Becoming a Wedding Photographer Assistant

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by susan_winn, Sep 8, 2011.

  1. I have done several weddings on my own and I know there is a lot of areas that I need improvement in. So I have been interested in working with an experienced wedding photographer to get official training. I have a master's degree in photography so I have the knowledge but not the experience. I would really like to learn from someone, and I am perfectly fine doing the grunt work! I have contacted wedding photographers in the past giving them my portfolio and letting them know that I am looking to be an assistant. I don't expect to be paid, even though, that would be nice, I just want to learn. Every photographer, that I have contacted has said that they don't need an assistant. I find these photographers by just Googling wedding photographers. any suggestions on how I could become an assistant photographer?
  2. I am having same problem i have done three wedding workshops and also covered few weddings but when approch other photographers for assisting them get told sure we will let you know and that.
    If I am in your place would attend this workshop build the portfolio and experience and go solo or team up with someone who is in same position as you.
    Good luck.
  3. Hi Susan....where did you take your Masters? regards, Robert
  4. Assisting photographer perhaps means work together with and under direction of a master photographer. During fast paced wedding, at least during ceremony, sometimes there is no time to deal with any asistant, so I am not surprised they do not need an assistant.
    But you could certainly work aloong side with the photographer, like many guests do, if you are invited to take pictures there by bride, groom oe even their parents.
    Sounds like you have done this and have experience to do it on your own. Perhaps you do not need any guidance from the master photographer, just do not disturb him/her too much.
  5. I won't presume to know your goals, Susan, but to me wedding photography is finally a business requiring as much business acumen as the ability to shoot.
    It goes without saying that photography competence is a requisite skill but success or failure may ultimately hinge on business savviness.
  6. Where did you get your masters? I ask because it's hard to understand exactly why you would want to become an assistant to a photographer who is most unlikely to have achieved your level of did you get your degree?
    if we knew that it would be easier to guess what information you may lack....thanks...R
  7. Most wedding photographers don't need an assistant. Even if they do, it's most likely a bag carrying job. You said you've done several weddings, do you feel like you need a assistant?
    And the real problem is, there are just far too many people willing to assist. So all the assisting type of jobs I've seen from FB are nothing short of exploitation, carry my bag for 10 hours and I'll treat you to a nice meal at the B/G's expense.
  8. the linkedin says that she is a shift manager at Starbucks.......there is an otherwise impossible to find website.....An odd career for a person with a Master's degree in photography....
    .....and that only matters because the whole story doesn't quite hang right......and the images on the website are hardly what i would expect from a photographer of such eminent credentials......Essentially we have a photographer with a Masters degree in photography looking for a job as a photographers assistant. I have difficulty with that concept....R
  9. Essentially we have a photographer with a Masters degree in photography looking for a job as a photographers assistant.​
    Degrees don't mean anything. I have worked with someone with a degree in electronic engineering who didn't even know which way round to connect an LED. I wouldn't have trusted him to sweep the floor properly!
  10. Why would that be a difficult concept, Bob?
    Not knowing details, I find it entirely conceivable that an MFA in photography would have little actual experience in a specific photography discipline. Her thesis might have been philosophical or pedagogical in nature which would have little to do with actual shooting.
    Besides, there's nothing wrong with wanting to learn from actual working pros regardless of ones academic credentials.
  11. I'm with Steve here: a degree means absolutely nothing! In my consulting job I must have interviewed and even interned dozens of people who, despite amazing degree credentials, could not be trusted or depended upon to tie their own shoelaces, let alone take over or work within a project team! I'm not surprised that, as Robert discovered, that the OP is working on something completely unrelated to her training - I must have talked with over 20 young photographers just out of college or even a postgraduate course and they're all having trouble getting hired, not because of the typical qualifications but because, mostly from what I've seen in their portfolios, their work has ABSOLUTELY NO relation to real life applications (it's all about "inner expression", "art" and all those things which, may be interesting phtographically or psychlogically but do not, under any circumstance, show the photog's ability to handle, say, a commercial fashion shoot). Anyway...
