Working as a Photo Assistant in 2016

Beyond learning how to handle cameras and photo equipment, working as a photo assistant will provide you with valuable lessons that can go a long way towards helping you build a successful career as a commercial photographer. Learning about: project management, studio protocols, location procedures, pre-production and post-production are all essential business skills. As important are the realities of today’s photo economy – as shared by our guest this month, James Sullivan of 1ProPhoto.com.

Maria Piscopo: What are the best ways to research and find assisting work? 

James Sullivan: The most efficient first step towards getting work is making a list of those photographers whose images you admire, and putting them into some type of database for easy access (1ProPhoto.com created their own stand alone APP. ‘1ProPhoto.com -Photo Production DB’ based on FilemakerPro) and then making initial contact via social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others, as well as using traditional email to send a short (1-2 paragraphs) introduction with your resume as an attachment or a link to a down-loadable PDF, or if the resume is short you can embed it into the email.

Another great option is to create your own email newsletter (Mail Chimp offers a nice free option) to keep those potential clients in your database up to date on the jobs that you have been working on and your new skills and experiences. And lastly pick up the phone and call the photographers or their studios directly. This not only shows your level of ambition and commitment but it will also demonstrate your ability to communicate with the people you are trying to get work with. These days it is more word of mouth and recommendations than ever before; so you must be socially adept and great at networking and have exceptional communication skills!

MP: Realistically, what are the challenges and changes you have seen for photo assistants in the last 5-10 years?

JS: Specifically, for those with 4 to 6 years experience, the role of Photo Assistant has evolved and changed into the role of “Lighting Director” or “Lighting Tech”.  These individuals have acquired a skill set that on the lean side, consists of knowing every piece of lighting and grip equipment manufactured in the last 20+ years as well as being able to accurately reproduce the lighting of ANY published images simply by looking at it and reverse engineering it. This job is not just about equipment knowledge on set lighting skills but also about working with a photographer or producer during the pre-production process, making equipment, studio, location and lighting recommendations that can best serve the shoot and the photographers vision. This inclusion in the production process can also go a long way towards keeping production budgets low; which in turn allows these highly skilled individuals to command a day rates between $1200 and $1600 a day or more depending on the job’s requirements.

And while the position of Photo Assistant can offer a great career path as well as offering exceptional learning opportunities; the day rates have not kept pace with the U.S. economy or current levels of neither inflation nor living expenses in most cities around the world. Unfortunately, there are still: Clients, Magazines and Photographers/Producers whom are trying to hire assistants for $150 a day, and trying convince them that this is a standard day rate. This is complete nonsense when you consider that the day rate for a 1st assistant in 1976 was $175! The base day rate for a Photo Assistant in the U.S. (as of Jan. 2016) is $300-$600. And that is an ‘Editorial Rate’ again based on your experience and ability to ask for what you know you are worth.

I am also of the opinion that the job estimates (provided by wonderfulmachine.com) and the low ball rates they have published on sites like APhotoEditor.com are not only misleading as to the true value of the products and services provided by photographers and their production team; but this incessant devaluation of photographers professional services as well as the production process and creation of image/video; is part of what is killing the long term viability of the commercial photo industry.

Unfortunately, the respect once afforded photo assistants for their skills and years of experience in years past which was not only appreciated but highly sought after by our peers, as well as the photo industry as a whole, has disintegrated right along with the level of ‘Craftsmanship’ that we all brought to each and every photo shoot. That respect has gone out the window except for a few old school reps, producers, and photographers that recognize that value of have someone skilled and experienced on their productions. This lack of respect also extends to the slow and sometimes non-payment for services rendered by the photo assistant. And these are two of the biggest reasons so many photo assistants have never been able to transition from assistant to photographer.

Now I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a ‘Debbie Downer’ (SNL reference) but my view point is hardly unique. In speaking with people around New York, Miami, and Los Angeles; many people who have worked in the photo industry for years are leaving and looking for work in other fields because very often it is no longer a viable career path unless you are already rich and/or have a lot of powerful connections!

MP:  How do you think working as an assistant helps make the transition to full time photographer?

