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Archive for the 'Photographic Assistant' Category

Shooting the city @ night with Christina Seely & her “Lux” project …

christinaseely_lasvegas_lux

A few weeks ago I was privileged to help out a wonderful US photographer Christina Seely  shooting her latest project “Lux”.  I became aware of her work after a call out on Mark Page’s excellent Manchester Photography website back in June.

A number of reasons prompted me to answer the request for assistance.

  • I checked out Christina’s website and I really liked her work.
  • Her own areas of interest happen to be ones I share a passion for too; namely the planet, our relationship with nature/the environment and the effect of one on the other.
  • Personally, I have found collaborations are a good thing if one has a gut-feeling to do it.
  • It presented a great opportunity to learn from a successful photographer who has drive, talent and belief in abundance.
  • A  measure of helping is always good for the Soul Department.

The gist of the “Lux” project as explained by Christina (from a blog interview with Plazm magazine) :

“A few years ago I rediscovered the NASA map of the world at night and I kept coming back to it over and over again. I was captivated by the beauty of the light on the map and also the complexity of what this light represents about us.  The conclusion is that this light obviously equals an intensely negative impact on the planet.  However, since it’s inception, man made light has also represented; ingenuity and progress, innovation, growth, prosperity, amusement, romance, optimism and promise – basically fundamentally positive and hopeful things. My real interest lies in this complexity and what it reflects about our current relationship with the planet.

The final body of work will be made up of photographs that document the artificial glow produced by the 43 brightest cities at night.”

This is a 4 year, worldwide project and a great deal of organisation, skill and research has been required for each of the shoots to go ahead.  Many artists mention their process when they discuss their work, when you read Christina’s “Lux” blog, one can gain a very real sense of this being more akin to a quest.   It highlights the efforts an artist has to put in behind the scenes to deliver; including battling an airport theft (Madrid) and a fire (Edinburgh).

My role for the Manchester and Liverpool shoots: location scout, navigator, car driver, equipment carrier, safety-in-numbers guard, torch bearer, stopwatch watcher, umbrella handler, local guide and regional catering advisor.

christina_and_camera

Christina uses a beautiful handmade 5×4 field camera to record her work, modelled by Christina in the above phote.   For “Lux” the aim is that the finished prints will be large and so the rendering needs to be as detailed as possible.    After copious testing, her chosen film for the work was Portra 100T negative, which presented a problem as Kodak decided to discontinue the whole range once shooting had commenced.  I think by scraping Ebay Christina should just get through to the end of the project (however, if anyone knows of any further sources then please do get in touch).  Average time for exposing the film was 3 hours.  This is due to the effects of reciprocity failure.

The spot I thought might work for the Liverpool shoot was Bidston Hill on the Wirral, close to Birkenhead (thanks also to Chris Coles for help scouting locations and research).   However, I must admit I was a little worried about wandering a lonely location such as this in the dead of night.  Due to it’s landmark windmill, it is a popular meet-up place for the local youth.  Thankfully,  despite the shoot starting around 11pm on a Friday night, we were bothered only by moths and a shooting star, a hooting owl provided the odd punctuation mark.  Manchester was captured from a field near the summit of Hartshead Pike, Mossley.  No threat of hassle, just a wonderful night sky, a few curious horses, low-flying bats, great company (Richard Brook from MMU also helped on this shoot) and a tiny bit of drizzle.  Both shoots were surreal, magical and very special.  I do not think I have ever sat and consumed the same scene for so long.

lux1_manchester

This project is now nearing completion as regards photography and there is already interest worldwide concerning possible sites to exhibit the body of work.  I cannot wait to see all of the filmic images displayed in one place.   Especially the shoots I tagged along for, will those two sheets of 5 x 4 film reveal the same things I conjured and remember so vividly?  Will they even make the finished cut … as I know some degree of image editing will be necessary.

