Photographer Assistant for Fun and Profit

A little over 10 years ago I sold my house in Phoenix and moved to (almost) LA to learn about the business and craft of photography and become a pro photographer. I had selected several photographers who were doing the type of photography I wanted to get into and doing it well. I met several of them but never made much headway. I assisted one photographer several times but I think I had more gear than she did and based on my lack of proximity to central LA (I lived in Riverside–don’t ask) it wasn’t very consistent. It was fun but I didn’t get the immersion into the LA photography scene I was looking for.

When I returned to LA I didn’t have any intention of looking for assisting work. I thought I might be too old and too experienced for anyone to hire me as an assistant. I have since learned that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I also felt that any additional learning would have to be on-the-job learning. I was wrong about that, too.

Getting the power hooked up at Pier 59 Studios West in Santa Monica.

Last October, out of the blue, I received an email from the studio manager of Michael Grecco asking if I was available to assist. I had met Michael my first time around and he was one of the top three photographers I wanted to work for. At first I thought they had me confused with someone else but figured I’d go with it and they booked me for the shoot.

I was a little nervous on the first shoot because I had only assisted a handful of times and that was over 10 years ago. I planned to just keep my eyes and ears open and count on my experience running my own shoots to get me through. Fortunately, I was the 2nd assistant so I just followed the 1st assistant’s lead. It was a cover shoot for People Magazine in Newport Coast. Michael is a patient photographer who keeps a loose and easy-going shoot atmosphere and he really knows his lighting.

After a couple of shoots I did well enough that Michael informed me that I was his go-to 1st assistant. I have since learned that many assistants work for years to become 1st assistants. I also learned that Michael only picks assistants who have been shooting for 10+ years.

On most shoots, Michael has two assistants so I have met many other assistants ranging from their early 20’s to their 40’s. I also found out that many of these guys are career assistants, which never occurred to me. Good ones can make a pretty good living working for several different photographers.

We rolled the NASCAR out to the front yard for this shoot for People Magazine in Virginia.

After working with Michael for the past 4 months, I have come to the conclusion that my initial preconceived notions about assisting were way off. To quote Peter Venkman, ‘mother puss-bucket’ I have a lot to learn! I can only credit serendipity and/or divine intervention with hooking me up with Michael. He is not as busy as either of us would like him to be, but he brings 30+ years of experience in shooting and lighting and has opened up new opportunities for me.

Michael is a lighting expert. He has a published a couple of lighting books including, Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait, along with a personal project book, Naked Ambition, and a companion documentary. He has photographed for every major magazine and most A-List celebrities you can think of. He is also the master of getting endorsements so he has enough gear to do pretty much any shoot he wants. His endorsements include Hasselblad, Dyna-Lite, Chimera, California Sunbounce, and for a while, Canon.

With all this gear, I have had an excellent opportunity to use equipment that I have not used before. This, and Michael’s knowledge, has made assisting him such a great learning experience. In the past, I have rigged ways to shape light for shoots or just given up on my initial vision and now I am finding that there are tools to do exactly what I was trying to do. I have also learned new ways of using light modifiers to get the effects I want.

Shooting in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for People Magazine.

I have traveled across the country assisting Michael and have done some pretty high-production shoots in major LA studios (Pier 59 Studios West, Smashbox) complete with set designers and builders. I have assisted Michael with a couple of celebrity shoots as well as some national ad campaigns. I have also met many people and made a few friends.

Assisting has been a great way to learn, immerse myself in photography and meet new people. It has also opened up new options for me including becoming a Digital Tech. I will post more about that later as I become more involved. But, for now, I’m headed to Las Vegas tomorrow for a shoot for Fortune Magazine. You can follow me on Instagram to see these shoots in action. My Instagram photos also feed to my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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