Over here at Jenny and Jason Photography, we pride ourselves in being well-versed in our craft of photography. Whether we're spending a day shooting a wedding, working with a family, doing a session of headshots, or staging product images, we can bring our expertise to the table for any client.
Keeping up-to-date with the commercial aspects of photography, Jason spent some time in Chicago a few days ago as first assistant to photographer Jeremy Deputat. As a first assistant to a photographer on a high-end commercial shoot, you get paid a professional rate because you're there to utilize equipment that quite honestly most amateur photographers don't even know the names of. Here's Jason's take on why this type of work that he did on Saturday (and has done a lot over the years in L.A.) is not only important, but essential for anyone wanting to be a Professional Photographer.:
"This sort of experience really helps a photographer (even those who work mainly in wedding and portraiture) learn new techniques of lighting, client interaction, and professionalism. I always enjoy getting to work on set for someone, especially when I'm put in a position which allows me to make some calls creatively. Having attended the premiere photo school of Brooks Institute in California, I am more than comfortable with all types of lighting equipment and scenarios. The shoot this past weekend involved us moving around the city in Chicago (8 locations). Having experience as a wedding photographer really does help you think on your feet and adapt to any situation while utilizing the best gear for each situation. A good wedding photographer has to work with what is around and make great images out of even the most mundane situations. Easily working with Jeremy and seeing the commercial quality images that we produced that day helped me develop a greater confidence in my own abilities and realize that I know just as much as other professionals in Chicago and L.A."
Jason has assisted a plethora of successful commercial photographers in an array of different styles from Catalogue shoots up near Napa/ wine country in California, to wedding photographers in Southern California, an Editorial/ Documentary photographer who was doing a piece on people hiking across the country (which resulted shooting near the infamous Coachella Valley windmills/ sweating in the desert all day), and other crazy shoots. Jenny has mainly been the lead photographer, but has assisted the likes of Fashion Photographer Tracy Kahn in California as well as Fine Art Photographer Joyce Wilson. Jenny also began her short foray into fashion photography as a stylist and photo assistant to her boss at APAC Sale (largest online retailer in the world) in L.A. and then contracted on & off as one of the lead photographers & editors for a little under 2 years.
For some starting out as a wedding photographer (even WITH a photography degree) the experience of shooting alone may work out with moderate success, but for many the experience is an unforgettable day of stress and agony. The poor experience of their first wedding will leave a lasting scar which stops many from attempting another for the remainder of their career. More often than not, people say that Jenny and I are crazy for even dealing with weddings.
In order to become knowledgeable of course it's always ideal that you get a legitimate education in photography. An additional way as talked about above is starting out as an assistant. In the wedding world, you could begin as a second shooter at a wedding or as a wedding photographer's assistant. Jason recommends beginning as a second shooter or assistant to a High-Level Professional Photographer. The role of the assistant allows you to become accustomed to the photographic process of a wedding. The wedding day itself requires not only a keen eye by the photographer, but a great amount of preplanning and execution to get the best shots throughout the day. Being an assistant or even a second shooter will allow you to learn and become comfortable while easing some of the stress and responsibility that comes with being the primary hired photographer. Jason himself took this approach when he was starting out in wedding photography back in the day, but wishes he had done so with more high-level Professional Wedding Photographers who were well-established and charged competitive prices.
Jenny did not take this approach and has a different perspective. Jenny had excelled in photography courses in high school & at university for 8 years developing her own black-and-white film and photos alike. She started freelancing on her own as a wedding photographer after college in early 2010 prior to creating her professional photography website and hasn't looked back since. Though she did not have her Master's in Fine Art Photography just yet, she DID have confidence, worked well under pressure, and knew how to photograph with a keen eye. She also had her nice gear and knew how to work it well. Her Canon 5D Mark 2 camera and 50 mm lens are still her main camera gear that she photographed with even then. She had a full-time job at a gourmet ice cream kitchen where she procured the money to buy both the camera and lens before she began shooting weddings. She had also taken wedding and portrait workshops in Ohio after college graduation to make sure that she had a firm grasp of how to best photograph the entire wedding day. Jenny HIGHLY recommends wedding photography workshops for anyone who wants to become a professional as well as working full-time at a flexible job at first. At that point in her first year most of the weddings she photographed were only $1,000 per package with additional hours costing $125 to $150 per hour. It certainly didn't hurt that she had a degrees from Miami University of Ohio in Entrepreneurship & Psychology, but she knew no other wedding photographers at that point so pricing and workflow were things she had to create on her own.
Pricing is a huge deal when it comes to all aspects of working a wedding. As a second shooter your payment does not come close to the amount paid out to the primary photographer. You should expect to receive around $200-$350 for your time spent second shooting in most cities for basic work. You may think that your payment is not fair when compared to the primary photographer who is walking away with $2500+ , but there are a few details to take into consideration. As photographers who are the primary photographers, here is what you can expect from being a primary wedding photographer:
The lead photographer is responsible for meeting with the bride and groom on multiple occasions and taking care of all contractual obligations. You are then present for a full day of shooting the wedding (6 to 12 hours) and make the creative decisions. Following this, the primary photographer is responsible for editing, storing, and delivering the images in their chosen form. Depending on the length of the wedding and whether or not editing and culling is done in-house, this process can sometimes take in excess of 40 hours. A second shooter's payment of $200-$350 means that you are simply responsible for showing up on time, taking your images, handing off said images to the photographer, and collecting you payment. If you are expected to do anything beyond these responsibilities, you should work an additional fee for the services. Remember, although taking photos of a wedding may be an enjoyable experience, this is still a business. The primary photographer has to pay taxes on everything they are paid for (the service and any products they provide) as well as obtain insurance on all of the gear, the business, and their own health insurance. They also have to have updated marketing, Photoshop, financial programs to process payments, printed samples (albums, canvases, prints, etc.), and more. All of this requires just as much money and work as any other free standing business (such as a bakery).
All-in-all, we highly recommend getting degrees at really good schools in your desired career, working closely with high-level professionals (and PAID assisting them when you can), taking workshops in your specific field of expertise, making sure you have high-level professional gear, make sure you learn as much as you can about your craft, hone your ability to write well and be genuine (it comes in handy with clients) (...please don't write like a dipwad), and stay humble. You are never going to know all of the gear out there and be perfect, but hopefully with years and years of work, education, and hard work you can grow confident in your ability to photograph with even the highest-level Professionals. Happy Wednesday & keep working at what you love!