As an amateur photographer have you ever been guilty of watching a professional and saying "I really don't see a big difference between her and I."? I can guarantee almost all professionals have a secret weapon you don't: an assistant, or even better- several assistants. Assistants are a huge piece of professional photography.
Face it, if you ever plan to lead a portrait photoshoot of any kind, your work will improve if you add an assistant. The best part is, they aren't that hard to find. The even better part is if you are willing to do a little coaching you can even teach a friend or relative to help you in a bind. At some time or another, pretty much anyone in my family or close friend of mine has worked as my assistant at one time or another. Here are 5 ways your photography will immediately improve with the addition of an assistant:
(1) Not every piece of equipment fits conveniently on a light stand: Your assistant is the most portable and versatile light stand you can have. I almost always ask my assistant to hold reflectors, and even stand on a chair to hold a flash. If you can't squeeze a light stand in a space, I guarantee you can squeeze an assistant in there.
(2) You need someone to manage people outside of the photo: Especially important at weddings. At weddings my assistants know to not allow people behind me to pull out point and shoot cameras and snap away at the same time. Any time there are people present outside of your model these people can become distracting. My assistants do a great job managing these outside distractions. And with groups someone always wanders off. My assistants know to keep track of key people and if someone is missing, they run them down while I make sure everyone else stays put.
(3) The Details: My assistants do a great job looking at the small things in the picture, the details I may forget to look at. When I'm composing a shot I am focused on the lighting and overall image, and my assistants watch for the small things: the hands, feet, clothing out of place, etc. Most of the time these things are handled with the overall image, but that one or two times during a photoshoot when I overlook something my assistants help keep an eye on the details.
(4) An assistant of the opposite sex will see things you won't: Seriously. I like my assistants to be female because they notice things I am not programmed to notice. As a man, I am not programmed to notice hair out of place, or a dress slightly out of place, or unattractive shoes that need to be hidden, and all of the other fashion and hair faux pa's that are so common. I only notice the major no-no's like the fanny pack or the socks with Tevas, and the occasional pair of Crocs. The same goes for female photographers - a male assistant will be a great help making sure your male models appear masculine and strong.
(5) The invaluable role of a second person: Having a second person on your side can be invaluable, whether it is an awkward social situation where you need your assistant to distract and divert the weird uncle, or if you need your assistant to help calm down a bridezilla situation, or when you forget something (and at some point you will forget something) your assistant plays a major role in filling in the gaps you could not possibly handle on your own. Even if you just have your assistant carry your equipment around, this saves you the time and energy and allows you to focus more on composing your shot and dialing in your lighting.