JS: Presently that only reason to venture into a career as a commercial photographer is because you are compelled to do so to the extent that mentally and physically you cannot find fulfillment pursuing anything else. Or you just don’t know how to do anything else. If you can survive the realities of today’s photo economy that I just spoke of, if you don’t mind having to wake up every day in order to work find your next job, are super resilient and don’t have a problem living from pay check to pay check; then the time spent working as an assistant will allow you to learn the real world skills that you will not learn in school or might otherwise not acquire should you choose to only work for one photographer for an extended period of time. Working for a diverse group of photographers on a multitude of shoots allows the assistant to learn from everyone else’s mistakes without that added expense of time and money that tends to kill many new photographer’s careers. This applies even more so when it comes to: producing shoots, dealing with clients, models, stylists, hair and makeup, booking studios, model agencies, renting equipment, location scouting, creating and managing a shoot budget. It is imperative that today’s crop of photo assistants recognize as well as realize that: “This is a business, this is your business, and you need to treat it as such”.

Web Resources: www.1ProPhoto.Com, www.1ProCrew.Com,

[The opinions expressed here are those of James Sullivan and are based upon his first hand experiences as well as information garnered from his recent conversations with photographers, photographer’s reps, and Photo Producers, and may not reflect the opinions of the publisher of the article.]


“Giving Back” with Isaac Howard

This is one of my favorite topics: photographers doing good works by donating photography services to charities and other non-profit organizations. Donating your photography will help you develop business skills, give you access to people and places for portfolio development and allow you to meet the most amazing network of new friends. Here is Isaac Howard’s story…

Maria Piscopo: What non-profit or charity do you work with at this time?
Isaac Howard: I have worked with many different non-profits including local, regional, and international. Most recently I have been working with Hope in Haiti (HIH) and Global Training Network (GTN). Both organizations are faith-based groups that support education.

MP: How do the organizations you work with best use your photos for their cause to make a difference?
IH: Both HIH and GTN use the images on their websites, direct mailings, newsletters and point of contact. All usages are to help expand awareness to their purpose and to raise financial support. I found the hardest part of doing this type of photography is capturing the purpose of the team. You can and do take a lot of pretty pictures, always looking for that great shot. But you have to remember you are there for the purpose of the team and trying to show what their work is about, not yours. When I first started doing this type of work I used film. I was tasked with showing each person on the team doing their job. The end result was a set of 140 slides of the trip with a set given to each member. The goal was for them to take the images back to their church or civic group to show them in the community to increase project awareness and this aspect was very effective.

MP: How do you feel rewarded for your donation of photography?
IH: It is hard to describe the feeling you get when people explain to you how your images made them feel…happy or sad or both? Because it is great to know that you have had a small part in doing something good for others. In all of my travels this volunteer work has built up an amazing body of images I could promote for fine art or editorial projects but currently I try to keep the business of business and my charity work separate.

MP: What challenges and opportunities do you encounter?
IH: One of the first challenges that I encounter can be easily resolved with a little conversation…it is the issue of expectations. What are they looking for in the photography and what are they going to use it for? The groups I have worked with always try to be too nice and not express their opinions. But just like working for a paying client, there needs to be a good line of communication. Another challenge is travel. Most of the time I am very limited to what I can take. At times this includes my bedding, netting, extra food, clothes, and with the room I have left I pack my camera equipment. All of this has to be carried on the plane and then transported to the site. Then there is the issue of electricity, it is just not available everywhere we travel. It’s not like in the old days where a good OM-1 just needed one battery and you could get by without it. Finally, working in different cultures and languages is always a challenge, but I have found that with a smile and my camera I rarely have a problem. Also, I am often asked why I do these jobs and work with people in other countries, why not just stay in the US? There are two simple answers; first until you go, see, smell, and feel other worlds it is hard to understand the “why”. Second, I do this type of work in the US. Find a non-profit that you believe in and do the work out of a giving heart and not what you will get in return.

