One of the tried and true methods of learning about the photography industry is to spend time as an assistant. Even with a formal education in photography, time spent as an assistant is critical to learning the industry and business, as well as learning a bit about yourself. Sure the hours are long, the pay is bad, and you may very well spend the day picking up turkey poop or standing in triple digit heat for eight hours (both of which I did while assisting) but you’ll also get to see things and do things that make most normal people jealous.
The most important thing to most of the photographers I know when it comes to assistants is personality. If I’m going to spend 2 hours in the car going to the shoot, eight hours on the shoot and 2 hours in the car on the way back, I damn well better be able to hold a conversation with you. I’ve had plenty of assistants over the years, and the ones I call back again and again are the ones I get along with, not the ones who know the most.
With that said, it is important to know the basics. Know how to change lenses on the pro systems out there, Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Mamiya, etc. Know how to use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and Capture One on both Mac and PC platforms. Know how to set up a softbox. Know what a grid is, a snoot, a fresnel, and other lighting terms.
Be professional. One would think this is a no brainer, but it’s not. Show up on time, wear the appropriate clothes, be polite. Remember a big part of your job is to make the photographer look like they’re the coolest person ever in the eyes of the client. That means, when you see something they’re doing that you think is wrong, don’t shout out, “Hey, turn down the key light!!” It means go over and quietly say, “Are you sure you’ve got the key light where you want it? It looks hot to me.”
Watch how the photographers you work for interact with their clients and suppliers. So much of this business is personal relationships. Learning how to cultivate those and finding what works is key.
Finally remember what the Navy SEALS say… “Learn from the mistakes of others, you’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself”