Photography Tips & Tricks
Assisting a Professional Photographer
I had a chance last week to assist a friend (whose name I am not going to reveal) and accomplished photographer while he worked photographing Black Swifts for an upcoming magazine article. I first got the idea to try and improve my photography skills by offering to assist an established professional photographer after watching a Tedx talk about the benefits of free working. I decided basically to bug my friend until he let me do something to help him out on a photography project (and, like every professional photographer I’ve ever met, he seemed to have a bunch of projects rolling).
He is a very approachable guy, and a local fixture where I live in South California, so our correspondences were informal. We mostly communicated through Facebook or when we ran into each other at the local coffee shop. If you’re approaching a photographer from your area that you don’t know well I’d suggest a more formal approach – emails through their websites or visits to their galleries, if possible. At first I suggested to him that he might be able to use my help sorting through the huge amount of work he would be bringing back from a shoot in Alaska. I hoped that assisting him with his computer work might help me solidify my Lightroom and Photoshop workflows. But I also worried that a pro might not want anyone else working on copyrighted material.
What he finally asked me to help with was actually much more fun than combing through .NEF’s and .DNG’s. He was looking for someone to travel with him to Blanca Peak in southeastern Colorado and help out on a shoot. Assisting him required that I hiked in strobe gear to Zapata Falls, and that I moved the strobe where he needed them. He had everything set up with radio relays. I thought I’d get paid in the experience I’d glean being in on a shoot, but to my great satisfaction he also picked up the tab at a sweat little Mexican restaurant.
I learned a great deal during a short period of time, so I wanted to quickly go over the 5 most important insights I gained while providing free work to an established photographer.
What I Learned
- Know the area you want to photograph. JT had worked with the wildlife biologists who study the Black Swifts a number of times prior to this latest venture, and knew the canyon well. He knew what kind of lighting conditions he would face, and had everything he needed packed for the conditions he knew he would encounter.
- Visualize the photographs you want to take, and the photography gear you’ll need to pull it off, before you arrive on location. Actual events might not allow you to get the shot you want, but if it presents itself you’ll be ready to react quickly.
- Be prepared for inclement weather if you’re taking photographs outside. We saw a little rain, some heat, but the biggest hardship was standing in cold water for hours on end, and walking out of the canyon in the dark. Getting great landscape or outdoor shots means that you’ll have to work with what nature gives you, and having to bail out early because you’re ill prepared could lead to major disappointments and missed opportunities.
- Check your photos constantly. One of the most enlightening things I saw JT doings was persistently referring to his camera’s screen and making sure that he had the image he wanted before he moved on to taking the next shot. If he doubted that the image he just taken wasn’t clear, then he used the zoom button on his Nikon D3 to quickly check his work. Pros move fast. Adjust, shoot, and check.
- Lastly, delete bad photos. For years I hung on to every shot I took as if, like fine wine, they might somehow improve with age. There are times when a weak shot can be resurrected in Photoshop, but blurred, over or under exposed, or poorly composed images should be deleted in-camera. Ever since I started deleting poor images I’ve noticed that I shoot more like I did with film. I’m more focused, I think my way through the shot, and I end up with less work to do on the computer. In addition, with backups on computer and off, I waste a lot less storage space. If the image doesn’t look right, let it go!