There is one quick and easy way to get ahead in fashion photography and it’s to help others out. But is sharing really caring?
I’ve been shadowing, helping and assisting other photographers for a couple of years now. Big fashion pieces require big fashion big teams, and these teams are generally either unpaid, interns or shadowers. I’ll dive in right way to explain why I think it’s a great idea, what it has done for my career progression and what you should expect to get in return for these unpaid hours of time put in.
If you haven’t come across the phrase before don’t worry, it’s a common adjective to describe the process of watching a photographer (or other creative) carefully but in silence and without interaction. Watching on the day of a big photo shoot will give you a first-hand experience into the world of fashion photography, without the pressure of needing to deliver and give images to the client at the end. You can find shadowing positions quite easily now with the advent of social media. I’m sure you know many photographers and creative members out in the world that you have on Facebook or Instagram. If you are feeling bold enough send them an email to ask if you can come along for the day just to watch them at work. Don’t expect to be paid or even thanked, to them you’re just an extra body on set so try and be as discreet as possible. Learn by listening and standing far out of the way, listen to how everyone interacts and try to understand why they’re lighting something in a particular way. By no means should you try and get contact details from other members of the team, you’re not there to profit in a business sense. Shadowing a photographer is a quick way to get escalated up to an assistant or paid role in the future, as your lead photographer might take a liking to you and appreciate the amount of work and enthusiasm you put into the day.
There are several types of assistants, but typically you’d be a second hand for one of the main members of the team. The photographer’s assistant would change batteries and lenses, the lighting assist would set up the lighting in accordance with the set designer and photographer, the hair assistant would make sure that the hair is still looking as desired whilst on set. Assisting can sometimes be paid, and is a great chance to network and know your fellow creatives. This is where I’ve carved out my niche, as one of the top lighting assistants in the South West England. I take on these large fashion shoots for free in a hope that they get published either as a webitorial or print.You can show off your talent and skill set to the other members of the team, in a hope that they will book you in for one of their shoots in the future, ones that can be paid. To expect to be paid just because you’re one of the main members of the shooting party is a common misconception, you must decide whether the shoot is worth a day of paid or unpaid labour. Typically for publications, you’re running on a shoestring budget, with the publication serving as promotional material for all members of the party involved.
Assistants can have assistants too (second assistants), and this is where you should aim to try and get into the chain of command. Even if you have the skills needed to produce killer makeup or photography, hair or set design, you need to be able to show everyone that you’re willing, eager and committed to the cause, not just in it for the money. Work the hard life for a couple of shoots before you can get in at a higher end position.
Getting into the fashion photography industry can be challenging. The first option is to work your way up from the bottom, you as the lead creative and everyone else the same skill as you, or you can jump in and join a fully fledged team already running efficiently and earn their trust. The first option will take years, as your fame/marketing spread will increase proportionately with your skill knowledge. The second option will take much less time, but you have to earn the trust of these serious creatives, so have thick skin and be prepared to take on long and unpaid hours. The learning curve will be steep yet the rewards will come sooner. You might be taken on for a future project, the team might like you and form their own creative team with you included for a future project. Just be sure to know that your first few gigs will not be paid. I spent years working unpaid fashion shoots, and it only took three magazine front cover publications to be able to command a price as a lighting asssistant.
See more of Jon’s posts on Breed here. Jon Sparkman is a fine art photographer from the UK using film cameras, interesting lighting and bright colours in his images. Follow him on Instagram @sparkman_uk and see more work at www.sparkman.co.uk.