Find and Build Your Photographer’s Contact List

Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community

Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community

This is part 0.5 of 10 in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series

To start things off in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series, I thought we should jump right in with the one of the easiest, cheapest, and most useful tools available to us. Email! But then, it occurs to me, that before we can send any email, we have to have photographers to send our email to. So I will start with a little background for finding photographers that you want to work with, and then how you might want to build them into your contact list.

Okay, we need to assemble our contacts. Sounds easy, right? Hmmmmm…. we’ll see.

My sources are numerous… ASMP and APA memberships (online listings),, PDN PhotoServe, forums like ASMPproAdvice and APAnet, magazines, books, and even just plain old Google search (unfortunately, I haven’t found any photographer lists that I can just purchase, yet). The trick is just to stay mindful and aware. You can find photographers everywhere. When I go to the bookstore, I always write down five, or so, photographers that I find from magazines or books to look up on the internet when I get home. I also subscribe to a lot of podcasts and listen for guest photographers, who are interviewed, or their names get dropped by the show hosts.

I assemble my database with Mac Address Book. I can customize, export, and import with a few mouse clicks. It integrates with Mac Mail and other software. No brainer, guys. Use whatever you like, but keep it simple and as painless as possible for yourself. Think workflow, just like concept –> pre-pro/lay-out –> production/design –> post –> delivery.

I will usually work at least one day a week, when I spend at least a morning or afternoon exclusively on building my contacts list. If you’re just starting out, you may have to work many days like this, but unless you’re at the studio, what else are you gonna do? It’s easy to get burned out doing the database work, so make sure you get fresh air and exercise. When I first started this process, I would spend hours at a coffee shop searching, perusing websites, entering data, back and forth between applications, yada, yada, yada. Working at the coffee shop, though was nice because there were other distractions when I needed it, like the bookstore next door, restaurants, people-watching, etc. Many times, I’d ask someone to watch my stuff and just go for a brisk walk.

Basically I sit down at the computer, open (for example), determine a geographic area, hit search, and start at the top of the results list. By entering more specialty search criteria like advertising, lifestyle, fashion, or corporate, I will get back results from photographers who list these specialties in their profile. I can do this, if I only want to work on fashion shoots or only with product photographers, but I find this very limiting. Sometimes, I will use this feature if I’m looking for someone specifically, but don’t know their name and hope to come across an image I’ve seen. But, I want to see a photographers images and website for myself, rather than letting some assigned label (error-prone) and some SEO algorithm filter out whether or not I will add them to my contact list. I make my living as an assistant, so I want expose myself as much as humanly possible, and attract lots of work. I can pick and choose later, if necessary. But, maybe you won’t want to work with every type of photographer… your call. Anyway, many photographers are specializing less and generalizing more these days. I find a general search works well for me.

Back at my search results, I will confirm a photographer’s web presence and their work by visiting their website directly. Sometimes, I will research a photographer’s images and blog at this point, but normally just enough to remind myself that I need to come back and study in greater detail later (we need to focus on amassing the contacts right now). If the website is old school, or just has nature/travel shots, I usually move on to the next… what we’re looking for are high-end, cutting-edge advertising photographers that are keeping busy, have images we dig, and will hire assistants. Use your own discretion here, but I’ve learned from experience which photographers might kick-back a MAILER-DAEMON ERROR from my email, just because the website is so outdated and the photographer is perhaps not even in business anymore. On the other hand, some commercial advertising photographers are shooting weddings too, especially these days, so make sure you’re not passing up these photographers who have diversified. I used to not list wedding shooters in my database because I didn’t want to work weekends, but many times wedding shooters get requests for other work that they will either hire me to assist, or often times re-direct the job to me, depending on my relationship with the photographer. I will work an occasional wedding too, at my discretion. Hey, variety is the spice of life! The bottom line is that work can come from anywhere and any type of photographer. Just do every little bit you can to keep your foot in the door.

When I find a keeper, I enter the photographer’s name, phone, email, website url, address, and other studio staff (manager, other shooters, assistant). I will also enter the type of photography they generally shoot, in the notes, as a guide. I like to get ALL this info entered, because when the photographer calls to book me for the first time, and I can confirm their address and other info because its all right in front of me, I’ve just scored some bonus points… they know that I’m on the ball! THIS is what they are looking for! I also keep basic notes and other pertinent info in the file. It’s all right there, in one place. Keep it simple! NOTE: Back-up your database files at least once a week!

That’s really all there is to it. It will take some thought, and trial and error to find a system that you can develop and work on from day-to-day. You will learn what does and doesn’t work for you. You will find new resources and ways of entering your data. And, it will take some time to amass a body of photographers in your database. I still work at it a little bit, everyday. It takes discipline. But this discipline will teach patience and good habits. Doing just a little bit each day will add to the database, more and more. Before too long, you’ll see your list and go, “Whoa, cool!” Also, by working on it this way, the editing and updating will be easier to digest. You will become familiar with the photographers who use and don’t use assistants regularly. Their contact info might change and studio personnel come-and-go. Sometimes the photographers even disappear. You will get to know your contact list well if you work on it a little bit each day, or each week.

Next in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series, we will look at designing a simple email that we can send out to the photographers in our list.


  1. says

    Hey Tim,

    Great resource you’ve created here! I found it at just the write time as I’m sending out emails offering my assistance to photographers whose work I love. I’m looking forward to the rest of your Attracting Work series. Thanks for sharing! :)


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