A final footnote, Christina has been in touch to tell me about another project she is involved with called the Civil Twilight Collective who have been busily working on a fantastic idea: Lunar Resonant Streetlights.  It has been nominated for the prestigious Index Award (the world’s largest design award 500,000 euro prize-money) in the Community category.

lunarresonantstreetlights

There are some amazing ideas shortlisted, all along the theme of “Design to Improve Life”.  It merits a blog post of it’s own and if you have an interest in this subject you will find it well worth a visit.  Whilst there, you can cast your vote for the People’s Choice (I have) but be quick as voting ends tomorrow Friday 28th August when the winner is announced.

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19 steps to be a great Photographic Assistant … and beyond.

assistant_great

UPDATE ADDED:  5 March 2012.  I came across this excellent piece in The Guardian which looks at “How To Become a Professional Photographer”.  They did a live blog Q & A on the topic and the archive is still there in the comments.  There were some superb questions from students and those wishing to enter the profession.  This archive contains some very good advice from an excellent list of panellists.

___

Many people dream of a career as a photographer and there are certainly a myriad of ways to get into the photographic industry.  My own path started by studying at college for 3 years, but the learning really only properly began when I became a Photographic Assistant in a large commercial studio assisting 10 different photographers.  I worked hard and learned a great deal.

I have now worked as a photographer for well over a decade and I have gleaned a fair bit of insight on the question of “What Makes a Great Assistant?”.  So, using my own experiences, reading around and from listening to the many folk I have met along the way I have attempted a potted guide which I hope may prove helpful to others .

Of course, it is all subjective (and by no means definitive- I certainly don’t know it all!)  so take or leave whichever bits you like.

  1. Find out and learn as much as you can about the key bits of equipment used by professional photographers in your area (and I’d include software in that too).  A good place to look would be the main source for hiring professional gear, ask them what gets hired out the most … what manufacturers people tend to use.  This increases your value as an Assistant if you can show a range of knowledge and familiarity with all the latest kit.  Hire it out yourself or strike a deal testing it for the hire company.  If you are at college use every piece of equipment regularly and know it backwards.
  2. Learn the going rate for an Assistant, never try and undercut others … usually not a clever or productive route to go especially if you are just starting out without a decent reputation.  Different commissions will have different budgets, often Digital Assistants get more than Studio Assistants.  Be prepared to work long hours on some shoots and get no lunch break.  On another day you may find you finish early and go to the beach.  To get the best answers ask other experienced Assistants, if you ring up a photographer, most will give you an honest answer.
  3. Shoot as much as you can yourself, develop your own style, practice using all available equipment and cultivate how you like to do things and slowly build up a folio and a nice set of reliable photo gear.  Once you start thinking like a photographer you should become a better Assistant; able to anticipate and be a real asset.
  4. Be reliable, discreet, loyal, unobtrusive but helpful and decisive when necessary.  Being adaptable, easy-going and good company helps.  Don’t underestimate how important good social skills are in being a good Assistant.  Each photographer is different, some will prefer you to be gregarious and take the pressure off them with models and Clients etc. However, be aware that others may hate that!  You need to read people and their needs pretty well.
  5. Ask if you don’t know how to do something. Never just muddle along and then end up breaking a piece of equipment.  Though not too many questions, or you will make the photographer nervous!  If you can, ask someone else who might know an answer (other Assistants or people who work at the studio if it is a Hire place?).
  6. Learn skills from everyone else connected to the shoot.  Watch how they work as part of a team, how do they conduct themselves and use their skills?  Be helpful to everyone;  yes it is a nice way to be and it can lead to other contacts and work.  Network and cultivate useful contacts yourself and make recommendations should someone come looking.  What goes around comes around.
  7. Keep good notes and contacts of anything you learn.   You think you will remember it all but you won’t.
  8. Create an ideas and influences book. Read, visit and study other photographers.  Come up with a shortlist of your favourites from the emerging to the worshipped.  Analyse why you like them.
  9. Never forget your main role is to support … you are all part of a team, don’t try and take over but a useful suggestion at the right time can be invaluable.  Cultivate showing the right amount of initiative, don’t always be waiting to be told what to do.
  10. Always be a little early, NEVER be late.  If, for some reason, you will be late then phone ahead and let the photographer know.  Don’t turn up with a hangover.
  11. Be available should the photographer need you, “busily hovering” is a very useful skill.  If you go off to do a task then let the photographer know.
  12. Dress to blend in, you’re a creative; you can be stylish but practical.
  13. Be keen and able to drive a car and a van, try and have a clean licence.
  14. Don’t moan on a job, if a photographer is a nightmare then do your best on the job and don’t work for them again.
  15. Keep your private life out of work, put your phone on silent&vibrate. Yes, you are running a business, but when you are on a job, don’t take other work calls unless absolutely necessary.  Try and make your calls back at a suitable moment if there is such a thing.
  16. Don’t approach or show your own work to a Client on a job.  If you fancy collaborating with a Model, Make-Up artist or Stylist then agree to meet up some other time.  It might be nice to let the photographer know of your plans as they did put the two of you together in the first place and it could be better than them finding out from someone else.
  17. Do a business course, understand the market you are in, look at other Photographers and how they have positioned themselves within their sector.  Do you want to specialise, do you want to be your own boss?  Read lots about marketing a creative service.
  18. Understand copyright and Intellectual Property, protect your work. In the UK Own It is a good place to start and often run free workshops and Copyright Action has some excellent advice and links.
  19. Get feedback on your work, listen to advice, enter competitions & awards but always read the small print, make sure they are not Right’s Grabs:- a great place for advice is Pro-Imaging: Competions the Good & the Bad.  Keep shooting, but follow your own instincts too.  Love what you do and never lose sight of enjoying taking photographs.

