Photo Plus Coverage: How to Transition from Assistant to Photographer
During a Saturday afternoon seminar at Photo Plus Expo this past weekend four photographers—Brian Bloom, Jacqueline Di Milia, Nick Ferrari and Doron Gild—discussed what they learned while making the leap from assistant to photographer. PDN’s photo editor, Amber Terranova, moderated the panel.
Tips shared with the audience by the photographers included advice on how to make contact with art buyers and set up your business.
Brian Bloom said that while he was on-set working with the photographers he assisted he would make sure to introduce himself to art directors and art buyers, who he then added to a contacts database. Bloom said, however, that he was careful not to interfere with the relationship the photographer he was assisting had with the client. Some photographers can be territorial, Bloom advised, while others are generous with introducing assistants to their clients—it’s up to the assistant to assess the situation and decide whether talking with a client is acceptable.
Bloom noted that jobs came to him through producers who had seen his work ethic and enthusiasm on-set and knew he could deliver if given his own assignment.
Bloom also noted that assisting can be a trap if the money is good and the photographer you assist is successful. A photographer has to say no to big assisting jobs in order to take little shooting jobs that may build on your portfolio or lead to bigger jobs, Bloom counseled.
Still-life photographer Nick Ferrari said that after watching how photographers he assisted built sets and lit them on assignment, he would practice doing the same things himself. He says these experiments helped him improve his skills and find his own style.
Gild said that persistence in getting your portfolio in front of potential clients was important. Don’t be afraid to drop off a portfolio at the same client more than once if you have new work to show. Gild’s book, for instance, was currently at Rolling Stone for the fourth time since he set out on his own, he said.
On the business side, the panel discussed establishing a name for your business, opening a bank account, and establishing a sole proprietorship. Ferrari said that establishing a sole proprietorship early on, even while you are still assisting, can help when you are trying to get capital investment loans from a bank—the longer you have been in business the better it looks on your loan application, he advised. Many clients need an EIN (employer ID number) to pay you, the photographers said.
Di Milia noted that staying on top of your credit and making sure your credit score was good was also key in getting business loans. She also noted that getting an accountant had been an important part keeping her finances straight.
Bloom stressed the importance of keeping business and personal expenses separate by opening and using dedicated business bank accounts and credit cards. Tracking your expenses and income is important for taxes and other purposes, he noted.