    Photography (and, wedding photography even more) requires, as I'm sure everyone here (including, to her credit, the OP) realises. I would advise you not to approach this as an "assistant". Try a different approach and start from local wedding photographers - just ask their permission to simply observe from a discreet distance (i.e. without interfering with their work) while they shoot a couple of weddings and "whenever needed, I could even help carry stands etc". That way you'll see, first-hand, how a seasoned professional handles things, how they light things, how they don't, why they do the things they do, how they deal with client interaction, etc - all those things a degree or working for yourself in a couple of weddings will never teach you. Wedding photography is about a lot more than just getting the exposure or the framing right...;-)
    The advice about setting up with someone else in the same shoes as you is also a good one, but make sure that at least ONE of you has a solid business acumen.
  12. The purpose of a university education is not to provide vocational skills, but a foundation to think by yourself and help in the development of your own vision ... I don't understand why this gets so much contempt here. The idea is exactly to avoid a situation where photographers from generation to generation copy "how a seasoned professional handles things". Photography needs to evolve to be meaningful, not copy itself.
  13. Ilkka, while I think a University education can be a great asset, so often it doesn't really prepare you for being out in the real world of business. Yes I took a studio lighting course with flash in college. Did that prepare me for using flash on the job at all for weddings, NO. Not at all. The thing that taught me the most was 2nd shooting with Daniel McGarrity in DC. No he wasn't there holding my hand the whole time checking every setting I had, etc. But every so often he'd look through my last few images, give a brief critique some technical advice too, and then walk away. He'd take my flash and point it upwards or even backwards slightly, and say work with bouncing it off the column behind you because the ceilings are too high to get effective bounce. He also gave me the best advice though, which wasn't technique, it was that you are the only you there is, so take what makes you unique and capitalize on that. I didn't make myself a carbon copy of Daniel. That would be impossible. Instead I took what I liked about his business and shooting style and added it to my own repertoire. I've since 2nd shot with other people, and have brought some of their techniques into my regular skill set. I even sometimes learn from my own 2nd shooters. So each generation can learn from the previous. If you ascribe to the school of you don't need to learn from seasoned professionals, why read this board at all? Why read instructional books, just go out on your own and trial and error your way there. That sounds like a sure fire way of ending up with a business that is far more likely to fail, that your skill set will remain rudimentary, and possibly with a lawsuit on your hands when you have some type of failure on the job that is a result of inexperience. No one hands a person a scalpel and just says ok go ahead and cut and fix them. They go through medical school, they watch procedures, they slowly learn to do the procedures themselves, eventually they become doctors, and then teach other doctors and still continue to hone their skill by learning from other doctors. New procedures still come about though.
    Is photography EXACTLY like being a medical doctor, no. But the pictures we take on their wedding day are not something to be taken lightly.
    So to the original poster, I think you going and getting experience as an assistant or a 2nd shooter is a great idea. And yes, it is very hard these days to find someone willing to take you. I would suggest being willing to find someone a few towns over from you, so that they don't consider you a potential threat to their business after they work with you, and possibly "share some of their secrets". Keep trying and don't get discouraged. Post yourself as available as a 2nd shooter on craigslist. For example, the person I met with this week who wrote me about being a 2nd shooter, said he emailed over 10 other people and got no responses except from me. That's another thing, if the person has a phone number on their site, try that. It's much easier to ignore an email than it is a person calling on the phone.
    In the mean time, read over this forum like it's your new bible. I can't believe how many tips and tricks I have found on here that have made my wedding photography sooooooooo much better. Thank you to all the posters who take the time to answer questions! Hope that helps!
