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|| News Item: Posted 2008-10-03

Ask Sports Shooter: Assisting - Jordan Murph
'Assistants are meant to be seen and not heard.'

By Jordan Murph

Photo by John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated

Photo by John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated

Jordan Murph in action. You need to have the whole world under control when you assist.
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."

If you want to start shooting sports, assisting is a great way to learn and grow. I'll try to share a little info that I have learned along the way and have been fortunate enough to learn from photographers and other assistants whom I respect.

First, some do's and don'ts.

Always dress appropriately depending on the assignment. If I've never worked with a photographer before, I ask them what they will be wearing to the shoot. Look professional. A personal pet peeve of mine is seeing assistants (or photographers) wearing sandals to jobs, but that's just me. Remember, look professional! You want to get hired again and make a good impression.

Assistants are meant to be seen and not heard. Don't hit on hairdressers, sit around, or talk to subjects. Be quiet stay on top of things. Stay out of the way but stay on top of things. Make sure cables for lights are safe for photog and subjects (out of the way so won't trip). While the photog is shooting, I always make sure all lights are firing each frame. If something goes wrong, speak up and let the photog know. But don't get in the way, be quiet about it. Don't make a scene and don't make the photog appear not to be in control or not know what he's doing in front of subjects.

Sometimes you might get blamed for something you know is totally not your fault or that the photographer messed up on even though you suggested not to earlier. Always suck it up, take the blame, fix the problem immediately, and if anything needs to be said, always say it after subjects and their crews are gone.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Jordan conducting a light test for Robert Hanashiro.
Those tips are geared more towards portrait assignments, but the same applies to assisting at an NFL, MLB, or any other sporting event. Carrying lenses for a photographer might not seem glamorous, but getting to be with them and being able to experience their thought process and see the pictures they are making is a great way to learn. Getting to see how the photographer navigates getting to and from the stadium, packing equipment, setting cameras and lenses, handling security, etc. may not seem like much but you can learn a lot by simply going to the event with the photographer.

Gear wise, it's always nice to have a Leatherman or multi tool handy. The other essential in your pocket items are a sharpie or two, a writing pen, and a small pocket note pad to take/give phone numbers/info for the photographer or subject or publicist or agent or the slew of other people that might be around. A small roll of gaff tape is always a great idea to keep around.

Now that you have a little idea of what assisting is about, you need to find someone to hire you. I suggest seeking out professional, working, veteran photographer who gets paid for their assignments, perhaps a photographer who you admire or respect. Send a nice, polite, and respectful email with a short resume and tell who you are and that you would like to help out assisting if you are needed. If their number is listed, follow up with a nice phone call during normal business hours (no 10:30 PM at night's happened!).

And just like when you are shooting, make sure you are being paid to assist. If it is your first time, then I can see working for free to see if you like assisting and what it entails. But after that, make sure you are charging a fair rate or being paid a fair rate. Don't forget about mileage and expenses! Once again, if it's your first time it's a different story, but if you are going to assist you need to make sure that you are being paid! That being said, make sure you work with reputable working professionals who get paid for their assignments. If someone were working for free, how and why would they or their "client" be able to pay you? That's where finding and getting connected with reputable working professionals is key.

Lastly, get in shape. If you stick with assisting, you'll need it!

Good luck!

(Jordan Murph is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii and has been a part of the Sports Shooter Academy staff. He is currently assisting in Southern California.)

Related Links:
Jordan's member page

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