No, But I Can Learn

i can learn

Do you know how to load a roll of film?
Work a light meter?
Edit slides on a light table?
Scan film?
Color correct scans?
Track a photo inventory?
Submit photos to clients?
Work with a stock agency?
Make prints?
Pack a camera bag?
Ship equipment?
Set up lights?
Scout a location?
Drive on the left side of the road?
Order food in French?
Clean a digital sensor?
Work in Photoshop?
Create a workflow?
Edit a Portfolio?
Build a creative brief?
Create a composite image?
Shoot from a helicopter?
Work 30 days straight (with a hangover)?
Use a prototype camera?
Shoot and edit video?
Manage a huge equipment inventory?
Develop filters for a photo app?
Layout a book?
Film a TV show?
Write a magazine article?
Build a community?
Hang an art installation?
Survive in Manhattan?
Film a Live broadcast?
Write a blog post?

I didn’t. When I started working in photography as Chase’s assistant, I was a blank slate. I like to think I still am. Many of these skills have become obsolete. Others did not even exist when I started. Knowing how to do everything is not the goal. Knowing that you can learn is everything.

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Clyde Etienne says:

Love that attitude!
It allows you to learn so much more!
Thanks for sharing.

“Order food in French?” ahah huge…I gotta see this!

Schy says:

Thank you for being willing to learn. I believe we are 80% closer to the right answer if we can ask the question.
Its been said even the smartest person only used 10% or their brain. Think how much more we don’t know and have left to discover.

rob bridge says:

Inspiring post! Thanks for sharing and being honest..

Maria says:

I loved this :), I’m currently in school for photography and I’m not that confident in my skills. It feels better having that reassurance of always being able to learn something or to improve.

great example of humility…thanks!

Jesse says:

One thing left off the list… did you know how to photograph! Remember, no one should strive to be the “best” assistant, and no photographer should strive to have the “best” assistant. That means you have forgot about what you are actually learning, to be a photographer. Too many assistants get caught in the world of assisting, and loose their aspiration of being the one behind the camera.

Jaime says:

Yep I agree. I have been an assistant in different trades and industries and I FINALLY got out of that trap. I can say though that being an assistant can teach you how to interact with clients, how to set up your own accounting books, how to select the people you want to work with, how to set your rates, what kinds of legal advice is actually needed from a lawyer, how to invoice, how NOT to manage your business, how NOT to treat your assistant, etc. Not to mention the the mentoring alone, which sometimes makes the rate at which you get paid less or more depending on your boss.

But uh, there comes a time when you notice you are starting to pissing your life away– always assisting others’ in their dreams and never your own. They probably have some kind of mythical Greek story for that.

I guess everyone is different. I am not saying this applies to Scott. I am saying that I agree with Jesse — some people get caught up in this whole assisting thing for whatever reason.

Always remember your own dreams.

graphy-d says:

it’s so,,,”me”, always believed that i can learn….

nonsence says:

the question is… how the heck did you get this job and what can I do to do something similar:-)) I can do many of the stuff you lested there;)

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Damon Cat says:

We all start somewhere, right? I don’t think anyone without a will to learn is going to make it far in any profession. Did Chase know how to do all these things when he started? Great post Scott!

Elle says:

I am not a photographer. In fact I have just got my first ‘real’ camera the Cannon Rebel 2Ti. I know nothing. I hardly know how to hold the darn thing. But “I Can Learn”. I love this. Despite the long list, it’s hugely encouraging! Thank you.

I did work in Jamaica in the August heat for 31 days with one day off in the middle. I got really bad jungle rot/monkey butt and got all but the pair of underwear I had on stolen. Yes someone stole my draws after sweating in the for 12 hours.

All the film, metering and everything else I learned on the go and now I got about 50 pairs of underwear no joke.

Work hard. Learn hard. Shoot well.

Adam White says:

Great post Scott. Yes some are obsolete but still good to know ow to perform them.

Dave says:

Dudes you are ROCKSTARS. Chase is the frontman and you Scott are the badass guitar player. Seriously, you have the respect and admiration of many including myself.

RobyFabro says:

We all have to learn at some stage, you wanna be lucky to have a good teacher!!

Andrea Basso says:

Right, of course!
But only if there is the possibility. Here in Italy isn’t so simple…


Rotter says:

Hi Scott – great post.
My question is about the images that head up this post – are you using your iPad as a photo editing tablet?
If so how have you hooked it up to your computer (Airdisplay?) and does it work well with aperture / photoshop?

thanks heaps!

Rotter, good question. That’s actually a Wacom tablet. I use it for the more complex retouching projects in Photoshop.

skipow says:

You rule!

Haha, i think beeing Chase’s assistant isn’t simple every day, but you’re having fun i guess.