  14. Try searching in the Wedding Photo Assistants Archives. Here are a couple of past threads.
    The problem is that there are a ton of people all looking to assist and second shoot so that they can get experience and then start their own business. I bolded the latter because one of the things I get a lot from people seeking to assist me is just that--instead of saying how much of an asset they can become to me, they just baldly say that they want to assist so they can start their own business.
    Now, in the past, it was expected that an 'apprentice' (photographer's assistant) learn from a 'master', and then went out on their own. However, these relationships were of some length, with the apprentice adding value to the master's business during that time.
    These days, assistants want to start shooting immediately and consider 3 months a long time to be working for someone else. Digital photography and the internet has changed the old formula. The trend for having second and third shooters has also changed the scene.
    These days, you have to target your desired masters and stand out from the crowd when you finally get to talk to any one of them. One thing you can do is to not immediately offer the information that you want to learn from them so you can start your own business (in other words, mine all the information that person has accumulated in the past 40 years and then leave). Instead, emphasize how valuable you can be to the master--how loyal and how hardworking, will hang around for a while.
    To target, you must identify specific individuals and find out how you can actually talk to them. Maybe even do it in a way that is different. Simply e-mailing every photographer in the area isn't going to get you any good results, if any results. I'd even venture to say that in this day and age of e-mail/Facebook, try old fashioned letters, with a personal touch and something to make your letter stand out (personal delivery with a muffin on top?).
  15. MMMMM, muffin top, that would definitely sure up a meeting with me at least ;)
  16. It's not at all uncommon for wedding photographers to bring assistants and second shooters -- I have no idea why people in this thread are saying this is unusual. Having competent and reliable help at a wedding is a huge blessing.
    Susan, if you're having a tough time finding someone who needs an assistant, it could be for one or more of several possible reasons:
    • you may have been in touch with wedding photographers who aren't at that level, yet (don't ask $800 CL shoot-and-burn photographers whether they can hire an assistant);
    • you may have used the wrong approach (e.g., something about your initial contact could have put them off);
    • your portfolio might not suggest that you have what it takes to be helpful (I haven't seen your work, so I don't know); or
    • you may just have had some bad luck, and need to make more contacts.
    Cold-calling with an offer to "assist" is a tough gig. I can tell you this much: I would never hire someone who called me out of the blue and, after hearing "no thanks," never called back. And to someone who I've never met, "no thanks" would be my typical response. If you asked for permission to call again, and then did, and perhaps called again a third time, AND you seemed like someone I would like, then I'd consider giving you a shot. So, 1) call more photographers who charge fees that could leave room to hire an assistant, and 2) be friendly as well as politely and sensitively persistent.
  17. As usual, Nadine is right, so let me modify my last comment: call more photographers, but have a reason for calling the people you're calling. (...a reason that is more valuable to them than that you hope to steal some of their clients as soon as you're able to do so.)
  18. Nadine has prettty much nailed the current situation.
    The other thing I've discovered over time is the severe disconnect between what people show me from their portfolio and what they can produce at a wedding.
    Also personality and appearance is critical in creating a positive impression. If I bring an assistant to a wedding they are representing my company and image to not just the bride but also the venue and other vendors.
    If making cold calls I would suggest asking to meet and ask for a review of your work to get face time with the photographer you want to work with.
    Remember there are a lot more photographers (some recently releaesed from media jobs that allowed them to win major recognition) than there are client jobs available.
    The Edge
  19. wow! Thanks. I am a little shocked that my degree was quite the topic. But I do appreciate the feedback. As for my website, it is VERY difficult to find, I am working on that. the website is . if you look you may agree with my opinion that my wedding photos are JUST ok. I was trained in fine art photography so yes in wedding photography I know little except what i have researched and a class I took. I noticed someone questioned my job at Starbucks, I have worked there for 14 years and I have fine arts degree so that should explain itself. I only got a master because I wanted to teach college BUT our economy sucks. I had a few friends get married and ask me to photograph their weddings, I enjoyed it that is why I am getting into wedding phtotography. I want to be a second shooter or assistant because I want to improve my skills and make amazing wedding photos like all of you! I am fine working years with someone as a second shooter or assistant. Thanks you everyone for your suggestions. as always they very helpful!
