Photo Assistants & Careers

Katie Levine on the Importance of Taking Careful Notes While Assisting

July 2, 2018

By David Walker

Photographer Katie Levine has seen her career take off in the past year with assignments from PAPER magazine, the VH1 program “America’s Top Model” and other clients. Levine chalks her success up to a lot of dogged work. “I work a lot harder than most people,” she says. She also took copious notes and learned to keep detailed records over everything she did.

Levine spent five years assisting for various photographers, including Annie Leibovitz. One of her strategies for remembering what she learned on set was to write everything down at the end of each day, when the lessons were still fresh in her mind. “Write down everything you learn on set. Every time,” she wrote on the page of one notebook, under the heading “Photo Assisting Tips.”

Levine filled notebooks with everything from lighting principles and lighting diagrams to pictures of gear, with everything labeled. “You need to write down lighting techniques,” Levine says. She adds, “When I was [assisting] at Annie’s, I wasn’t familiar with all the equipment, so I would draw it, and then go online and research it at B&H Photo. I looked up all Annie’s equipment, got all of the manuals for them, and I read all of them. There was no way I wasn’t going to know something.”

Nothing was too insignificant to record in her journals. “Memorize where everything is,” was one of the notes she wrote to herself when she started working for Leibovitz. Levine’s job at first was to drive an equipment van, so she noted the local driving laws (eg, “No turn on right”) and what she learned about driving a truck (“know the height of the truck,” “brake sooner than you think”).

She also made lists of takeaways from visits to other photographers’ studios (From David Paul Larson: “Keeping goals on your phone,” “going extra mile (not a lot of people do)”). She also took notes on everything she read about running a photography business. “I don’t think I learned in college how to run a business: hiring people, copyright law, invoicing, booking, networking, marketing,” she says. Of course, Levine listed the important points of everything she read.

And then she made to-do lists—many of them—to keep herself organized. “I’m a very disorganized person,” she says, but the lists were her constant reminder to put into practice what she had learned.

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