Websites to check out:
Isaac Howard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/isaac-howard-a8730659
Global Training Network, https://www.globaltrainingnetwork.org
Hope in Haiti, https://hopeinhaiti.org/

Frank Lloyd Wright's Pfeiffer Chapel 40 x 60 at Guggenheim Bilbao Robin Hill (c)

How to Sell Your Fine Art Photography: Tips from Photographers for Making A Living from Your Art @Shutterbugmag

In this week’s post, we will send you to the Business Trends column for a look at some of the marketing aspects of fine art photography: getting established, finding clients, looking for gallery representation, marketing techniques, and finding your style and direction. Special thanks to these photographers: Sean Bagshaw (Outdoor Exposure Photography, LLC), David Bowman, John Granata (John Granata Fine Art), Robin Hill, and Cheyenne L Rouse. Read more at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-sell-your-fine-art-photography-tips-photographers-making-living-your-art#HUKOtTVUbTaL8hIb.99

Web Links:
Sean Bagshaw: outdoorexposurephoto.com
David Bowman: bowmanstudio.com
John Granata: johngranata.net
Robin Hill: sidebyside.photoshelter.com
Cheyenne L Rouse: ancientlightphotos.com


Another Perspective – Self-Publishing Your Book – Interview with Bret Edge

After hundreds of years with a single business model, the book publishing business is experiencing huge upheavals and transformations. Publishers are facing a possible future where the only people that matter are the authors and their readers! Traditional publishing does have the expertise and resources for book production, distribution and marketing no individual can hope to match. But with a great graphic designer and maybe a freelance editor, you can break into the publishing field. Let’s talk with Bret Edge, http://www.bretedge.com, http://www.efotoguide.com

Piscopo: How did you get started self-publishing books?
Bret Edge: I co-developed a series of iPhone apps and when sales of the apps plummeted, I decided to re-purpose the content into an eBook. I thought that the eBook would be more successful since it wasn’t device dependent.

Piscopo: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the photography book market in the last few years?
Bret Edge: The most noticeable change I’ve observed is a transition from books that cover a topic in very general terms to eBooks with a much narrower focus. Just a few years ago there were dozens of books that covered the fundamentals of nature/landscape photography, but now there are many excellent eBooks covering topics like using a tilt/shift lens and implementing flash for outdoor adventure photography. These are very specific niches that simply weren’t covered not long ago.

Piscopo: What have been the biggest problems or obstacles you have run into when shopping for your eBook or print book production services?
Bret Edge: Cost. It is not an inexpensive venture to create a well-designed eBook. There’s no shortage of companies and individual designers capable of producing very high quality eBooks but the associated cost is huge. I would start by finding a talented designer but it is tough. There are a handful of large companies who specialize in eBook design and they’re generally a good place to start, although their prices are often higher. I prefer to give work to people I know and trust. Ask friends and fellow photographers who they use for design/production and then contact them. Take a look at their portfolio and compare rates. I like to do this because friends aren’t going to recommend someone with whom they’ve had a negative experience so I think you’re more likely to find a good match.

Piscopo: What seems to work best to sell the books given the different marketing tools available?
Bret Edge: I’ve found limited success with social media marketing, specifically Facebook and Twitter. What seems to work the best is getting the eBook in the hands of other bloggers and influencers for review. Also, there’s very real value in honest to goodness, objective user reviews.

Piscopo: What recommendations can you add to help our readers be successful in this particular market?
Bret Edge: Focus your energy on really good content and design with a logical, easy to use layout. Make it very simple for people to download and use your eBook. Develop a marketing plan BEFORE you invest in design and production. Start by doing some research to determine if there is a big enough market for the topic you want to cover.

The Photographer's Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion_2

Self-Publishing Your Book – Interview with Jeff Colburn

Jeff Colburn has been a published writer and photographer for over 40 years. His photographs and writing have been used by over 100 publications, businesses, organizations and websites. One of his photographs, showing a rainbow in the Red Rocks of Sedona, was part of a special exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. Currently, Jeff maintains a Fine Art and Stock Photography website (www.JeffColburn.com) a website for his many ebooks (www.CreativeCauldron.com) and a blog for those who use and create photographs (www.TheCreativesCorner.com). You can see his Fine Art prints in person at the New State Motor Building Gallery, Jerome, Arizona. With this interview, hopefully you will be inspired to give self-publishing your best effort. Jeff has written seven e-books:

  • How To Find Models, Anywhere
  • 25 Places To Sell Your Photographs And Photography Skills
  • The Vanishing Old West – Jerome
  • How To Assemble And Show Your Portfolio
  • The Writer’s Resource Book Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror And Mythology
  • The Writer’s Answer Book
  • The Youngest Ninja

Maria Piscopo: What have been the biggest problems or obstacles you have run into when shopping for your eBook or print book production services?