  20. Hi Susan...
    You are in a common predicament unfortunately.
    Some have already touched on this, so I will be brief. Nearly every wedding I do, results in someone approaching me about serving as my assistant or protege with a desire to learn "more" about photography.
    When I need another lighting assistant (already have one full time) or second shooter, I consider those I enjoyed being around the most and their personal style of photography being compatible with my own. Another BIG issue, is how they will be perceived by my clients and weather they can be available on very short notice.
    I do share what I do and how I do it... because I simply enjoy teaching and sharing. I also turn down more work than I book, simply because I am only one photographer and can't accept all the work that comes my way. I do pass on work to promising photographers, but that's different than partnering for wedding photography. Weddings are intimate, personal and as mentioned before, fast paced. You "could" sit at the back of the sanctuary and observe... the reception is another story, as they must pay for you being there...
    You may want to request that you be permitted to observe one aspect... say the pre-ceremony bridal shoot. Or the ceremony itself... orrr the set up shots immediately following the ceremony. Select one aspect rather than request to be included on the entire (possibly 8 hour) shoot. I for one, would be more open to having someone drop in for one aspect more than the entire limo chasing day.
    Are you requesting to ride with the photographer or offering to meet at the destination?
    I only consider those people I've personally met and have a comfortable feeling about. Are you also attempting to build your wedding portfolio as a shadow or second shooter? How do you plan to attain rights to exhibit the portraits?
    I suggest getting the word out and finding people who wouldn't be using a professional photographer to cover their wedding. Offer your services cheap or even free in exchange for model releases. Then, take your work to a working pro that you respect and sit down with him/her and review the photographs you took. Most will happily sit down, review your work and make suggestions as to what may be improved. There are plenty of people out there getting married and not hiring a photographer. Use them as stepping stones to becoming a better wedding photographer.
    These are my suggestions... I hope something "clicks" with you...
  21. +1 to Frederick.....I would only add this: when I have used assistants it was pretty much only as gophers....go here, bring that, and so on. My clients hire me, to have my style, my interpretations, my concepts and designs.
    I have never allowed an assistant near a camera, and would not consider doing so. So my assistants do have a chance to learn....but not by doing....that's up to them to do later.
    Sorry if I seemed pushy about the degree issue, but you brought it up in the op, and I wanted some details.
    I wish you all success....regards, Robert
  22. Susan,
    You did not tell us where you are located.
  23. First of all, at this stage of the game, I wouldn't get so narrow with your objectives. You THINK you'd like to be a wedding photographer because you've done a couple. It may NOT fit your aptitude longer term ... and your educational achievements may be better focused elsewhere for all you know.
    My second shooter has been with me for something like 3 years now. She started knowing very little, and in that time her photographic prowess really improved ... clearly to the point she could go out on her own. She is NOT interested in that ... which she learned by working with me and seeing all the other stuff that is required. What she also discovered is her passion and ability for shooting children and babies. In a short order, she has built a business around that and is now looking for a studio storefront ... and I will be looking for another assistant/second shooter in the not to distant future.
    Another one of my assistants shot weddings on his own for a short while, and has since successfully moved to commercial and fashion.
    Nadine is tight, seek work by focusing on what you will do for the photographers business ... loyality is very important. Tell your friends about him/her and help get work if you can.
    The fact is that there are plenty of second shooters and assistants that want to shoot weddings, but don't want to start a business. That's who I prefer hiring instead of training my competition.
  24. Susan, I am based in Colorado.
    I have heard several time about becoming the main photograph competition. I never thought of that and I think I really need to analysis what I can do for them and if this is the best option for learning the ropes.