Oscar says:

If only we all had a Chase Jarvis to assist and learn from, thus becoming generally and photographically proficient.

Skiddy says:

Good list but maybe Scott can learn to spell his name correctly? It states “Soctt” as the author of the post! ;)

Skiddy, great catch! I did me some book learning and figured out how to spell my name correctly. ;)

Skiddy says:

You’re welcome… See, you’re a fast learner! :)

A likeable and mesh-able personality, coupled to a fearless addiction to near lethal, self administered doses of education-under-fire is a tough combination to beat in any game.

Mike M says:

Are there any books or websites you can recommend to begin learning some of the stuff you listed?

Andy H says:

Yes done most of it’s called running my own business there is a few others you’ve missed as well LOL

Seriously though anyone who does not know AT LEAST half of that list needs to get there $!** together. Nice post Scott

naomi yamada says:

I really enjoy your posts. Always learn something or walk away with inspiration. Really put your ‘photo editing’ approach to use. Quick q if you can : I’m a a photog newbie using the equipment I have (pentax kx w/a 35mm ) to do interior lifestyle shots for designers, working out fine. But have a new gig for a landscape desginer (outdoors) – since you guys do only outdoor stuff – you have any tips? and I mean ANY? Little nervous about shooting outdoor nature for my first professional time. Thanks and look forward to learning more from you.


Happy to help. Maybe you can help me by refining your question a bit. The tricks to shooting outside vary immensely depending on the job and the environment in which you’re working. What type of shots are you trying to make, and in what sort of place and conditions will you be working?

Anonymous says:

Thanks for following up. Super appreciate it. I’ll be shooting the grounds she landscaped for Quicksilver, Inc Headquarters (huntingbeach, CA) – stuff she can use on her website and promo material. Hope this doesn’t sound cheezy, but shots that look: martha stewart-ey + travel leisure-ey with a bit of urban outfitters thrown in for edge. Hope that made you laugh. Thanks again!

naomi yamada says:

oops… sorry i forgot my info in the anonymous reply.. that was me


The biggest trick about shooting outdoor locations is that they change drastically with the changing of the natural light. To put it in an equation: composition + good light = a nice location shot. Your biggest ally is often a thorough scouting of the location. You don’t need the light to determine the best composition. Go there in the middle of the day in any old weather and line up some angles that you like. Far, medium, close. Then take those compositions and combine them with what you know about the natural elements. For instance, some angles will look way better in twilight with the lights from the building making a nice glow. Others will be best with a soft backlight at sunrise or sunset. From these combined pieces of information, make a plan to come back and shoot the great light early, late and perhaps after sunset. You’ll then know where to put your camera at each of these times and you’re all set up to make great pictures. Good luck!

naomi yamada says:

Scott, Gotcha! Going to do just that. You rock. Thank you….

Tony Roslund says:

Nice Scott. We’re looking for a new studio assistant right now, and that pretty much sums up our search. We don’t care if they already have the skills, as long as they have the aptitude. Congrats on your success, it sounds like working with CJ and the crew has been a gratifying experience.

LouWi says:

great post!

Bill Giles says:

Everyone starts out at this point, but the ones who get ahead take the initiative to start learning before they are asked.

Thank you guys for the constant encouragement.

Minotaur says:

Chase must have been a blank slate too, because I don’t know a single professional photographer that would hire a fulltime assistant with absolutely no experience.


I was not initially hired as a full time assistant. I started as a glorified sherpa on a single day shoot. My development and Chase’s investment in it was an organic process that only resulted in full time employment once I had made very clear that I was qualified with skills I had gained and the work ethic to continue to advance my contribution.

Pat V says:

Very simple and inspirational words for a current photo-art-school student.
Learn learn learn learn.

Robert says:

The more I learn the more I find to learn. At age 71 it seems that time moves faster and the list of things to learn grows even faster, Knowing that I can still learn gets me out of bed and moving so that I don’t miss too much.

Thanks for a thoughtful essay

j says:

wait….your not hiring?

Dylan says:

I agree with Raman’s post… How does one keep a perspective of “No, but I can learn.” while still getting the foot in the door? As Chase has said, those people who have “made it” will make it again. The people who have something to show, somewhere to point potential clients will get the job. If you only have promises and not proof then you just fall flat. But how does the balance with the idea of “No, but I can learn.”? I understand what you’re saying in this post but I’m just curious to hear about what you think on the two ideas clashing…

Thank you!

Dylan, thanks for your contribution. My advice is to work with what you have. If you want to be a race car driver, you don’t walk up to the owner of a Formula 1 team and tell them you can learn to drive one of their cars if they just give you the chance. You get a go kart, a 1982 honda civic, whatever you can and drive it till the wheels fall off. If you’re cut out for racing, you’ll have made your mark at that level. Time to level up. Over and over and over until you find yourself at the place you were aiming at in the first place.