Jeff Colburn:  The problem is the number of options, and deciding which one is best for you, your book and your potential customers. You have two options when it comes to printing your book; go through a book printer or use a Print on Demand Company.

Printing a book is cheap, until you add color photographs, so it’s imperative to find a printer that has great quality and prices.  Finding a reasonable priced printer requires a lot of e-mailing and calling to get prices. This is especially difficult since some of the best printers are overseas.

In my search for a printer I contacted 33 companies around the world. Most didn’t respond, others were too expensive or their print quality was poor. A few had good prices, but the shipping fees offset the savings. I only found three printers that came somewhat close to my needs and prices, but never really found one that could do everything I wanted for a decent price.

Traditional publishers keep prices down by ordering at least 5,000 copies of a book, or they have their own printing company.  But when a photographer has five or ten, or even one hundred copies printed, the cost is very high. This upfront cost can prevent many photographers from printing their books, and the high price of each copy makes them difficult to sell. I read about a photographer that had a coffee table book printed, and it cost him $75 per book, which he sells it for over $100. He’s only sold a few copies.

Print on Demand (POD) companies may be an option, but they will try to upsell you until you find the initial price has doubled or tripled. Their base prices range from about $700 to $2,400, and they will usually print your first 3-5 books for free. And you have to read their contract very carefully, and understand what you’re reading. If you are using ABC Company for POD, and decide to switch over to XYZ Company, you may have to pay ABC well over $1,000 to leave them.

For eBooks you have two options: sell the book yourself through your own website or a place like Kindle, or use an eBook publisher. EBook publishers will assemble your eBook and send it out to places like Kindle, but like POD and book printers, they will try to upsell you to services that you may not need.  I can’t stress enough that as a consumer, you must educate yourself. If you don’t, you’ll waste time, energy and money. When I’m deciding what services to pay for, and what to do myself, I always ask one question, “Do I have more time or money?” If I have more time than money, then I do it myself. If the opposite is true, then I send that part of the project out. As a beginning self-publisher, you will undoubtedly have more time than money. And since most eBooks won’t sell a lot of copies, having more money than time probably won’t be an issue.

Another problem with ebooks is that they are easy for people to give away to friends, or to offer on a Torrent site. Torrent sites often illegally post ebooks for people to download. One of my ebooks wound up on several of these sites, and based on the download counter on the pages, there were over $1,000,000 of illegal downloads. That really hurt.

While my books are PDFs, there are companies that publish your eBook in a special format that can’t be put on Torrent sites, but then you’re back to paying setup and annual fees.

Expect to do everything yourself, from writing the book, to design and layout and getting the book ready to print or upload. You will also be responsible for all marketing and promotion. It’s not easy, so you really have to love your book.

Maria Piscopo: What is (or are) the biggest changes you have seen in the photography book market in the last few years?

Jeff Colburn:  Self-publishing has allowed photographers to publish books that they couldn’t have done just a few years ago. Small runs, even as low as one book, can now be done with no problem.

And by self-publishing, photographers get to keep all the profits, if there are any. This flood of self-published books allows niche topics to make it into print or e-versions that never would make it past a traditional publisher because there isn’t a large enough audience. This gives the buying public a much broader choice of topics to meet their interests.

There’s also more standardization in eBook formats. Kindle and other similar companies now make it pretty easy to get a book ready for their system. The key is to read their specifications before putting your book together so that it meets their requirements. It’s a real pain to put an eBook together, then find out you have to completely change the layout so it can be uploaded to a distributor.

Maria Piscopo: What recommendations can you add to help our readers be successful in this particular market?