I have listed some links for obtaining critique on your photography below.  I am not endorsing any of these and the standards of photography submitted varies but you may find it is useful for looking at other work and getting feedback.  Please let me know any others which you have found worthwhile and I can add them to the list.

Photoassist … good UK Assistants website and forum, features a showcase gallery for current test work.
Photo-net
J M Colberg website … US-based, you have to pay a fee for this one ($75) see further comment on this offer at the “A Photo Editor” site.
Photosig
Photozo.com Forum
Photopoints.com
PBase Forum
Flickr photography critique group.
Modelmayhem.com.  You can have a profile and if offers critiques but you have to join, mostly fashion.

For actual one-to-one reviews

Format Festival. Photography Festival in Derby, UK.
Redeye. Photography Support Group in Manchester, UK.
Rhubarb Rhubarb. West Midlands, UK based photo-development Agency.

To finish off, here is a link to some respected and experienced photographers on the Magnum blog, featuring brilliant work and some insightful advice on being a photographer ….  “Wear Good Shoes – Advice to young photographers”

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19 steps to be a great Photographic Assistant … and beyond.

assistant_great2

Many people dream of a career as a photographer and there are certainly a myriad of ways to get into the photographic industry.  My own path started by studying at college for 3 years, but the learning really only properly began when I became a Photographic Assistant in a large commercial studio assisting 10 different photographers.  I worked hard and learned a great deal.

I have now worked as a photographer for well over a decade and I have gleaned a fair bit of insight on the question of “What Makes a Great Assistant?”.  So, using my own experiences, reading around and from listening to the many folk I have met along the way I have attempted a potted guide which I hope may prove helpful to others .

Of course, it is all subjective (and by no means definitive- I certainly don’t know it all!)  so take or leave whichever bits you like.

