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More Than Just a Girl's Name
In the world of photography, a VAL is a "Voice-Activitated Lightstand"—a photographer’s assistant. While the name VAL is a joke, having an assistant can be seriously handy, and sometimes a real life saver. A good assistant is a tremendous boost.
While photographers can manage small shoots on their own, the work is so much easier and more enjoyable when there’s someone on set who can move, adjust, and hold equipment while you keep your eye on the shot. A sense of humour and an ability to think through chaos are also invaluable!
I once applied for a photography internship by describing myself as a VAL:
I am a photographer who takes my craft seriously and my self lightly. I know f-stops and focal lengths. I can connect a studio flash to a power source without curling my hair and can put together a softbox without impaling myself on one of the wire frames. Perhaps most importantly, at least as an assistant, I respond to voice activation without noticeable lag time.
Along with photographic skills and a true desire to be of assistance and learn, I can also promise you calm focus in chaos, sneaker speed in a dress, good manners and grace. I also come charged by passion.
Bring the Focus, and the Levity
Alas, I didn’t get that job but my attitude landed me other gigs that worked out well. Taking your craft seriously, even if you aren't the one behind the camera, will get you work. Taking yourself a little bit lightly will get you hired the second time.
In many ways, being a good assistant actually involves much more than being a lightstand with thumbs. Beyond responding to oral commands, assisting is about alertness, anticipating needs, coming up with smart fixes, and keeping moral high. That's much more than any high-tech lightstand can do!
If you’d like to learn more about being a good VAL, check out the Tuts+ article, “12 Golden Rules for Being a Photographer's Assistant.”