I appear in this month's edition of Professional Photo Magazine, where you'll find me interviewed about my use of assistants on commercial and editorial shoots. I've copied in the transcript from our interview (below). Click through to read more of my experience with photography assistants.
- PPM - When did you first start using an assistant or assistants?
GIJ - Probably within the last 6/7 years, as I've started shooting bigger commissions and more advertising work. I can't remember the very first time I employed an assistant but it would have been on a commercial job at some point.
- PPM - Comparing the process with and without an assistant, how does it compare?
GIJ - The photography process is much the same for me with or without an assistant. One difference may be if I have an assistant controlling the position of a light on a boom. I mostly utilise assistants for moving and setting up kit as well as standing in on test shots. Having an assistant 'stand in' is hugely beneficial so I guess that makes a big difference especially if time with the subject is tight
- PPM- On what kind of occasions do you find it's better without?
GIJ - In an ideal world I'd have an assistant full time as I always prefer to have an extra pair of hands on shoots. Client budgets don't always cover assistant costs unfortunately. I can't think of an instance where not having an assistant would improve a shoot for me.
- PPM - What are the main duties you expect of an assistant? And do those jobs get in the way of your shooting when they're not covered by someone else?
GIJ - The main duties I expect help with are - setting up lighting equipment/cameras/computers, carting kit to and from locations, watching image files if I'm shooting tethered, watching lights and telling me if there's a problem/misfire, standing in place of subjects when test shooting and being on hand to run for supplies/refreshments.
- PPM - What does a good assistant free you up to do – does using one help the creative process? Or even hinder it?
GIJ - For me having an assistant on shoots just helps the shoot run smoother and if everything is running well and stress levels are low then I tend to be more creative. I don't think assistants have ever been a hindrance on shoots, sometimes someone I've not worked with before may need to be shown how to do certain things but it's never that complicated.
- PPM - Are there benefits in choosing to work alone? Or is whether you use an assistant or not all down to budgetary constrictions as you mentioned?
GIJ - I can't really think of any benefits to working alone. Unless the assistant is not very good and getting in the way but I've not really experienced that.
- PPM - With assistants, have you ever felt that you needed to provide a level of training? Or do you expect people to be up to speed almost immediately?
GIJ - I think its understandable that a new assistant isn't used to all the kit, especially some of the more specialist stuff I use. I fully expect to have to demonstrate quickly how to set a light/camera/computer up if the assistant isn't used to the kit. I also enjoy and am more than happy to answer technical or industry questions.
- PPM - What do the assistants get out of the process?
GIJ - I think watching the shoot process is very valuable, it gives assistants an idea of the expectations and realities of working with clients. They also get a better understanding of how the imagery is created first hand. There is also the opportunity to talk to the working industry professionals, whether it's me or the talent or the art director. Obviously this needs to be done at the right moment.
- PPM - Should the assistant bring their own ideas? Is that even beneficial?
GIJ - I don't expect that at all. In fact it's one of my pet hates. I think if the assistant has an idea and thinks I'm truly missing something then perhaps mention it quietly when the moment is right. This stems from my fear of looking incompetent in front of clients more than any particularly bad experiences.
- PPM - Is there a professional benefit to having an assistant, beyond the obvious - i.e., does it put the client at ease to see you directing?
GIJ - Yes I think there is something to be said for that. Just meeting a clients expectations of what they believe should be happening on a shoot can be pretty valuable.
- PPM - Finally, if you have any anecdotes about working with assistants, they'd be great to hear – maybe times when they've been less than helpful, or done something brilliant out of the blue.
GIJ - No brilliant anecdotes spring to mind (probably a good thing) however I have worked with some great assistants. They've been a fantastic help, keeping an eye on things as I'm shooting with good attention to detail. Add in a polite and friendly nature and that for me that is the perfect photo assistant.