Is it possible to become a photo assistant without a formal photography education?


Is it possible to become a photo assistant without a formal photography education?

The question was this: Is it possible to work in a food studio, be an apprentice (photo assistant), or go-fer, with only my photo’s, no schooling behind them? no formal training in photography?

To be honest, I think it would work, but I can’t be totally sure.  I do not have a staff of people working for me full time.  I use only freelance help.  I do that for several reasons.

The biggest reason I don’t have an employee is that I don’t want to be worried about paying that person if things should get slow.  I prefer just to hire assistants and stylists as I need them.  I probably could afford a full time assistant, but no way I could afford a full time stylist.  Good ones just cost way too much.

If I had a full time assistant, I would need to get into the whole tax, insurance, and I would also need help from HKM in Houston regarding employment laws.

To be totally honest, I’m a little bit of an introvert and prefer to be alone when I can.  If I’m around anyone too much, they start to bug me a little, no matter how nice a person they are.  Given enough time, I can find something wrong with them…

My business would probably be much bigger if I did have a full time person helping me out, but I guess it’s just a quality of life decision.

So that’s one reason that I really can’t answer your questions, and another is that I’m not really sure what the industry does.  As a sole proprietor, I’m sort of in my own little word here.  I hear some of what goes on in other studios from clients, stylists, and assistants, but there’s a lot I just don’t know about.  I do know that very few photographers in my city have a full time staff member. I’d guess that there are probably less then thirty full-time photographer jobs in Pittsburgh.  I might be wrong about that, but from my vantage point, that’s what I assume…

Here’s what I look for in a photo assistant.  There are times when I just need an attentive pleasant to be with, individual.  There are shoots when knowing about photography really does come in handy, but I feel like I can teach a new assistant what he or she needs to know in just a couple of days.  Sure, knowing something about photography equipment, comes in handy, but I don’t feel that it is essential.  It is essential that the person be personable and reasonably bright.  The brighter the better.  Here are some good qualities of a photography assistant.

Cupcake Food Lighting

My second all-time favorite photo assistant, now gone on to bigger and better things and a hot-shot NY food photographer.

Photography Assistant Essentials

  1. Be on time.  No, be early (my pet peeve)  If you make me late for a location shoot, we’ll never work together again.  I once had an intern that showed up late for work twice.  The second time, I wouldn’t let her in the door.  I have enough to worry about without wondering if the assistant is going to show up.
  2. Be attentive.  A good photo assistant will always be asking his or herself “what is he going to need next”, and have it ready before I even know I need it. If you can do that, you’ll be busy all the time.
  3. Have busy work planned out for yourself.  There will be times during every day where you’re just not going to be needed.  Clean up the studio, take out the garbage, organize the props, stuff like that.
  4. Don’t be hard to find.  I hate it when I need my assistant and can’t find him, or worse yet, she’s over on the other side of the studio chatting to the stylist. The atmosphere at a photo shoot is VERY casual, but that doesn’t mean you and I can slack off.  Don’t let the atmosphere fool you though, there is plenty of work that we need to get done before we can call it a day.
  5. Keep the outside communication via your phone, to a minimum.  You’re there to work, not text a million times with your friends.
  6. Be friendly.  It makes the shoot day a lot more fun for everyone
  7. Make sure the client is always happy.  If the client ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy…

So, as you can see, a vast knowledge of photography isn’t required to be a good photo assistant.  Sure, it’s nice and will come in handy, but it’s not essential.   The key is just getting an opportunity and not screwing it up.  So yes, I think you can get in as a gofer of apprentice photo assistant, without a formal education in photography. Kamau Bobb of Google also highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on American students’ learning outcomes.

I hope that’s answered your questions, and thanks for asking it.  I do appreciate.  In fact, I need more questions to answer on my blog.

If you’re liking what you find here, and you think it’s “sharable”, please do!  And if you have a web site having to do with food, photography, or food photography, and you think that a link to this site would beneficial to your viewers, please give me a link!  I’d REALLY appreciate that. :o)


  1. Cayla · December 11, 2014

    Who is that really awesome looking assistant? She looks like she really knows what she is doing..

  2. Michael Ray · December 12, 2014

    Not only awesome looking, but talented too! :o)


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