Want To Be A Photographer’s Assistant?; Here’s How To Get Started

All of the photography business owners I spoke with emphasized that they need good assistants as much as the assistants need them. They mentioned two things above all: do good follow-up when looking for work and, when you get a job, stay focused on the shoot. Another common concern was the lack of marketing information for the photo assistant trying to find work with a photographer. Hopefully, this column will give you lots of good ideas to do just that!

© 2010, Heather Halstead, All Rights Reserved

© 2010, Mark Greenberg, All Rights Reserved

Shutterbug: What marketing tactics seemed to work best for you when looking for work as a photo assistant?

© 2010, Linares Photography, All Rights Reserved

© 2010, James Linares, All Rights Reserved

Heather Halstead (www.choiceperspectives.com): I found that good old-fashioned snail mail and telephone calls worked best for me, along with networking at ASMP and PPA functions. I took my list of photographers and sent each of them a letter introducing myself and briefly outlining my experience (which was pretty sparse in the beginning) and telling them that I would call them in roughly a week to discuss what their needs might be and how I could help meet those needs as an assistant. Everyone I spoke with was really great, even if they had no need for an assistant. I had my first real assisting job a week after making those phone calls.

Marina Linares (www.linaresphotography.com): Networking is the number one way. It’s face-to-face contact. It’s a great way to see if personalities are compatible. Once you are in a network, you will find that there is always someone who needs help with a job.

© 2010, Josh Elliott, All Rights Reserved

© 2010, Andy Batt, All Rights Reserved

Marc Altman (www.marcaltman.com): Although the slowdown in the industry has definitely affected assisting jobs, a mixture of e-mails and phone calls has seemed to be the most successful strategy for me. I typically start with an e-mail to the photographer or their studio manager which summarizes my skills and experience and explains why I’d like to start working with that photographer in particular. I try to be as specific as possible to avoid making it appear like a mass e-mail.

The key is to maintain a strategy of “polite persistence.”

I keep a spreadsheet of my communication attempts to make sure that I don’t become redundant or a pest. I also sometimes put reminders on my calendar a month or so ahead so that I don’t forget to follow up. With the market as it is, I’ve often gone through six or nine months of regular follow-up with a new photographer before we work together for the first time.

Once I’ve established a relationship with a photographer and/or their studio manager, I generally feel comfortable using Facebook and Twitter to keep a regular flow of more casual communication. Again, I keep in mind that everyone is busy so I try to limit it to relevant points/questions. I value the photographers I’ve worked with as fantastic resources, both for information about how to progress through my career and also for referrals, so I try to cultivate a positive, rewarding relationship.

© 2010, Jenny McQueen, All Rights Reserved

Josh Elliott (www.joshuajayelliott.com): E-mailing has worked well for me. Often you can set up an initial meeting via e-mail. It may take months of e-mailing, or it could be a “why don’t you stop by the studio later this week” kind of thing. I usually follow up with e-mails. As long as you don’t send them too often, photographers want to be reminded you’re out there and available. I have on many occasions e-mailed someone and gotten an “are you available tomorrow?” reply, which actually makes me think I should be e-mailing more often. Keep it short: “Hey, how’s it going? I saw your work in Communication Arts, it looked good. If you need any assistants, let me know.”

© 2010, Christopher Winton-Stahle, All Rights Reserved

Jenny McQueen (website in progress): Personal interaction is a terrific marketing tool. Attend industry events, and always be sure to introduce yourself to photographers as an assistant. Be sure to promptly follow up on all your connections with a short e-mail—photographers are busy people, so keep it brief. Include your contact information and let them know that you’re interested in working for them.

When you do get hired for a shoot, be sure to do a great job and ask for referrals after the shoot. There is no better advertising than word of mouth!

© 2010, John R. Lewis, All Rights Reserved