There was a time when we weren’t doing world class work. There were nonetheless people willing to pay for what we had to offer. There are others like them right now. Hammer on doors until you find them.

Ben says:

So true, fantastic reminder not to get down but get out and keep learning.

Greg says:

Dude ‘You can do anything’ ! ….
(I get what your sayin though)

Greg, amazing clip. Good reminder to keep some legitimate criteria in mind when determining whether you’ve actually achieved the things you’ve undertaken.

Raman Singh says:

Thanks for this scott. eye opening… quick question if you dont mind answering. HOW do you get your foot though the door? with a mentality of ‘No but i can learn’… i 100% understand your message. BUT does that mean not many people will ask for experience; fact you cant do x,y and z. or the fact that your determined to learn on the job?

would love to hear your views.. thank you,


Each ‘how i got my foot in the door’ story is different. But they have a common element. That the person trying to get a break worked really f’ing hard before they did. If through traditional means it means doing well in school and putting together a kick ass resume and pitch to a potential employer. If through non traditional means, it means making enough of an impression through skills and hard work that people can’t help but want to work with you. I got here by working really hard as a skier on the other side of the lens before I ever picked up a camera. You’ll have your own lever.

Raman Singh says:


Thanks for the reply, thats answers alot of questions for me and hopefully for others..
Once again thanks for taking your time your time out to write this post, encourage each and everyone of us… oh and also replying

Mike M says:


Samuel says:

Yes! What a corker of a quote.

“Knowing how to do everything is not the goal. Knowing that you can learn is everything.”
– Scott

Love it. That’s a something i’ll always remember.

Thank you.

Brendan says:

Well put. I needed to read something like this today. thanks

sara says:

The dude I assisted for when I was in college was not kind. I was forced to have cocktails nightly and the hungover days were a necessary sedative. I cried to my mom once about how tough it was – she said, “just pretend he’s Annie L & soak it all up & when your ready, blaze your own trail”. Best momma advice ever. Soak it in regardless of the job title you hold today because there’s new stuff that’s happening tomorrow.

Shane says:

“Work 30 days straight (with a hangover)?”

LOL, was that a 1 day hangover, or a hangover every day for 30 days? If the latter, I want a job with you guys!

Just kidding :)

bradj says:

I’m guessing he meant 30 hours straight.

As to whether that suspected typo was contributed to by said hangover or not, I refuse to speculate…


theon says:

Great piece. Attitude (the right kind) is so important. As is keeping confidence as you try and convince people who are looking for those with skills in hand that you can learn!

Sam says:

Can I have a job then

scott says:

I think this is true of almost every field.

sweetandcoolval says:

Indeed. That’s what I like to say as well. I alternate it with “I don’t know how to do that, YET”.

Awesome post and the perfect attitude. A tip of my hat to you, sir.

warfrey says:

I couldn’t survive in Manhattan – there’s Starbucks on every corner but no decent coffee to be found…. Apart from that it’s a yes.

Ben says:

Great post. I’d love to read a followup post about HOW you learn. I have my ways, but I’d love to hear yours. I suspect it is very helpful to have a community of people you trust to ask. I mostly use google, which has some limitations.

you nailed it! “Knowing how to do everything is not the goal. Knowing that you can learn is everything.”

Ivonne says:

Well said my friend!

Carl Wagner says:

I realized while I was still in college that WHAT I was learning was not as important as that I was learning HOW TO LEARN.
I am a chemical engineer by degree and my outdoor pool is the extent that I use WHAT I learned these days.
However, I run the computer network for a $2.2 billion per year company today.
I graduated college before ARPNET was invented.

Bill Giles says:

That was exactly my experience. It was more important to learn where to go to find out something than it was to stuff your head with knowledge.

Cooper says:

A wonderful reminder. Thanks, Scott

Todd says:

I am just about to graduate from a commercial photography program. this is the best advice i’ve heared the whole time i’ve been in school.

Will Chase Jarvis gives me a job as assistant to the assistant?

Evan says:

No, he should give me that job.

Joe says:

Excellent post. Just as soon as I think I’m getting my learn on …


Matt Timmons says:

And thus is why everyone wants to be the photographer-, because with a list as long as that, the only thing left for the photographer to do is sit back in the hot tub and make the assistant to do it all!

In all seriousness though, I know many assistants in NY who work for the world’s top fashion photographers, and the most important criteria in becoming an assistant is knowing someone who’s already on the crew. After that, the only important thing is: how much beer can you drink, what’s your latest cool tattoo, and can you work 30 days straight without pissing anyone off.

Sajuliet says:

holy shit. I needed this.

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