This month we spent 5 minutes catching up with Hayley Nia Thomas, a photographer’s assistant who has been working with our very own Kerry Harrison for 2 years. Read on for her reflections on the skills required to be a successful assistant, the importance of admiration for the photographer you work with, and her tips for new photography graduates!
How did you become a photographer’s assistant?
I was originally working in a studio doing product photography. I realised that shooting in a dark basement with backdrops, props and lights wasn’t for me and that I was more inspired by people and locations. Then a friend recommended me to LPA photographer Kerry Harrison who shoots people and lifestyle. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to change direction and to think about where I want to take my career.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
Assisting is great for me, I am able to gain an invaluable insight. Whilst I do have a lot of responsibility on shoots, I am also able to take a slight backseat and observe how everything is done. There isn’t much I don’t like about my job – I find it incredibly rewarding and fun. However, sometimes days can be very intense and exhausting.
What qualities do you think are most important in being a successful photographer’s assistant?
I’ve learned that you need to be adaptable, as you are always working with different clients across various environments. It is important to read situations well so that you can act appropriately. You need to be on the ball at all times and really pay attention to what your team needs. This way you gradually gain an understanding of how they work so that you can always be two steps ahead.
© Hayley Nia Thomas
How important is it for you to assist a photographer whom you admire?
I think if you admire the photographer then it helps to motivate you through the tough working days. You may also find that working on shoots in which you love the work being produced to be more helpful to your own practice. However, I believe it is important that you aren’t too heavily influenced by them, as you need to develop your own way of working and adapt the skills you’ve learned to your own personality and work. I also think that all experience is good experience, and if you work with a photographer that you don’t admire then this can help you see what you don’t want to be doing.
What advice would you give to new graduates entering the industry? Do you think it’s important to assist when you’re starting out?
I think if you aren’t particularly experienced or confident then assisting is a great way to learn about the industry and develop relationships. It is also a good way to decide what area of photography you want to get into. When I graduated I took the first job I could find and ended up being in an area of photography so far removed from what I am about, so assisting allows to you experiment a bit more.
As well as assisting Kerry you work as a freelance portrait photographer. How would you describe your aesthetic and influences?
I am usually inspired by what people do and who they are, and I aim to create an intimate moment in my photograph in which a hint of their personality comes to life. I usually stage my shoots, as I like to have control over the mood and composition. I love the work of Esther Teichmann, Rinko Kawauchi and Rineke Dijkstra. Their work is extremely evocative – there is a subtle tension, yet stillness. That to me is very powerful.
© Hayley Nia Thomas
Where do you go to seek inspiration for your own work?
I look at a lot of blogs online, for example If You Leave, Wandering Bears and Self Publish Be Happy. I also read the British Journal of Photography and Seasaw magazine, as well as attending a lot of exhibitions. My favourite is the annual Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize.
What is the most exciting shoot you have ever worked on?
Probably a shoot with Kerry Harrison for Sage where he was photographing an artist in her studio and her home. For me that is what I would love to be doing, so I really enjoyed watching how someone else approached the job and thinking about how I would of tackled it if it were my commission.
© Hayley Nia Thomas