Jeff Colburn:  Don’t write a book just because you’re interested in it. The key to success, and sales, is to find a need and fill it. Do research to see if there is interest in your book, or better yet, research to see what books people are looking for, and write those books.

Educate yourself about all aspects of eBook publishing and self-publishing before you even begin working on your book. A lot of businesses have grown up around the eBook and self-publishing industry, and they all want your money. If you go into this endeavor blind, these businesses will make a lot of money off of you, and you will wind up broke.

You have to be willing to do all the needed promotion for your book, and be happy with only a few hundred sales. If you have more sales, that’s great, but don’t expect it or you may be setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

Look at self-publishing as only one of your revenue streams. And be prepared to write several books, not just one. If it suits your book, every so often release a revised edition.


© Copyright Michael Grecco Photography, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How to Build a Portrait Photography Business with Michael Grecco @michaelgrecco, @Shutterbugmag

As one of the most respected visual storytellers in the world, Michael Grecco’s conceptual vision and signature dramatic lighting create distinctive images that are evocative, sophisticated, and comedic. Photographing intimate portraits of entertainers, boxers, rappers, scientists, and business leaders, Grecco’s images captivate our attention and imagination. Grecco, talked with us about how to build a business as a portrait photographer, read more at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-build-portrait-photography-business-marketing-tips-one-world%E2%80%99s-leading-portrait#lrqWT0J8DKI1uU27.99

Copyright Miguel Pola

#Givingback @miguelpola @Project_Cuddle

Photographers doing pro-bono work for charities is a long-time tradition. With social media platforms, this marriage of photography and doing good for others has some interesting potential for business. For this post, I want to introduce you to Miguel Pola, www.miguelpola.net and his work for Project Cuddle, www.projectcuddle.org

Piscopo: How did you get involved with the Project’s photography?

Pola: Project Cuddle is a non-profit organization that provides safe and legal alternatives to pregnant teens and women considering abandonment of their newborns. I got involved with Project Cuddle by photographing their annual Dinner by the Bay Fundraiser Gala. Another photographer who originally was to be there contracted me. The following year I asked him if he wouldn’t mind me taking over the event altogether. I felt that was the least I could do for Project Cuddle’s cause.

Piscopo: How do you think a photographer’s commitment to charitable organizations or non-profits can benefit, expand or promote his or her business?

Pola: Supporting a non-profit community organization builds your company’s credibility.  Since we have been a part of Project Cuddle’s organization we have been able to increase our target clientele. Many supporters of these organizations are business owners or are involved with corporations that will need services that you may offer, whether they are headshots, a family member who may be getting married or even product photography for a product that they may solicit.  In the past we have created fundraising opportunities for Project Cuddle that have raised money for their cause but also increased our bottom line. Affiliating yourself with your organization to give back to them shows you are human and you have compassion.  People like doing business with companies who have similarities to themselves.

 Piscopo: How do the non-profit you work with best use your photos for their cause?

Miguel Pola: Project Cuddle uses the images that we photograph for them to help build awareness for their cause. They use them for their websites, Facebook page, articles in magazines, slideshows, videos that get presented to thousands of people. They have even used them on several talk shows, “The Talk”, “Jeff Probst Show” to list a couple.  With social media being such a part of everyone’s lives, images that get posted to Project Cuddle’s Facebook page get lots of views and become viral when people tag themselves in the images.

Piscopo: What is your best piece of advice for photographers before they start working with non-profits?

Pola: My best advice for someone who is interested in getting involved with a non-profit organization is be yourself, love what you do and pick an organization that you can relate to. If you pick an organization that you connect with, you will be more passionate about the work that you do for them and it will translate into great relationships.  Their supporters will notice that. Be sure come up with a mutual agreement of how the photos are used. Having your logo on images should be a must in your agreement.

Piscopo: How do you run a business, make a difference, perhaps even be a photography activist, and still pay the rent?

Pola: Get involved, give back and give it your all. But remember that you are still running a business. Be generous, but also understand that you need to be fair to your business and most of all your family. Even when it comes down to your time!

Phoenix Mars Lander

My Space Odyssey – What’s Yours?

