travel photographer Susan Seubert about the importance of an assistant

Greetings!  As National Geographic Traveler is publishing the story I photographed about Barbados in the January/February 2011 issue of the magazine, I thought this would be a good time to write about the importance of having an extra set of hands around on a shoot.  These days, editorial budgets are very tight, so sometimes the job won’t allow for one but in certain instances, having a partner on a shoot is indispensable.  The other caveat is that often times I’m asked to also shoot video and collect audio, making my work at least three times as complicated as it was pre-multimedia.  That said, I always like to rise to a challenge, so I tried being a one man band for the first day of this assignment and realized, quickly, that it would be impossible for me to do a good job in Barbados flying solo.  Enter: fixer.  I am blessed with a partner in life that not only has an MFA in photography, but also can get himself halfway around the globe in 24 hours or less.  He was with me the morning of the shoot with the horses and took a couple of stills of me in the water.  I was just perusing some of the images and realized that he illustrated precisely why – under certain circumstances – it is necessary to have someone watching your back.  Barbados is as safe of a place as one can get in the Caribbean, but add thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment left unattended on a beach and voila, it’s like finding cash sitting around on the ground.  Anyone would be tempted to walk off with my carbon fiber Gitzo fitted with a heavy-duty Manfrotto head and, set atop it like a crown jewel, a Canon 5D Mark II with a pristine 24-105mm lens with lens hood, a 77mm polarizing filter and a nice Crumpler strap.  Not to mention my favorite accessory – a three-way hot shoe level.  It was enough of a bummer to not have a water housing to work with, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the water up to just above waist deep, to get as close as I could to the horses.  Lost in my enthusiasm, I simply left the other camera with aforementioned accessories, sitting behind me on the beach.  As I look at the photo of me in the water, I can tell that I was drawn in by the dawn swiftly changing to daylight, as is evidenced by the light on my white shirt.  These men and their horses were just then becoming well lit and I only had a few minutes before the magic of that morning dawn would turn into the white-hot Caribbean day.  In hindsight it was a bad decision and without my fixer there, would have most likely been a great loss.  But he stood on the beach, watching the gear so I could get the shot.  For that moment, I will be forever grateful to him.

walking into the water, leaving camera equipment on the beach...

water housing? I don't need no stinking water housing...

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