ASSISTING A PHOTOGRAPHER
For many young photographers in the industry one of the best ways to get experience, industry insight and grow professionally is to assist an established photographer.
However, while it is a sought-after opportunity, not many know what it actually entails and how to apply to increase your chances of being considered.
Below are a few pointers I have compiled that provide clarification on this hot topic:
IS PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTSHIP A PAID JOB?
YES. Assistant is always a paid position when it comes to photography.
If photographer is not paying you- they are taking advantage of you.
Responsibilities of assistant are similar to either part-time or full-time job, so there is no excuse to not pay assistant, no matter how big or sought-after a photographer.
Assistant is also more permanent position, in comparison to interns, for example.
Here, I want to specify that internships and their descriptions can vary, based on the industry. In many cases interns have equal and bigger load of work than the permanent stuff, so they need to be paid as well.
* My specific program, is an educational internship, where the key work load is handled by my assistant and interns are there to learn, get specialized trainings and individual mentorship from me, hence the internship in this case is different from assistantship.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DOES PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT USUALLY HAVE?
Areas of responsibilities can include the following:
– Setting up the equipment during the shoot.
A good assistant needs to be familiar with equipment, fast and careful with handling it as well as know photographer’s preferences. They need to know photographer’s equipment in and out as well as able to make minor judgement calls in terms of setting it up.
At the same time, a good photographer needs to be able to explain what they require.
– Handling logistics for the shoot
Arranging transportation, shoot amenities and food, when required and when it is not client who provides it.
– Handling vendors
Communicating with various vendors, such as studios, prop vendors, light and logistics vendors etc
– Support in client communication- while the photographers are primarily dealing with clients, assistants need to be professional in any client communication that may occur and can handle some set up matters directly with client’s team if requested by photographer
– Able to support the shoot in terms of pointing out any issues, overlooked by photographer when they are busy in process of the shoot.
I heard many instances of photographers taking advantage of their assistants and giving them completely unrelated to photography tasks, such as picking up laundry or cleaning their house. THIS IS EXPLOITATION and should never be considered as part of the job.
Photographer assistants assist in photography. They are not personal assistants and should not be given personal assistant’s tasks if they are not additionally paid for it and if it is not agreed upon.
It can be easy to take advantage of inexperienced beginners, but it’s unethical and unprofessional.
Of course, with fear of losing your position, it can be hard to say no to such requests, but I strongly suggest that you think of whether it is worth it to keep wasting your time and energy that you could spend gaining the actual photography related experience on assisting someone who makes you do their chores.
WHAT SKILL SET DO ASSISTANTS REQUIRE?
– Knowledge of equipment in and out
– Ability to think on the feet and analyse the situation
– Good communication skills
– Hard work
– They need to be fast-learners, able to understand the gaps in their knowledge and deal with these gaps fast
– One very important quality for an assistant is knowing the work habits and personality of photographer they are assisting. If the rapport between photographer and assistant is good, many times assistants get the basics ready before they are told to.
HOW CAN I APPLY TO ASSIST A PHOTOGRAPHER?
I keep getting assistant and internship requests on a regular basis.
They come from people with different backgrounds, experience, education and photographic style.
But most of them feature very consistent issues that highlight lack of understanding of how to write a compelling application for such positions.
For photographers who get bombarded with assistantship requests, first impression via email can make a big difference.
Even if we don’t have any opening in the team at the moment, a well-thought-out application that looks professional and interesting will make us think of you later when position opens.
Below are the most common mistakes among photographers while applying over email and my recommendations on how to apply.
1. PERSONAL approach!
Application that is clearly created to be sent out in bulk is not the way to go.
If you won’t add even a few lines that are specifically focused on a particular position under a particular photographer- it is always noticeable right away.
Generic applications never work, especially if you are applying to a position under an individual, not a company.
Though, even companies nowadays prefer to read customized application over generic.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
Respected sir/ma’am (using both already implies that it is a mass-sent email)
My name is X. I am X student of X Institute, majoring in Photography and Videography, and will complete my degree in 2020. As a part of our course curriculum I need to undergo a graduation project program.
I am writing to express my interest in doing my Graduation Project with your esteemed organization. I feel that your company places prominence in similar areas and I would be honoured to contribute to your continued success this summer. (clearly an email intended for a company)
WHAT TO DO:
” I am applying for the position of assistant photographer in your respected team as I believe that I can learn a lot from *mention specific style of photographer*
2. Clear Subject line. DO NOT send an email without a subject line. Keep the Subject clear and concise.
3. Clear description of why you are emailing in the body of email. DO NOT send just portfolio and links on your work without specifying why you are emailing and what is it that you wish to request.
4. PROOFREAD and check who you are emailing to.
Do a bit of research.
When I get emails that begin with “Hello Sir,” the only two options that come to my mind is- the applicant have not even read their email before sending, just copy-pasted a previously used one or didn’t even check who the photographer is.
Instead of Sir/Mam you can use Mr. for males. Ms. for females.
If a person you are emailing to identifies as gender-neutral, you need to use gender-neutral honorific “Mx.”
Do not use emails written as corporate application while applying to work under photographer.
Neither of these make an applicant look good. Both are equally disrespectful and incompetent. It gives perception of applicant being either too lazy or too hasty, neither of which work in your favour.
Thoroughness needs to be visible in what you write. If you can’t spend extra 2 minutes on reading your email before sending it- why should anyone consider you for a position at all?
WHAT NOT TO DO:
“Hello Sir, (if photographer is a woman this is the moment she will stop reading. If you want to address respectfully add a name to Sir/Mam as well)
“This position is perfect because I have both knowledge and interest in film, photography and media. Having experience in media and business management will be an additional advantage. I am ready to take my first step in the media world.(this has lesser relevance to photographer in terms of your skill-set and feels misplaced and misdirected) This platform will allow me grow and become an asset to the company. I am prepared to excel in providing services to your company.”
( Photographer is not a company – this kind of email looks like it has been copy-pasted from another application, especially combined with the word services)
WHAT TO DO:
Respected Mr./Ms./Mx X (name here). Firstly I would like to thank you for taking out the time to read this mail.
To give you a little background, my name is X, I am X years old and am from X. Absolutely passionate about Photography, Fashion & Creative Direction in specific.(mentioning relevant to particular photographer areas means you are looking at assisting them specifically, instead of just randomly emailing to anyone) It would be a great privilege to assist and learn from x. I would sincerely dedicate all my time and effort to assisting her/him/them.
5. Attach brief portfolio with your best work, instead of sending the link.
When sending a “cold” email (cold email means reaching out to someone who you have never spoken to and have no personal contact with)- you want to ensure that you make it clear and convenient for a person to see.
Going on links is additional effort that you are asking from a person, so instead make it easier and attach at least a brief porfolio with your work.
You can attach links as an addition to this portfolio, specifying “more work can be viewed here”.
Do not use google drive or any other links that may require registration or any specialized app to use.
6. Do not use emotional manipulation in your application. Write it professionally.
Avoid phrases like “I am begging you to give me one shot”, ” Please give me one chance” and the like.
Such tone of emails won’t work in your favour and will produce the impression that you lack the skill and that is why you resort to manipulation.
7. Be persistent, but respectful of person’s space. Meaning, do not keep sending emails every month, requesting the same opportunity.
In most cases, your email have been seen and if it was considered fitting – once the position opens photographer will reach out to you.
You can send your updated application with new, most recent work once in 6 or 9 months if you are set on assisting a specific photographer.