Helpful advice on being an assistant

Over the years it’s fair to say I’ve worked with a number of assistants. Some good, some bad and some ugly.

As the industry changes, the role has to change as well which means tasks like loading 10×8 film in pitch black, stuffy darkrooms and fiddling over a 120 back trying to poke that bloody paper through the bloody spool while holding an umbrella for the photographer in the bloody rain AND keeping a bloody polaroid book up to speed are no longer required. And you try telling kids of today….!

However, good assistants are worth their weight in gold and I’m happy to say the majority of mine have been good. A few have been exceptional. The exceptional ones are now successful photographers in the own right.

The work I shoot is pretty varied – one week I’m shooting room sets in the studio, next I’m hanging off the side of a 120ft crane shooting a ship, a day retouching, then we’ll spend a couple of days on a location recce and so on…always busy, always pushing, always looking for a great angle or waiting for the light…! My assistants need to be motivated – one point I always make at interview is that, despite popular conceptions, being an assistant really isn’t glamorous (well, not all the time anyway) and it is hard work. In fact it’s really hard work – the hours can be unpredictable, there’s a lot of pressure sometimes, it’s physical (try carrying a strobe pack to the studio) and you have a lot of proverbial plates to keep spinning whilst keeping a smile on your face!

Of the assistants I’ve employed over the years, the most important qualities have been motivation and enthusiasm. I’m not that interested in fancy portfolios or prima donnas. Assistants who greet me with a smile and a great coffee in the morning, are organised and tidy to the brink of being obsessive, know when to give their opinion (and when not to) and are always asking to test or for my opinion on an idea they’ve come up with…they’re the kind of assistants I like.

A few tips if you want to make the grade

Shoot as much as you can yourself – practice using all available equipment and cultivate how you like to do things and slowly build up a folio and a nice set of reliable photo gear. Once you start thinking like a photographer you should become a better Assistant; able to anticipate and be a real asset.

Be reliable, discreet, loyal, unobtrusive but helpful and decisive when necessary. Being adaptable, easy-going and good company helps. Don’t underestimate how important good social skills are in being a good Assistant. Each photographer is different, some will prefer you to be gregarious and take the pressure off them with models and Clients etc. However, be aware that others may hate that! You need to read people and their needs pretty well.

Ask if you don’t know how to do something. Never just muddle along and then end up breaking a piece of equipment. Though not too many questions, or you will make the photographer nervous! If you can, ask someone else who might know an answer (other Assistants or people who work at the studio if it is a Hire place?).

Learn skills from everyone else connected to the shoot. Watch how they work as part of a team, how do they conduct themselves and use their skills? Be helpful to everyone; yes it is a nice way to be and it can lead to other contacts and work. Network and cultivate useful contacts yourself and make recommendations should someone come looking. What goes around comes around.

Keep good notes and contacts of anything you learn including lighting diagrams, etc. You think you will remember it all but you won’t.

Create an ideas and influences book. Read, visit and study other photographers. Come up with a shortlist of your favourites from the emerging to the worshipped. Analyse why you like them.

Never forget your main role is to support – you are all part of a team, don’t try and take over but a useful suggestion at the right time can be invaluable. Cultivate showing the right amount of initiative; don’t always be waiting to be told what to do.

Always be a little early, NEVER be late. If, for some reason, you will be late then phone ahead and let the photographer know. And NEVER turn up with a hangover!

Be available should the photographer need you, “busily hovering” is a very useful skill. If you go off to do a task then let the photographer know.

Dress to blend in, you’re a creative; you can be stylish but practical.

Be keen and able to drive a car and a van, try and have a clean license.

Keep your private life out of work, put your phone on silent & vibrate. When you are on a job, don’t take other work calls unless absolutely necessary. Try and make your calls back at a suitable moment if there is such a thing.

Don’t approach or show your own work to a Client on a job. If you fancy collaborating with a Model, Make-Up artist or Stylist then agree to meet up some other time. It might be nice to let the photographer know of your plans as they did put the two of you together in the first place and it could be better than them finding out from someone else.

Get feedback on your work, listen to advice, enter competitions & awards but always read the small print.

Above all else – love what you do and never lose your passion for photography and creating perfect images!

The New 5D – turning photographers into videographers?

We’re in the middle of a web video movement. Consumers like it  because they started it – on YouTube, and because of this, businesses are rushing to get a piece of the action in a quest to get more sales and achieve that utopian goal of social sharing of their products.

For brands wanting to incorporate video into their marketing, there is a huge gap in the market, which sits between the polar opposites of home-produced YouTube videos and high-end TV productions.

This presents a real opportunity for commercial photographers. Video production can be a natural extension of a photographer’s skills which Canon have clearly recognised with the enhanced video capability of its 5D Mark lll. And the fact is, the type of video that would be produced by professional photographers starts to fill this gap very nicely indeed. The stills set up would work effectively for video production, and professional photographers already have an intimate understanding of the product that they are shooting, so would understand the additional characteristics that could be conveyed with a short piece of footage.

