Photo Assistant

Great People = Great Shoots: Peter Grill

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to start giving back more. Not only with time and money to charities, but with exposure to the people I care about. I am very fortunate to work with so many talented, hard working, and dedicated people on my shoots for the past 16 years. Assistants, digital techs, producers, stylists, location scouts, PAs, even the caterers are often amazing! I really can’t thank these people enough for helping me to do my job and create great work for my clients.

A light bulb went off in my head last week and I realized I could make a blog series about these amazing people. So here we are! I present to you…

“Great People = Great Shoots”

It’s my hope that this series will inform you on what a great crew can do for any job, big or small. I also hope that other image makers use this when looking for recommendations. Let’s start off with…


Photo by Peter Grill

I met Peter when I moved back to Virginia in 2015. He’s based in DC and has been one of my go to assistants and digital tech these days. The guy is the complete package. Hard worker, knows lighting and grip, can digital tech, and now offers rental equipment. I’ve flown with Peter on a few shoots and he’s a great traveler, too. I am ten times more likely to hire someone again if I can travel well with them. Most recently, Peter digi-teched for me on my Oreck shoot with Wonderful Machine down in Charlotte, NC.

Let’s get to know Peter:

Describe what you do and how long you’ve been doing it.
I’m a professional digital tech and photo assistant offering capture, strobe, and grip packages. All the services and equipment have been slowing developing over the years but I’ve been a full-time freelancer for about 4 years now.

How did you get your start?
I went to Appalachian State University and graduated with a degree in commercial photography.

Who was your first client?
While I was a senior at ASU I got a few freelance assisting gigs through the professors, either working for them or their photo buddies. When I moved back to the DC area and tried to pick up freelance work Robb Scharetg was one of the first guys to hire me and continued to be my first regular client. Working with him my first 6 months really got me started in the area.

What’s a typical shoot day like for you?
I usually don’t know what I’m getting into until the morning of the shoot. Things like finding out our load in point, then staging area, and then figuring out lighting and planning any company moves are normal procedure. If it’s a new client I’m trying to learn what gear they have, how it works, and how they organize it as quickly as possible.

What tools do you use to do your job?
I always have a watch, sharpie, and a leatherman on me when working. Otherwise I deal with a large variety of strobe and grip equipment.

What was the craziest thing that happened to you on a job?
While working on a short in Death Valley CA we went on a bit of a wild goose chase to find one of our locations. We hiked in a built Sony FS7 rig, tripod, and a few other cases of gear. We really had no idea if we were on the right track but kept following remnants of old mining contraptions further and further into this canyon. We came up on this dried out water fall and had to rig a makeshift rope ladder to scramble up. It wasn’t the most technical climbing but carrying a $15K camera rig in one hand made it pretty sketchy! Anyways we found the location just in time to shoot one scene at sunset and hike it all back out.

Favorite snack food?
I have a bit of a sweet tooth on set… Gummy Bears, Twizzlers, Starbursts. My favorite crafty is the build your own fajita/taco/burrito spread.

How can people find out more about you?
getting in touch via [email protected] or my site,


How to Become My Assistant (or Not)

I get a fair amount of emails from assistants moving to Portland looking for work. I totally get it. Portland is a cool place to live and being a photographer is fun. With NYC, LA, and San Francisco very expensive and hard to break into, Portland seems like an obvious place to start your career. Hey, it’s why I moved here.

There is definitely a fair amount of work here. But, there are a lot of assistants and probably more assistants than there is work. So you got to do something special to get my attention (and every other working photographer here).

Here’s an example of what not to do:

First of all, the email isn’t even to me. I’m BCC’d on it. Strike One! Mike mentions they are a graduate of a Canadian art school, but doesn’t tell me if he still lives there or in Portland. Strike Two! He also attaches a resume which really is pointless unnecessary as far hiring an assistant goes. I would have like to seen referrals. Strike Three! I don’t respond to Mike’s inquiry.

On the other had, here’s a great example of what you should do to get my attention:

First, a great subject line and I immediately opened the email. Dan then pretty quickly sums up who he is and why he’s contacting me. What sells me is that he specifically points out something I shot and that he shoots interiors, but wants to see how I do it. I would hire an assistant who likes to shoot interiors 10 to 1 over an assistant who is more interested in something else. I’ve hired Dan five times since he first emailed me and he’s been great. I highly recommend him.

The lesson here is to be straightforward and show genuine interest. It’s a huge mistake to feign interest in what I do, just to get assisting work. Always try to work for photographers that shoot what you like to shoot. You’ll enjoy the job more, learn things that you want to know, and connect with the person you’re working for. It’s a win win.