  1. Find out and learn as much as you can about the key bits of equipment used by professional photographers in your area (and I’d include software in that too).  A good place to look would be the main source for hiring professional gear, ask them what gets hired out the most … what manufacturers people tend to use.  This increases your value as an Assistant if you can show a range of knowledge and familiarity with all the latest kit.  Hire it out yourself or strike a deal testing it for the hire company.  If you are at college use every piece of equipment regularly and know it backwards.
  2. Learn the going rate for an Assistant, never try and undercut others … usually not a clever or productive route to go especially if you are just starting out without a decent reputation.  Different commissions will have different budgets, often Digital Assistants get more than Studio Assistants.  Be prepared to work long hours on some shoots and get no lunch break.  On another day you may find you finish early and go to the beach.  To get the best answers ask other experienced Assistants, if you ring up a photographer, most will give you an honest answer.
  3. Shoot as much as you can yourself, develop your own style, practice using all available equipment and cultivate how you like to do things and slowly build up a folio and a nice set of reliable photo gear.  Once you start thinking like a photographer you should become a better Assistant; able to anticipate and be a real asset.
  4. Be reliable, discreet, loyal, unobtrusive but helpful and decisive when necessary.  Being adaptable, easy-going and good company helps.  Don’t underestimate how important good social skills are in being a good Assistant.  Each photographer is different, some will prefer you to be gregarious and take the pressure off them with models and Clients etc. However, be aware that others may hate that!  You need to read people and their needs pretty well.
  5. Ask if you don’t know how to do something. Never just muddle along and then end up breaking a piece of equipment.  Though not too many questions, or you will make the photographer nervous!  If you can, ask someone else who might know an answer (other Assistants or people who work at the studio if it is a Hire place?).
  6. Learn skills from everyone else connected to the shoot.  Watch how they work as part of a team, how do they conduct themselves and use their skills?  Be helpful to everyone;  yes it is a nice way to be and it can lead to other contacts and work.  Network and cultivate useful contacts yourself and make recommendations should someone come looking.  What goes around comes around.
  7. Keep good notes and contacts of anything you learn.   You think you will remember it all but you won’t.
  8. Create an ideas and influences book. Read, visit and study other photographers.  Come up with a shortlist of your favourites from the emerging to the worshipped.  Analyse why you like them.
  9. Never forget your main role is to support … you are all part of a team, don’t try and take over but a useful suggestion at the right time can be invaluable.  Cultivate showing the right amount of initiative, don’t always be waiting to be told what to do.
  10. Always be a little early, NEVER be late.  If, for some reason, you will be late then phone ahead and let the photographer know.  Don’t turn up with a hangover.
  11. Be available should the photographer need you, “busily hovering” is a very useful skill.  If you go off to do a task then let the photographer know.
  12. Dress to blend in, you’re a creative; you can be stylish but practical.
  13. Be keen and able to drive a car and a van, try and have a clean licence.
  14. Don’t moan on a job, if a photographer is a nightmare then do your best on the job and don’t work for them again.
  15. Keep your private life out of work, put your phone on silent&vibrate. Yes, you are running a business, but when you are on a job, don’t take other work calls unless absolutely necessary.  Try and make your calls back at a suitable moment if there is such a thing.
  16. Don’t approach or show your own work to a Client on a job.  If you fancy collaborating with a Model, Make-Up artist or Stylist then agree to meet up some other time.  It might be nice to let the photographer know of your plans as they did put the two of you together in the first place and it could be better than them finding out from someone else.
  17. Do a business course, understand the market you are in, look at other Photographers and how they have positioned themselves within their sector.  Do you want to specialise, do you want to be your own boss?  Read lots about marketing a creative service.
  18. Understand copyright and Intellectual Property, protect your work. In the UK Own It is a good place to start and often run free workshops and Copyright Action has some excellent advice and links.
  19. Get feedback on your work, listen to advice, enter competitions & awards but always read the small print, make sure they are not Right’s Grabs:- a great place for advice is Pro-Imaging: Competions the Good & the Bad.  Keep shooting, but follow your own instincts too.  Love what you do and never lose sight of enjoying taking photographs.

I have listed some links for obtaining critique on your photography below.  I am not endorsing any of these and the standards of photography submitted varies but you may find it is useful for looking at other work and getting feedback.  Please let me know any others which you have found worthwhile and I can add them to the list.

Photoassist … good UK Assistants website and forum, features a showcase gallery for current test work.
Photo-net
J M Colberg website … US-based, you have to pay a fee for this one ($75) see further comment on this offer at the “A Photo Editor” site.
Photosig
Photozo.com Forum
Photopoints.com
PBase Forum
Flickr photography critique group.
Modelmayhem.com.  You can have a profile and if offers critiques but you have to join, mostly fashion.

For actual one-to-one reviews

Format Festival. Photography Festival in Derby, UK.
Redeye. Photography Support Group in Manchester, UK.
Rhubarb Rhubarb. West Midlands, UK based photo-development Agency.

To finish off, here is a link to some respected and experienced photographers on the Magnum blog, featuring brilliant work and some insightful advice on being a photographer ….  “Wear Good Shoes – Advice to young photographers”

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