    Now I am curious how did all of you learn to be wedding photographers? did you just read books and go out shoot wedding and learn or where you second shooters?
  25. I did a bit of both apprenticeship and jumping in on my own. I apprenticed at a local photo studio when I was in high school. Years later, after a detour into a business career, I jumped in quickly, reading everything I could get my hands on. No internet at the time so I couldn't go as fast as one can now. My self taught routine included doing things like spending hours at the pro photo store, looking at everything in it to figure out what it was used for. I considered this part of my education.
    If you go on your own, it is harder, because you may miss things that may be brought to your attention if you apprentice. Plus, apprenticing is safer, since you don't risk your clients' images by doing dumb mistakes. Dumb mistakes could cost you your career. There are also still certain technical concepts which may have been taught to you in photo school, but aren't used in quite the same way as in wedding photography. People skills are something you can't really learn in a classroom.
    If you are mature, and have common sense, a natural ability to deal with people, and the discipline to learn, you can do well jumping in. If you don't, it will be hard.
  26. I stumbled across this post whilst looking for something unrelated but found it interesting to read the different responses.
    I run my own successful wedding photography company but was once in your position. I don't personally have a degree in photography but I don't think your education (Self taught or otherwise) has much to do with the problem you are having.
    When I started out, I searched high and low for assisting jobs but many photographers were simply not interested and the ones that were, already had assistants. But I eventually found a photographer that was willing to let me tag along. I photographed about 5 weddings as an assistant and felt that I had a sufficient body of work to do it alone.
    I followed 3 steps:
    I built my portfolio
    I created a website
    I marketed my website
    My advise to any start up photographer is simple.
    Create a strong portfolio - if you think you would hire yourself then customers probably will too.
    Create a professional looking website; simple, functional and easy to use. you don't need to overload your customers with the inns and outs of yourself or how your company works.
    Display your work. List your services and what they will cost and give your customer a means of contacting you.
    Avoid displaying your work on sites such as Flickr or Facebook until you first have an actual website of your own.
    Once you feel your website is good enough, market it. I used Google Adwords to start with and I found this to be very successful. I also used many of the free advertising platform, i.e. and various directories, but ultimately you have to spend money to make money.
    Somebody else on this post said that you have to have business acumen. They are 100% right. You can be the best photographer in the world but if you don't have any business sense, you will not succeed. Always look at things from your customers perspective and then combine this with what works well for you.
    There is a lot to running your own business and it will likely take up most of your time, so forget about having much of a social life within the first few years of starting up.
    There are lots of things to consider when running your own business and you should be thinking years ahead of yourself; Such things as:
    Website maintenance
    Expenses, i.e. Fuel costs; website costs; equipment repairs, maintenance and upgrades; backup systems
    Contracts (Very important)
    Will you be employing additional staff?
    Laws and regulations surrounding your industry
    Which photographic services are you going to provide, i.e. Portraits, events, wedding, etc.
    It's probably best if you just pick one discipline to begin with, i.e. Weddings or portraits. This way you can focus all of your efforts.
    Your main focus should be customer satisfaction and never losing sight of your passion as a photographer. You probably wont make much money in your first year of trading because you will need to invest most of your profit back into the future success of your company. As I said before, "you have to spend money to make money".
    There are assisting jobs available but you need work very hard to find them; just don't give up.
    Take on constructive criticism and ignore those who just wish to upset you or put you down.
    And finally, your current job has nothing to do with your future success. So what if you work in a coffee shop! It's better that you have a source of income whilst you are starting out (spend money to make money - A repeated theme in business)
    I personally work with assistants and they always have plenty of opportunity to take photographs whilst assisting me. There are those out there that wish to simply exploit you but there equal amounts of genuine people to balance things out.
    Anyway, that's enough from me. Hope this helps anyone who stumbles upon this thread.
    P.S. My website address is - for those of you that have a healthy curiosity.

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