5 Responsibilities of Photography Lighting Assistants
As a professional photographer, you’ve probably experienced a couple of less-than-ideal situations regarding your lighting assistants. Whether they lost equipment or spent the entire time texting, there are certain do’s and don’ts that are important to communicate prior to any gig, no matter how big or small. Because of this need, we’ve created a list of 5 basic responsibilities for lighting assistants. Feel free to send your lighting assistants over to this article prior to your shoots so they can familiarize themselves with the general responsibilities of being a lighting assistant and avoid potential mishaps.
Note: This article is part of the LJP Training Series in which we’re documenting the processes specific to our studio in order to train our employees. Instead of writing internal documents, we decided to post on SLR Lounge, as we thought it might spark some interesting discussion or, at the very least, provide some information of value to our readers. As this is specific to our studio, there are ideas that might not apply to your situation, so keep that in mind as you read the following and feel free to comment on your best practices.
While being a lighting assistant doesn’t require a specific skill set, the job does go beyond simply carrying equipment and following instructions. A good lighting assistant is engaged, proactive, professional and personable. Each lead photographer will have different expectations for their lighting assistants; but in general, there are certain things that all lighting assistants should keep in mind.
Note: From this point on “you” will refer to the lighting assistant
1) Assist with Lighting – As the lighting assistant, your primary tasks will be 1) using a reflector to bounce light onto the subjects, 2) setting up flash stands, 3) adjusting the settings on external flash units, and 4) holding/aiming video lights. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, don’t worry. These skills are easy to learn and they can be picked up on the job. If your lead photographer has allowed you to bring your camera along, make sure that you are not distracted from your primary task of being a lighting assistant. Though you may think you’re doing a great job holding a light with one hand and shooting with the other, chances are, you’re not doing either well at that moment.
2) Manage Equipment – It’s your responsibility to keep track of and organize the equipment. As you travel from location to location, even the lightest tripod can start to weigh you down. As you take breaks or set any equipment down, it takes a conscious effort to keep track of everything. As the lead photographer hands you a lens or other equipment to put away, make sure it’s secure and organized so you can easily find it again when it’s needed. And as you set up a flash stand outdoors and the wind picks up, it’s your duty to glance over and make sure it’s not going to tip over. These are just a few examples of managing and organizing the equipment; but in general, keep in mind that you’re dealing with expensive equipment, from $300-$1000 tripods to $500 to $3,000 lenses. Be proactive and make it your responsibility to stay on top of the equipment.
[Rewind: For you second shooters, check out the 5 common mistakes of second shooters]
3) Watch for Details - The lighting assistant should help the lead photographer watch for details. In an ideal world, the lead would notice everything in a scene; but sometimes, with so much on his/her mind, things can slip through the cracks. Keep an eye out for a couple of things in particular:
* The Background – Is there anything distracting or out of place in the background? Watch for water bottles, bags, or any other clutter in the background that might distract from the image.
* The Subjects – Watch for stray strands of hair, wardrobe malfunctions, and other obvious issues. If you’re on a wedding shoot, always mind the wedding dress and veil and make sure they are always looking at their best.
3) Dress Professionally - It’s important to dress appropriately. For an engagement session, feel free to dress casually; but be sure to prepare for any changes in weather and shooting into the evening. Wear comfortable shoes, as we may be walking a lot; and if we’re heading to the beach or into the woods, make sure you don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t mind getting a little wet or a little dirty.
For weddings, our studio dresses in full black, conservative attire. Black collared shirts or sweaters with slacks is the norm; but this is flexible as long as you’re using your judgement and represent the studio professionally. Skirts, dresses, and heals aren’t a great idea, as you never know if you have to climb over or onto anything.
4) Act Professionally – Be sure to stay engaged in the moment, staying off of your phone and avoiding the bored/disinterested look. We realize that it’s not the most exciting job in the world, but as with any client serving industry, it’s important to focus on the job and act interested. Talk when appropriate but make sure you’re not making comments that distract from the moment.
Always remember that you are a vendor and an employee at any event. Clients and their guests will often invite you to have an alcoholic beverage and join in on the fun and dancing. However, it is important to politely decline these offers. While a little drink and dance may seem harmless, it could be a major liability if anything were to go wrong during the event. Grab a bite when it is deemed appropriate, get some water and a soda to stay hydrated, but never cross the line between guest and professional.
5) Learning and Asking Questions When Appropriate – Many of you lighting assistants are aspiring photographers, excited to observe and eager to learn. Some of the most educational experiences in our photographic careers was during the time we were apprenticing and assisting other master photographers. Simply paying attention to the photographer, his technique, and interactions with the client, often taught us more than any class, lecture or book ever could.
However, make sure you understand that the shoot is not a training session. Fight the “lemme see” instinct and wait until it’s appropriate to view the photographers work that you helped create. Unless it’s a question about the task at hand, save your photography questions until after the shoot.
Besides the 5 points above, it’s important to just simply use common sense. Be on time, be friendly, and have a great attitude, even if your job is to run to the car and grab a piece of equipment. Hopefully the learning experience along with the financial compensation will make it worth your time. And of course, make sure you have fun!