You know that it's vital to stay on top of the latest developments in technology if you're going to stay in demand as a digital tech. But what else do you need to do to stay on photographers' go-to lists? Michelle Brady talked to several A-List New York techs about what they do to make themselves indispensable.
Michelle Brady is a photographer and educator. While teaching and photographing, she spent several years as a digital tech and digital systems consultant, helping photographers set up their digital workflow. She currently owns and operates Catskills Workshops & Retreats.
We’re all well aware of how fast technology changes these days, and if we don’t keep constant tabs on what’s new, we can blow our game as digital techs. But staying on top of the latest technology is just part of what keeps a tech on photographers' go-to lists. Whether you are in it for the long haul or working as a tech simply as a stepping stone to gain the experience needed to run your own photo biz, it's important to know what top techs do to stay in demand. Here are a few practices that were emphasized by several A-list New York techs that I was fortunate to sit with and interview.
There are many things going on at once during the day. Checking focus, adjusting exposure, backing up data, processing files, creating prints and layouts, and answering constant questions are just a few of the tasks that you may need to handle simultaneously. There is a small percentage of the day when the tech isn’t multitasking. If you're working with a new client, it may be a good idea to write a checklist of what needs to be done and create an outline of the workflow for the day.
Always be overprepared.
Having a well-thought-out tool kit that you bring with you (mine differs depending on whether it’s a studio or a location) and keeping up with software and hardware changes is key. Techs can never know too much or be too prepared.
Stay calm in the height of troubles.
No one likes it when the tech panics. It just isn’t pretty and can be a potential fire starter. So stay calm, and if something is really wrong, take two breaths and proceed with a clear mind. Have a list of contacts and helpful sites that can get you through the problem. Remember, you don’t need to know everything; you just need to be a great problem solver. Making friends with tech support people at all the equipment companies and creating a digital tech support group are always great ways to keep up with common challenges are rearing their ugly heads on set.
Understand the boss's aesthetic.
Most often, the photographer will have a conversation with you regarding the project and the look she and the client are going for. Having a comfortable understanding of what the images should look like helps when you are watching the shots roll in. You'll know how to judge where the exposure should be and what the light should be doing, what the contrast level should be, if there should be flare or not, and so on. Techs aren’t there to make final judgment calls on how something should look, but they are the second pair of eyes for the photographer, and help to ensure that the final product is what the client wanted.
Keep it on the DL.
It’s very rare that the photographer wants you to broadcast, “Yo! Your focus is off!” There are times when a crew has been together for a long time and the client is cool and understands that even the best photographers can have trouble focusing. But for the most part, it’s a good idea to develop a discreet way of letting the photographer know that there is a problem or that his focus is simply off. Talk to the photographer before the shoot and ask the question up front: “How would you like me to let you know if your focus is off or if something looks out of place?" Be observant. Don’t just keep your head in the computer. You can figure out a lot about a photographer and crew by watching their dynamics.
Know who's who on set.
Being aware of the people around you and what they do is important. Remember that you are a second pair of eyes for the photographer. If a hair is out of place or the model's forehead is getting a little shiny, you may be the one to bring it to the attention to the photographer or the hair and makeup artist (depending on line of command). If you’re new to the crew, make a solid effort to introduce yourself and get everyone’s name locked in your brain.
Be pleasant and engaging.
You are not just the set geek, so look up from the computer and be social. Introducing yourself (unless told otherwise) is a good start to making the day easier and more pleasant. Each set is different, and as you get out there you’ll get a sense of when it’s a good time to be chatty and when it’s not.
Develop listening skills and an ability to read between the lines. Listening and really understanding what people are saying to you is an important skill for all aspects of life, but on set if you listen to what is being said both directly to you and around you, it can be helpful to understanding how to communicate with each person. Don’t assume. Always ask questions.
It doesn’t hurt to repeat that it’s really important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new and what hardware and software issues may be current. Understanding this is a vital element of being a great tech. Another important part of keeping up with the ever-changing technology is developing good relationships with other techs and support staff—photo dealers, manufacturers, and rental houses.
If you’ve been out there already and worked with a tech or been the tech on a job, what practices do you think are important?
Read more from the Dream Tech series:
Dream Tech: Get Your Digital Tech On
The Well-Equipped Tech
The Essential Grip Kit
What's on Your Hard Drive?
Network Your Macs