Photography Assisting in Changed Economy (part 1)

An experienced veteran assistant of the commercial photography industry recently messaged me on Facebook and asked for my advice as to how they might go about finding more photo assisting work. I answered along the lines of what follows and I felt that it might be helpful to share with a larger audience.

Be Proactive
This assistant’s experience was extensive and I was certain that she’d be a shoe-in for what she was looking for.  She was admittedly up against a few hurdles, not at all impossible, but should be taken note of and assessed before she devoted the time necessary to procure the kinds of assisting work that she was after.

I provided feedback from a global perspective gathered from my involvement in various areas of the commercial photo industry over ten years.  She reached out and I wanted to help her.  She was proactive, and this was a good sign.

A Changed Photo Economy
Assistants are attempting to hit the ground running at likely the most tumultuous time that the industry has ever seen; and possibly ever will see for the foreseeable future.  The Internet and digital imaging has forever changed the “golden era” of photography.  If one accepts this line of thinking, then they’ll need to place themselves into alignment with where photography is going and not where it has been.

Anyone feeling that still photography production, assignment, and licensing will return to the previous highs that it saw pre-2009 might find parts of my advice not very applicable.

I’ll follow here with what I believe are the first (of 10) steps that one should do based on the changed economy for digital imaging and assignment procurement. (The other 9 will follow tomorrow.)

1) Ask a Simple Question
This particular assistant had been at photo assisting for nine years.  I felt that she should ask herself a simple but poignant question – why is it that she wished to work in commercial photography in the first place?  I meant this not as a harsh question but rather as one rooted in honesty, as so many of the veterans of the field that she’d be looking to work for are indeed asking themselves the same question.

For example, last week I spoke with an experienced well-known photographer with 20+ yrs in the business who I actually assisted for on fantastically-paying catalog days in 2003.  He was wondering what to do and where to be positioned; it would be wise that those interested in jumping in at this time do the same.

If you’re seeking a career (in any field) and your experience level speaks to that; it makes sense to be serious about it.  Pick apart why photography and not another career?  When you set out to do this, you’ll end up with a more resolute decision for when the going gets tough.  Clarity of purpose will help guide you and will ultimately make you happy.  Everyone is seeing that the money in photography as a full time career is evaporating.  It’s important to have a list of pros and cons at the ready for constant guidance.  The future of becoming a photographer is different than what it was ten years ago.

Shannon Fagan assisted for three years before jumping fulltime into a lucrative stock photography and assignment career.  After a decade in commercial lifestyle photography in New York, he recently packed up his belongings and relocated to fast growing economy of Beijing to work in business development.

2 thoughts on “Photography Assisting in Changed Economy (part 1)

  1. Sean J McCormick

    Well, you figure after assisting for NINE years she should take a step up to be a photographer. Isn’t that why people work as a photo assistant anyway?

    1. tom mcghee

      This story is not rare in this industry those who enjoyed the “glory” days made Mad Money indeed and so did the agencies they worked for and those days are not about to return. Now we are dealing with a market in major decline both in the budgets that they are presenting to their creatives photographers included . But the biggest issue that is of most concern is the lack of creativity currently being accepted you just have to look at the ad campaigns out there. Same old same old….but this time shot by students with a 5D. Yes now is the time to reconsider no matter what business you are in. Life is too short to fight over crumbs