From a client’s point of view, they get video and stills from the same shoot, which is convenient and time efficient. But the real key to this approach is that footage produced this way would have just the right level of production values to deliver cost effective, professional looking videos which are perfect for the relentless needs of the web.

Court ruling changes picture on copyright in photographs

Eposure’s neighbours, specialist creative industries Lawyers, Ward Hadaway, have detailed a recent court ruling which ruled in favour of a photographer in a copyright dispute.

Their full write up is included below, but the main implications from the ruling are as follows:

‘As a result [of the case], it is being speculated that anyone attempting to imitate existing photographs, or commissioning a photograph based on existing photography, could fall foul of the laws of copyright protecting the pre-existing photo. The balance that exists between the freedom of ideas, and the protection of the expression of ideas, may have shifted more towards the protection of expression in photography cases.’

What does this mean for photographers?

The case highlights an apparent extension in copyright protection for photographs. This potential effect is amplified by the pending implementation of the Hargreaves Report recommendations to introduce a small claims track for intellectual property disputes. Whilst in times gone by, people may have been less likely to litigate over the perceived infringement of copyright in photographs due to uncertainty over the level of legal protection and the potential costs involved, this may well now be about to change


The ruling in a recent court case looks set to alter the landscape when it comes to copyright in photographs.

What happened?

The case – Temple Island Collections Limited v New English Teas Limited, Nicholas John Houghton  EWPCC 1 – was heard in The Patents County Court.

It involved a photograph taken from south of the river Thames, which captured a red Routemaster bus crossing Westminster Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Portcullis House in the background.

The photo had been digitally manipulated to make the background monochrome and highlight the red bus. The company – Temple Island Collections – used the iconic image to help sell a range of London-themed souvenirs, as well as licensing it to other organisations such as the operator of the Tower of London and the National Gallery.

Nicholas Houghton, a director at New English Teas, took several photographs himself to produce a new ‘England’ image for the tins in which the company sold its packaged tea around the world.

Mr Houghton edited the photographs together to come up with an image of the Houses of Parliament in grey with a red bus on Westminster Bridge.

Why was this a problem?

Temple Island Collections claimed the New English Teas image was an infringement of its copyright, arguing that it reproduced a substantial part of its previous work, which itself was protected by copyright.

The company said that the two images looked strikingly similar and argued that New English Teas could have chosen many ways in which to capture a bus in front of the Houses of Parliament, yet did so in a way which was strikingly similar to the claimant’s photo.

What did the defendants say?

The defendants – New English Teas and Mr Houghton – denied copyright infringement, arguing copyright law could not be used to effectively give a monopoly over a monochrome photo of the Houses of Parliament with a red bus in the foreground.

The defendants argued that the common element in the two images did not mean it had come from the claimant’s work. They pointed out that copyright law does not extend to protecting an idea, only the expression of an idea, and that their expression of the same idea as the claimant’s was different in almost every respect.

What did the court say?

The court had to consider two factors in making its decision:
1. Whether the claimant’s work was capable of attracting copyright protection; and
2. Whether, if the claimant’s work did attract copyright protection, the defendants had infringed this copyright by copying a substantial part of its work.

The court found in the claimant’s favour on the first question having looked at previous cases which explored the scope of photographic copyright including cases heard at the European Court of Justice and the Austrian Supreme Court, where it was held that a photograph is capable of attracting copyright protection, irrespective of its artistic quality, providing that it is the author’s own “intellectual creation”. The question of intellectual creation is one of originality – which, in the case of photographs, consists of the motif, visual angle, illumination, exposure and effects, developing techniques etc used by the author. The Judge had no problem finding that, despite the claimant’s photo being of some iconic symbols of London, it was the result of the author’s “intellectual creation”, both in terms of the location and conditions chosen for the photo itself, and the skill and labour involved in the manipulations made to it thereafter.

On the second question, the Judge said that despite the absence in the defendants’ image of some important compositional elements found in the claimant’s photo, the defendants’ image still included the key combination of what the Judge called the “visual contrast features with the basic scene itself” from the claimant’s image. This was, according to the Judge, what made the claimant’s image “visually interesting.”

The court therefore ruled that the defendant had copied a substantial part of the claimant’s photo meaning that the claimant’s copyright had been infringed by the defendants.

What has been the reaction to the decision?

There has been considerable surprise at the decision, particularly given the common usage of the subject matter of the photographs in question. The courts have often found difficulty in applying copyright law to cases involving photographs. This was apparent from the judgement in this case, as the Judge sought to draw a distinction between the small amount of skill and labour involved in the simple pressing of a shutter in a “mere photograph”, when compared to a “photographic work” such as the claimant’s, which involved a significant degree of pre-picture considerations and post-picture editing.

