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|| News Item: Posted 2008-10-03

Ask Sports Shooter: Assisting - Shawn Cullen
'I cannot think of anybody who does make 100% of their income from assisting sports photographers.'

By Shawn Cullen

Photo by Dustin Snipes

Photo by Dustin Snipes

Shawn Cullen on assignment at Saint Mary's College.
Editor’s Note: I recently received an email from asking about getting a start in photography through assisting an established professional: "Hi, I’m sending you a message cause I'm an aspiring photographer who really wants to get into shooting sports, any sport. I have never shot sports before, basically landscapes and portraits. I know is a great resource but do you have any advice on who to contact about maybe being an assistant or anything like that, I'll work for free if I have to. I just want to get into shooting something I love. Any help would be greatly appreciated."

This topic has been covered quiet a bit in Sports Shooter and the website, but it seems to be one that interests a lot of young photographers and students.

So I asked a couple of friends I know that work as assistants, one a veteran of several years and the other just starting out, to tackle this topic for "Ask Sports Shooter."

So you are an aspiring photographer who really wants to get into shooting sports and are willing to assist sports photographers to get your start in sports photography. Unless you are able to assist a team photographer full-time, do not expect to make a living assisting a sports photographer from time to time.

I cannot think of anybody who does make 100% of their income from assisting sports photographers. I have worked with Sports Illustrated photographers for over 8 years, and I have never made 100% of my income working for the magazine. If you are not already making money shooting part time, you will have to find other assisting assignments or have other means of income.

Finding a sports photographer to work with will be difficult. You will want to find photographers that have years of experience shooting sports, and not only the action, but shooting portraits and advertising work in the sports industry as well. Photographers of this caliber are not hired out of convenience, they are hired for their vision! These are the photographer that you will learn the most from. It also helps to live in a city that has an NBA, MLB, NFL, or NHL team, as well as a Division 1A college that has a football and basketball team consistently ranked in the top 25. If you live in a major city, you can try searching for photographers using,

Occasionally it is the photographer that is looking for an assistant, and different photographers prefer different attributes in the assistant. Most importantly, be proactive. For the most part, all photographers will expect you to look and act professional. You the assistant are a representation of the photographer and the company they are working for. It is not always the assistant that knows the most, but somebody that they feel comfortable spending a long day with, so make sure you are a good conversationalist.

Although being very knowledgeable does help when working on the more technical and detailed photo shoots. The following link to John Harrington’s web site, Photo Business News & Forum, goes for assisting as well, and I will be reading it before every assignment I work on from now on. Read it, live it

If you are only able to find occasional work carrying extra gear and long lenses at a football game, there is still the opportunity to learn. Watch and study the way they cover the game with the particular lenses and even the methods they use for exposures. I am not a big fan of asking questions about photography during the shoot, so ask them well before or after the shoot.

Lastly, if I can pass on a few things not to do while working on assignments. No running on catwalks and end up taking 5 stitches in the head. Do not use a Gerber Multi Tool on the hotel shower handle trying to fix a cold water shower resulting in the water being shut off to the entire hotel, and causing you and the photographer to be late to the shoot. Do not perform doughnuts in the press parking lot at a NASCAR track and have NASCAR security pull you out of the press center to lecture you. And definitely do not break the toilet seat in the only bathroom in the studio during a full day shoot. These are examples of what not to do on a shoot and what photographers do not want in an assistant, but it sure makes for a good conversation!

(Shawn Cullen has been assisting photographers for over 10 years; He is based in the San Diego area. He has written about assisting previously for Sports Shooter:

Related Links:
Shawn's member page

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