COLLABORATIONS: PA’s, Assistants, and Digitechs
Collaboration with others during a photo shoot is essential. Heck, collabs in photography in general are essential. PA’s, assistants, and digital technicians (or “digitechs) are a few positions common on photo sets that can take your game to the next level. This post will explore these production roles, the etiquette that goes along with working with them, and the value that extra hands, minds, and eyes can bring to your shoot. Plus a few tips on how, where, and when to find this help when needed!
Sometimes your greatest asset during a shoot is your crew. Your team. Your go-tos. That’s because in a pinch, your camera can’t tell you something isn’t styled right or that the shot list has changed. Having a team behind you is always beneficial. Technical and moral support are needed big time in photography. So this intro on getting to know the ropes of leading a photo crew will guide you to victory!
There are several common production roles that you are likely to run into in your lifetime as a photographer. Each one is special and exists to make your job less stressful and let your creativity flow. Here’s a break down of some of these crew positions:
The PA (Production Assistant)
A production assistant works hand in hand with a shoot’s producer (which very well may be the photographer) and aids in getting tasks done and keeping overall communication lines open. An integral part of productions large and small this role helps to manage time, keep everyone on the same page, and facilitate crews or shoot members working together. On large shoots they’re helpful because expansive crews, complicated productions, and on location sets can easily get out of hand. Having an extra person on set to act as the producer’s surrogate is super valuable. On smaller shoots they can assist the image creator in assuring that the behind the scenes work gets done quickly and correctly, like getting model releases signed or introducing the photographer and project to potential subjects.
Although PA’s are more common on film sets they are a necessity on photo sets too. A production assistant is of great value if you have extremely tightly scheduled mini sessions, clients that need to pay for sessions on-site, or just need extra resources managed. They are often the unsung heroes of production and quite literally the backbone and muscle of the shoots they’re on. If you’re ever in need, choose someone who has a great reputation, someone who you’re close to, or someone that you can really trust. Having a PA is definitely a luxury, but sometimes a necessary one for you to have on your roster in order to make your pictures and get it all done in time and on budget.
The Photo Assistant
An assistant is a photographic extension of yourself. He/She functions as an extra set of hands, eyes, and brains that are working towards the same goal that you are. The photographer leans on this supportive shoot role to contribute expertise, creative know how, and sometimes extremely constructive and well thought out criticism (but ONLY if asked). The assistant makes all the gear go up, come down, and function as intended. As well as being the photographers right hand during the shoot.
The photo assistant path is one that is very defined in the industry. Either the assistant is already a pro photographer, trying to become one, or is just starting out and trying to gain valuable on-set experience. For this reason the photographer / assistant relationship has a student / guru type of vibe, and should be treated as such. A mutual respect is necessary between both parties in order for the experience to stick and for you to successfully work with an assistant over and over again. Often times assistants look up to their photographers, so treat your assistant with respect and don’t do anything that will harm their view of you. You want to have a good reputation and mistreatment of an assistant can put you on the fast track to a bad rep. So be easy to work with. Treat your assistant like you would a client, or at least like a client is always watching because they most likely are. There can be some pretty stressful twists and turns on shoots but remember to always keep your composure, for everyone’s sake.
Digital technicians or “digitechs” are for photographers on another level. But trust me, you can be there. Try one out at FITB by giving us a call and asking about the shoot support that we offer. They’re usually found exclusively on commercial sets or shoots with high profile brands, clients, and photographers. The digitech is in charge of file handling, file back up, on-site color grading and editing, as well as downloading memory cards, or keeping the tethered camera / computer connection healthy and alive.
If you need one, chances are that you are shooting big jobs for big clients who are concerned with your shoot being bulletproof, or just want to approve the work as its being made. That’s why techs use color calibrated monitors on-set, usually hooked up to a laptop or iMac. The gist of a tech’s job is to make sure that what’s shot is usable, approved, and backed up thrice BEFORE the shoot ends. This eliminates getting back to your work station at home and realizing that the post work is lengthy, that a shot was out of focus, or that your memory card has been corrupted on the drive home. Brave enough to try one out? If you are, it will up your game to an agency level and will show your clients that you are EXTREMELY serious about your photography.
One of the most important parts of photography collaborations is professionalism and knowing how to treat those you work with. When on boarding crew members be aware that they are people first, and there to help you create second. If they are worth their salt they will be with you to the end, but only if you treat them as if they will be from the start. Disrespect of people and boundaries will never fly on a real photo set and will always lead to sour feedback from someone. So live by the photo code and be as nice as possible to your crew, subject, and clients. Everyone deserves the same amount of respect and it is our responsibility as image creators to uphold the positive parts of our industry.
So let’s give photography a good name and keep the legacy alive!
Finding production help when you need it can be a challenge So can letting the reigns go in order to have shoot support on set. Both can be done though, and both are so beneficial. There are a sleu of resources available to you thanks to the almighty world wide web. The following are just a few:
Although these options may produce what you are looking for, the best option is to call up a local ASMP member or photo acquaintance and ask who they use as an assistant, and if they could possibly pass their info on to you. A solid recommendation from a respected photographer is a hundred times better than a cold call to someone you’ve never worked with before. And often will lead to more solid results. This not only builds community but it also encourages transparent industry communication which is beneficial for all.
For further reading on these shoot support roles please visit this link
It’s a super great and in depth read on these production roles from Fstoppers that can be downloaded as a PDF here!
So there it is! A quick break down on a few essential photography production roles! Do you use this kind of crew on your shoots? Let us know!
Also feel free to ask any questions you may have about these roles. I have had the privilege of experiencing them all first hand! Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Collaborations Questions” in your subject line!
Thanks for sticking around and we will see you soon!