, #27: Don’t approach the client to “show him your work sometime”. It’s the cardinal rule. If you’re there on the job as an assistant, then be in the assistant role. Every client will ask you if you shoot, because they don’t know what else to talk to you about at lunch, but trust me, they really don’t care. They might care a little bit, but they don’t want to see your book. The right way to do it is — Stop Assisting, then become a photographer. Don’t approach a client when you’re on somebody else’s job.

MY OWN RULE: When your boss acts like a prick (never happened on set but I was assistant to one) and you feel it’s unjust, stand up for yourself. When you feel they are taking aggression out on you, stand up for yourself and let them know the consequences. When they do it again, you get up and walk. Walk the fuck away. Walk away and have some self-respect. The truth is, if they keep on with their attitude they do NOT respect you. When you tell them that you cannot be berated and they continue, they do NOT respect you. Now this leaves you 2 choices (unless you are almost on the streets because of no money). The first option is to stay and take it. I assure you, they will think less of you. You can walk, they will think less of you but for God’s sake you can at least look in the mirror that night and admire yourself. The best option is to let them know you cannot be treated like trash, and hope they will understand that. You stand up for yourself, but also continue working hard for them. How could they not respect that? But in those rare moments, please walk… you WILL do better.

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2 thoughts on “Advice for an assistant (A Photo Editor Post)

  1. carmenthephotographer says:

    hi walid! thank you for this! I missed it on APE. I definitely need to learn more about gear! stumbled on your blog from Melissa’s 🙂 hope you’re well!

  2. N76 says:

    Hello. Thanks for reading. I agree with most of them, I just don’t think anyone should ever put a camera down even when assisting and no one should ever take abuse from a client. I’m really big with being able to look at oneself in the mirror and liking who you see.

    Ps…. Melissa is a great human being and photographer. I always visit her site.

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