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Photography Tips & Tricks

Assisting a Professional Photographer

I had a chance last week to assist a friend (whose name I am not going to reveal) and accomplished photographer while he worked photographing Black Swifts for an upcoming magazine article. I first got the idea to try and improve my photography skills by offering to assist an established professional photographer after watching a Tedx talk about the benefits of free working. I decided basically to bug my friend until he let me do something to help him out on a photography project (and, like every professional photographer I’ve ever met, he seemed to have a bunch of projects rolling).

He is a very approachable guy, and a local fixture where I live in South California, so our correspondences were informal. We mostly communicated through Facebook or when we ran into each other at the local coffee shop. If you’re approaching a photographer from your area that you don’t know well I’d suggest a more formal approach – emails through their websites or visits to their galleries, if possible. At first I suggested to him that he might be able to use my help sorting through the huge amount of work he would be bringing back from a shoot in Alaska. I hoped that assisting him with his computer work might help me solidify my Lightroom and Photoshop workflows. But I also worried that a pro might not want anyone else working on copyrighted material.

What he finally asked me to help with was actually much more fun than combing through .NEF’s and .DNG’s. He was looking for someone to travel with him to Blanca Peak in southeastern Colorado and help out on a shoot. Assisting him required that I hiked in strobe gear to Zapata Falls, and that I moved the strobe where he needed them. He had everything set up with radio relays. I thought I’d get paid in the experience I’d glean being in on a shoot, but to my great satisfaction he also picked up the tab at a sweat little Mexican restaurant.

I learned a great deal during a short period of time, so I wanted to quickly go over the 5 most important insights I gained while providing free work to an established photographer.

What I Learned