I am the proud daughter of an aerospace engineer and grew up with space in my blood and maybe even hardwired into my thinking and feeling. My dad took me to see the premiere of the Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and well, I was hooked. Space was my new frontier.

So pretty much for my entire life, I have followed everything about space – both fiction and nonfiction.  I have my favorite authors for science fiction novels and then of course there is the ongoing NASA missions and private ventures by Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic).  My dad and I used to watch all of the NASA launches and follow all of the news.  He would love the intimacy and immediacy of the information we have today (International Space Station @StationCDRKelly !)

My personal Mars encounter was The Phoenix Mars Lander, a 2007 mission of exploration with the landing on May 25, 2008. I had the enormous honor and pleasure to be invited to go to the Tucson facility and watch the landing. The incredible energy in the room and the excitement and tension of people holding their breath through the “seven minutes of terror”… it was amazing, just amazing.  I hope all of you get to experience this type of passion, excitement and intensity in your life’s work.

Plus, there’s always cake!

All of this brings me to The Martian, the book by Andy Weir and now the movie directed by Ridley Scott. Go see the movie and read the book.  I do recommend doing both (though usually I do not as I am either disappointed in the book once I’ve seen the movie or disappointed in the movie once I’ve read the book.) But not this time, wonderful experience all around.

Probably going to go see it again tonight, my space odyssey continues…what is yours?

Photography by Dustin Soriano

Starting Your Freelance Business @bobcutmag

Anthony Rogers attended my Self-Promotion class at the Academy of Art University in 2014 and (apparently) took many of the lessons to heart! Already in freelance business mode while in school, he started an online magazine, http://www.bobcutmag.com/ after graduation and has achieved a lot of success in a very short time. He recently gave my current class an informative guest lecture on “getting your business started” and here are some of his thoughts on the subject.

Piscopo: You already had fashion clients for your freelance photography business, why start an online magazine?

Rogers: I started my online magazine as a way for me to curate the work of others I really loved and to also write freely. While I was in school, I worked freelance for a couple of publications and did a lot of writing for them. Over time, I saw that the work that I had written was being edited down to a point where it didn’t even sound like myself. What I thought strung the piece together (whether it be the humor or what have you) the editors didn’t see it that way so I started Bob Cut in January of this year and haven’t looked back.

Piscopo: What advice do you have for those looking at photography as a business – pitfalls to avoid or opportunities to pursue?

Rogers: My photography is a business. Especially in the first two years, I took all the clients and partnership opportunities that came at me. I never said no. Now that I’m in my 6th year of working freelance as a photographer, I’m a lot pickier from job to job. Before you decide to go into business. really establish your voice as a photographer because, without that, you could be stuck shooting something you don’t even love. For me, I did a lot of events…but they were not EVER what I wanted to shoot.

Piscopo: What skills or areas of expertise (other than photography) do you think a photographer needs for a successful business?

Rogers: I believe a photographer should be a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Learn to do free-form writing, to design type, make short films, and take a business course. A little of everything goes a long way. For myself and Bob Cut, I really took time to dive into the topics I was reporting about…fashion, food, art, interviews, and beauty.

Piscopo: When you are looking at your overall marketing efforts, what seems to work best for you?

Rogers: I feel that the best marketing efforts come from my promos. Whether it be for Bob Cut or my personal brand. Having promo pieces does set the tone of who you are and your level of humor.


Podcast: Facing Your Fears

My podcast for Charles Gupton’s The Creator’s Journey has gone live. The web link is Maria Piscopo_The Creator’s Journey  Sneak Peek “…Maria talks about how fear is vital in moving creative professionals forward. “People wait for the fear to go away to act brave. It’s exactly the opposite. You act brave and confident and eventually you’ll feel that way. Feelings follow behavior.” She counsels creative professionals to stop thinking about their businesses as having a creative side and a business side. Good business practices should be integrated into the whole life of the business – otherwise you need to be a hobbyist. “I make whole people, that’s my mission.” “The fear is important! It gives a chemical boost – to push you beyond your own comfort level. Fear is good! I need fear to move forward … Act brave and confident and professional – and eventually, you’ll feel that way. In other words, feelings follow behavior…”