Photo Assistants: Follow-Up With Photographers Via Phone

Following-up with a photographer after sending an email goes a long way in building good working relationships.

This is part three in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series.

A few days after sending out our emails, we will want to follow up with some of the photographers on our list–especially the ones we really want to work with. All we are really trying to do here is to make another form of contact with the photographers that are at the top of our list, to let them know that we are very interested in working with them. These days, photographers are getting many emails from assistants seeking work. By following up with a phone call, you will make another impression on them.

Before we start making any calls, however, let’s take a few minutes and think about what we will say when the photographer or studio manager answers the phone. Determine how you will introduce yourself. What skills of yours will you talk about? What questions will you ask the photographer? What if I get voice mail? These are a few things you need to consider. When I first started making these sort of warm calls, I was almost paralyzed by fear, not knowing what to expect or how to handle myself. I searched for a solution, and I decided it might be helpful to develop a call script. This was something I was a bit familiar with from a previous job working in telemarketing sales. Have a look at the first (and only) call script I made for myself. If you’re totally green, at least it will give you a starting point. Modify it to your own needs.

But, the truth of the matter is, you won’t know exactly what to expect until you’ve had a few conversations with different photographers and studio managers. With a little practice this will get easier. But do your homework first. If you are unprepared, the photographer on the other end of the line will know it, and this won’t exactly help you get a gig working with them. Also, if you are just starting out, I would suggest you make your first calls to photographers that are not on the top of your list, until you get a feel for how you will handle the conversation. Another good idea is to practice with a friend–maybe you know someone who has worked in a call center or done telemarketing and phone sales. Don’t go overboard here and start worrying and becoming fearful, like I did. Just make sure you are on solid ground before you really start in on this process.

Before I call, I make sure I review the photographer’s website a little bit, taking note of any biography info that catches my interest. I also find a few recognizable images they’ve shot, or an interesting tidbit that I can ask them about. It’s always good to do your homework and express your interest in the photographer and their work. Try not to force any of this into your conversation, but if the timing is appropriate, go for it.

If, when I make the call, I get voice mail, I almost never leave a message. At this point, it is much better to talk with someone directly. When I do get a photographer or studio manager on the line, I simply introduce myself and let them know that I had sent an email recently. I will usually pause here to give them an opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of the email, but if they can’t remember seeing it, I will simply mention that I had sent the email in hopes of learning of any opportunities to work with the photographer. This way, I cut to the chase and let them know right off what my intentions are by calling. This is necessary, because the photographer may be busy with a shoot at that very moment and really doesn’t have time to speak with you at length. If this is the case, they will usually say so. Just simply ask them if you can call back at a better time.

If they have a few minutes, I will usually just tell them a few things about myself and let them know that I am very interested in working with them. Right here, I will usually ask, point blank, if they use freelance assistants. This gives them an opportunity to respond, and then talk a little, and maybe ask you a question or two. You will have started an open dialogue. At this point, I usually just let the conversation go whichever way it flows. But, I will be mindful of making positive points about my work as a photo assistant and how I can help the photographer with their work. I don’t talk about how I want to learn the photographer’s business and the way he or she shoots. My job is to help the photographer look good, and I maintain that attitude throughout the conversation. But do ask them a thing or two about their work, something that lets them know that you are interested in their work, and about them personally, as a photographer. This will also spur further spontaneous shop-talk. This is very important. You express your interest, while at the same time making them to want to know more about you, and then have them invite you in for a face-to-face. This call to action is almost automatic, if you are honest and sincere. This is the purpose of our call–to get a meeting with the photographer.

To be able to look at a photographer’s online portfolio and read a short bio about them, and then let them know that we understand something about them is a huge rapport builder. We are visual story tellers. Start interpreting visual cues in real-word day-to-day interactions. Share your relation to these insights with everyone around you. This is a valuable tool as a photographer. I have found this to be extremely helpful in developing relationships with the people I work with.

Another important thing… be yourself. Don’t inflate yourself into someone you are not in hopes of getting a job. You will end up shooting yourself in the foot… guaranteed. Be honest about your experience and skills and background. You will gain countless experience and many photographers will give you every opportunity to learn. If you don’t have much experience assisting, tell the photographer you are eager, a good multi-tasker, quick-learner, and can work well as part of a team. Whatever fits for you, just be positive and in a position to be helpful.

If the photographer wants to meet you, ask them when it’s a good time for you to come by the studio. Confirm their address and any other contact info for your records. Ask them if you should bring your portfolio. Try to have a printed portfolio if you can–many photographers still like to see these books. Others will be okay with just looking at your website. Some may not care to see any of your work at all, but are more interested in your hands-on abilities and knowledge of equipment, software, and work ethic. At any rate, this is usually just a sit-down for both you and the photographer to get to know one another a little better, and see if your personalities are gelling. We will talk more about this interview process in a future article in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series, real soon.

If you follow some of the steps here, I’m certain you will get some interviews. Maybe you will even get booked right then and there! As I’ve said before, much of it has to do with timing and just gelling with the right people. Just having a short talk and letting the photographer know that you are available for them is really all you have to do right now. If nothing materializes with some of the top photographers on your list, don’t worry. You will continue to develop your relationship with them and the opportunity will come along with future correspondence.

In the next article in the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series,  we will talk about a simple website you can put together to show your portfolio, post your own bio, and using some other internet tools to help your visibility in the photo community.

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