What Does It Take to be An Excellent On-Assignment Photographer

Photographers work in a variety of ways and environments. A number of professional photographers prefer to work inside their own studio, while others move and travel around to find good subjects.

There are photographers who shoot at random, while there are others that work with a theme. Some shoot for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions; while several others prefer to go for assignment photography. On-assignment photographers are in-demand nowadays; so much so that many are determined to try out their luck in the field.

Assignment or On-Assignment Photography

An on-assignment photographer works in a different environment and circumstances when compared to one who does studio shoots, journalism photography or stock photography. The photos he takes are based on a specific assignment set by a client or customer. There are terms and requirements that he needs to consider, including the payment or fee for the work he does.

In other words, someone pays for the work an on-assignment photographer does.

On-Assignment vs. Stock Photography

Whereas stock photography refers to photographers taking photos according to their preferences – or whenever they see a scene worthy of being captured, an on-assignment photographer does not take photos until someone orders or unless a customer gives him a project (“assignment“) to work on.

Many prefer to go into on-assignment photography because it involves less financial cash out compared to stock photography. An assignment photographer does not spend for production costs and other similar expenses; his client does this for him. Stock photographers; on the other hand, cover their own production costs because what they do is self-assigned work. They sell their work at prizes that can cover both their expenses and hard work. On-assignment photographers give their clients a packaged costing that includes production and labor expenses.

Photos taken by a stock photographer may not find buyers (and are therefore tucked away in files), while on-assignment photographers are almost always assured that their clients will pay for their work.

How to Become an Excellent On-assignment Photographer

To become an in-demand on-assignment photographer, you need to do what a regular photographer does: hone your craft and improve your knowledge. And how can this be done? Here are several tips:

  1. First off, you should consider joining a camera club. You don’t need to find one that specializes in on-assignment photography; you just need one that can offer your various opportunities of honing your craft. There should be competitions that you can join, selfless sharing of knowledge, practices and field trips. A camera club is also the best place to meet people who share your passion.
  2. Take photos. A lot of them; all the time, wherever you are. You don’t have to use your SLR or any high-end technically advanced camera; your digital point-and-shoot will do. The important thing is having the freedom to shoot different scenes. To practice the concept of on-assignment photography, take several shots of a particular scene or subject. For example, you can take shots of different angles of a person casually strolling in the park. Or maybe successive shots of toddlers gathered in the playground as if they were in a meeting. You can also take portrait shots of your family members.
  3. Practice by giving yourself an assignment or a photo theme. Start with something that you are interested in. If you like dancing, look for street dancers and spend time with them. Take your photos over a period of days – not just in one sitting. This will allow you to explore different angles and scenarios. This can be a weekly or monthly activity.
  4. Study magazines and other visual publications. Observe their photos and try to determine what make them compelling. You might want to cut out some pictures that you really like and create your own version of them. Some may say there’s no originality in this, but it’s one of the best ways to practice and test your skills. It’s just for run-through, anyway.
  5. Be alert and observant. An excellent photographer is always aware of what’s happening around him. This will help you come up with good ideas and stories for your photos. Assignment photos tell stories that your clients want the public to know. Watching the news and reading newspapers can also help you find subjects to shoot. For example, a senator running for public office can hire your services to help build up his image for Election Day. A lot of celebrities hire assignment photographers for a PR stunt or when they want to reach out to their fans and followers.
  6. If you have the time and the money, go on a shooting trip or vacation. This will give you different perspectives. You’ll find other interesting subjects and thus, explore the extent of your creativity. For example, when in Rome, visit three or four historical churches and take a series of photos. They don’t have to tell a story, but whether you intend to or not, they will send out a message. This is one of the most integral purposes of on-assignment photography: to create a unified message (like when you take photos for a campaign or publicity stunt).
  7. To create excellent on-assignment photographs, you need to know how to create compelling pictures. This can only be done if you devote your time and passion to it. Don’t rush things. Take it one day, one photo at a time. Assignment photography is not like stock or journalism photography; the client will set the rules and schedule for you.
  8. Finally, browse through your photos and choose the best ones. Come up with a cohesive collection of your work. Your portfolio should showcase your creative and storytelling abilities, your vision, your experience and your love and passion for the craft. Build your collection slowly as this will be the first thing that your prospective client will ask from you.

Whether you prefer to concentrate on assignment photography or taking photos, the best thing to do is practice, practice and practice. If you have the patience and determination to practice, you’ll never be too far away from achieving perfection in everything that you do.

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