Helen graduated with a degree in photography from UCA (University for the Creative Arts).
When I was researching degree courses, I knew that I wanted to study at a university with a great reputation, with teaching staff who were also experienced professionals in their field, and on a course with a broad-based curriculum. The course I chose met all of these criteria, and gave me the opportunity to study photographic practice, theory, history and culture within a degree which focuses on contemporary photographic art practice.
I currently work as a studio assistant for a high-end studio in the social photography industry. I work Tuesdays to Saturdays, so my weekend is usually Sunday and Monday. My role involves retouching, cropping and uploading images, cutting and mounting prints, and album building. I have to pay attention to quality assurance issues, such as colour correction to match images from different cameras, ensuring consistency between assets, and maintaining file size specifications. I also have general admin duties, such as answering the phone and dealing with customers.
As well as expanding my technical knowledge, I’ve been able to develop my teamworking skills, and I’ve built up my confidence by talking with customers. I’ve received plenty of on-the-job training in areas such as Macintosh OS, Photoshop, colour correction, image constraints, cutting and mounting, and album building.
I also attended the Photoassist ‘Introduction to Assisting’ course. The day covered the reasons for starting out as an assistant and what an assistant does. There was also an introduction to lighting, including a hands-on demonstration of different lighting systems, as well as an introduction to the role of the digital assistant, including an overview of the importance of system profiling. There were also practical sessions, shooting portraits in teams and then using Adobe Lightroom to process out the shots. A really useful part of the course was on the ‘business of assisting’, which covered finding work, what’s expected of you and what you can expect, the things you need to know but no one ever tells you, and making the break from assisting into photography. I’d definitely recommend this course to anyone considering starting out as an assistant as a first step into professional photography.
The best thing about my job is the opportunity to work with very experienced photographers and an excellent studio manager, who are all committed to training and developing junior staff. I’m really learning a lot, which will stand me in good stead for setting up my own business, working as a freelance photographer. The only downsides are working Saturdays and the exceptionally poor salary, but I see both of these things as an inevitable part of gaining the experience I need to start out on my own at some point in the future.
To be successful in this career area you obviously need good technical skills, but you also need to be proactive, be able to work under pressure to meet deadlines, show initiative and, above all, be enthusiastic and willing to learn.
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