Can I be your assistant or go on assignment with you?
Want to visit glamorous, exotic locations, enjoy scenery, and relax? Then you should plan a vacation for yourself somewhere fun and not even think about going with me.
I receive many kind offers from people each year to “carry my gear” on assignment—but most of them have no idea what they’d be getting themselves into. Working as an assistant can be rewarding, but it’s not most people’s idea of fun.
Never say never, but here are some reasons why most people who ask this question don’t end up in the field:
- Volunteer assistants pay their own travel expenses. Plane tickets alone can be thousands of dollars, and often an assignment will require hundreds of dollars’ worth of specialized clothing and safety gear.
- It’s not a one-day gig. Most of my trips last two weeks minimum. Fourteen 18-hour days in a row often reduces the best of my assistants to rubble.
- When you’re trying not to disturb wildlife, the fewer people in an area the better. When I’m out in the field doing actual shooting, I’ll often be by myself in a blind while my assistant is making phone calls and lining up things for the next day.
- Quarters are cramped. I’m often in very tiny blinds, crammed in between trees, or trying not to fall off of a rock. Having more than one person there not only makes it more difficult for me to move around and work, but also increases the likelihood of spooking the animals or somebody getting hurt in an accident.
- It’s not really all that fun when you’re working around the clock. We often eat poorly and infrequently. When people who don’t work with wildlife or photography go with me, I usually end up having to pour them into their room, hut, or tent at the end of the day. It’s exhausting work, and going at it for three or four weeks at a time isn’t most people’s idea of a vacation. Indeed, it’s quite brutal.
- Flexibility is key. We often change location every few days, which isn’t very conducive to fun and relaxation if that’s what you’re there for. It’s also much easier to be flexible when I’m on my own or only with my guide/translator.
I’ve hired lighting assistants for complicated shoots, guides when I’m working in unfamiliar areas, and translators when I’m working in a place where I don’t speak the language. Usually, I ask other photographers or scientists who have worked in a particular area about assistants in order to find someone who has lived in the target area their whole life. I need somebody who knows every square inch of the area we’ll be working in (for example, which cliffs around here do macaws nest in?) and somebody who is willing to work almost around the clock. The very best assistants are not only good at what they do, but also have a positive attitude and a sense of humor. When the going gets tough, being able to see beyond the current crisis is a valuable skill.