As a result, it is being speculated that anyone attempting to imitate existing photographs, or commissioning a photograph based on existing photography, could fall foul of the laws of copyright protecting the pre-existing photo. The balance that exists between the freedom of ideas, and the protection of the expression of ideas, may have shifted more towards the protection of expression in photography cases.

What does this mean for me?

The case highlights an apparent extension in copyright protection for photographs. This potential effect is amplified by the pending implementation of the Hargreaves Report recommendations to introduce a small claims track for intellectual property disputes. Whilst in times gone by, people may have been less likely to litigate over the perceived infringement of copyright in photographs due to uncertainty over the level of legal protection and the potential costs involved, this may well now be about to change.

BLOG Out of the frying pan into the fire…photography graduate’s stories.

We recently posted a question asking for your experience either as a photography graduate, or working with graduates, with a view to understanding what the skills shortfalls were in the education process. As all we had a good response, so thanks for everyone who sent us their views.  There was one quote that stood out and literally left us open-mouthed:

“In 2007 there were more photography students in the UK than tax paying photographers in Europe.”

Many people who graduating in photography and decide to try and find work in the industry will end up as freelancers, working for themselves in a highly competitive and challenging market – a real baptism of fire.

There was much frustration vented about the fact that educational institutions accept and charge students huge sums of money to train people into an industry which isn’t large enough to sustain its current employment levels, let alone provide realistic incomes for new graduates.

Anyone entering this profession will need to start by really focusing on their marketing and networking skills, as well as taking a very single minded and entrepreneurial approach to establishing themselves in this industry.

We don’t know to what level these skills are incorporated into the curriculums as a whole, but we’re keen to continue this discussion and invite our followers to tell us what, if any training their colleagues offered to give them the tools to set themselves up in business.

Why I always remember this image

A few years back I was working with Baxi, the boiler people shooting stills for some new product launches and an ad campaign to raise their profile among plumbers.The job was being managed by Phil Hackney, our Director of Photography and he came up with this novel approach, which a trusting client bought into with great results.

It’s a shot of a boiler, and it was the first time anyone ever thought of shooting a boiler in an unconventional way – not just a white box on a wall. We all know what a boiler looks like, especially the plumbers we were advertising this to – so why not show them a different take on it for a change? It made a great advert, looked brilliant on the front of their sales brochures, and most importantly, it stood out miles from the competition and gave a very positive impression about Baxi’s standing as a business.

This shot was used time and time again to demonstrate to many different clients how our photography professionals were skilled at applying these creative techniques to otherwise uninspiring products – which the world is full of, to make them stand out from the crowd. It was a brilliant story to tell, it started some great conversations and won us even more business.

Have you got a similar story? We’d love to see your creative shots of everyday products.

For more work from Phil Hackney, go to

BLOG Stock images versus commissioned

Many photographers face competition from clients who want to use stock images rather than commission bespoke shots. It’s easy to see why this option can be seen as a cheaper and quicker alternative to a commission. The downside is that this is a very impersonal approach to take.

I want to step away from this issue briefly, to think about marketing. Many photography commissions are to provide images for a client’s marketing campaign. Much of today’s marketing campaigns are directed into social media channels; Facebook, twitter, Google+ and so on. In all of these channels, best practice places a huge emphasis on expressing personality – the human side and face of organizations, because this how these marketing succeeds and drive business – they engage with potential buyers. Another key to marketing success is for businesses to differentiate their offer; marketers need to demonstrate innovation and uniqueness.

But how can we use this analogy to make a stronger case for commissioned images?

These days it is easy to evaluate the effectiveness and sales generated by marketing channels. And there is a tendency for clients to dismiss things they don’t understand or can’t measure.

Many clients will not be able to directly measure the impact of an image, so will decide that a stock image, or a poor quality image will be good enough. Reducing the cost of photography then becomes an easy way to save money.

As photographers, we have to accept it is difficult to measure the effect of images, but we can make a case to apply the broader marketing principles (personality & uniqueness to engage customers) to justify our costs.

Remember that social media and other marketing inevitably lead potential buyers to a website. If the customer sees stock photography here, there is a risk that that genuine personality that has been created in other channels will evaporate.

We have to remember that marketers make decisions based on their customers. Customers are very astute and stock photography is obvious thanks to its lack of personality and sterility. Sites that use it heavily feel fake. As customers become increasingly demanding with the growth in the choices they have when making a purchase. They need to know and trust brands before they transact with them, and fakeness isn’t going to build trust.

Marketers who settle for stock images are missing a huge opportunity to commission something unique, personal and exclusive. Something that will resonate with their customers, tells them a story about their business, and ultimately creates an environment in which they are happy to part with their hard earned cash.