7 Things to Help Establish Your Foundation as a Photo Assistant

Okay, here I am. Again. Back in sunny Los Angeles, ready once again to start writing up a storm on APhotoAssistant. Speaking of storms, right now I am watching an online webcam feed in Minneapolis on the U of M campus, where there are many students building snowmen and having snowball fights in the freshly fallen snow after the season’s first major snowstorm. It actually looks like they are having fun, but it is a cold reminder of why I travel to more temperate climes when winter rolls around. At least some people can tolerate the snow and cold. Well, I can tolerate it for the most part, since I lived there for most of my life. But, these days I just choose not to have to endure it for the five or six months that one is expected to deal with winter’s wrath in Minnesnowta.

Snow, anyway…

More and more these days, students and newbie photo assistants are asking me how to find work as a photo assistant. It’s usually along the lines of, “What am I doing wrong, because I just can’t find the assisting gigs I expected or want to do?” Or, it’s something like, “I’ve talked with so many photographers but, they all say they don’t have a lot of work right now, or that they already have a list of ten to fifteen assistants that they call when they have a shoot coming up. How will I ever get my foot in the door?”

The answer to these types of questions can be many, and usually a combination of reasons. But, the bottom line is that when you are starting out in the photo industry as a photo assistant, there is going to be a huge learning curve in just about everything you do. So, unless someone in your family, or a close friend is already established as a photographer or other creative in the industry, you will have a great deal of hard work in front of you to build your foundation as a photo assistant. The nice thing about this, though, is that once you’ve begun really digging in, you will build momentum and it will carry you through, and things will become easier and easier once you have really started to get your bearings.

I have taken a few moments to put the following list together to help assistants who have the gumption to put forth the effort that will help you establish your place in the pecking order of photo assisting with the photographers you want to work with. Bear in mind that there is no real secret formula to this process, only that if you do the footwork and approach every situation with common sense and a bit of creative resourcefulness and hard work, you can succeed and begin making progress.

Persistence – when you are beginning to call on photographers to introduce yourself to them, you must be persistent, but without being a pest. Sending an email every two to four weeks is probably a good time frame to work with. Mail promotional postcards to the studio with well produced images, graphics, and copy to help get you noticed even more. Yes, photographers still love print! Pick up the phone and call the studio, from time to time, stating your interest to meet with the photographer in the hopes of assisting them sometime in the near future. Find out if they have been receiving your emails and postcards. The goal is to stay in front of them and on their welcome mat, but never give them any reason to sweep you under the rug.

Attitude – always be positive with a can-do attitude! Be pleasant, calm, and maintain discretion when in the company of those you aspire to work with. You should maintain a professional demeanor at all times. Don’t be over-eager or talk too much. Be confident, honest, and always be teachable. Don’t ever think your way is the only way or the right way. Ultimately, your personality will match, or compliment, the photographer’s personality you wish to work with. Once you have worked with a few studios you will begin to know your place and what is appropriate in those relationships.

Hard Work – you will need to motivate yourself and work hard, keeping your goals in mind. You might spend hours upon hours researching photographers work on their websites. You will undoubtedly need to develop well thought out ways to market yourself with a website/blog, emails, postcards, portfolios, etc. You might have a regular day or night job and pull double-duty in order to get your feet under you, which will allow you to take the photography leap, full-time. Whatever your situation, stay focused, have fun, and make it happen.

Network – join, attend and get involved with your local APA and ASMP chapters. If there is not one close to you, find a camera club that will keep your creative juices flowing in ways other than just taking photos. Look for ways to be helpful and assist other photographers in the camera club. You could even start your own group like The Crew Group to share your time, resources, and gear with others to work on projects and build your portfolio. Get to know the sales and rental people at your local camera store and rental houses. Find online groups on Linkedin and other sites that provide resources and ideas that you can use. Participate in photo workshops and festivals as a volunteer to meet new photographers and expand your mojo. I still do this, and love it!

Continue Learning – always remain teachable. I like learning, but I also tend to be slow to change with changing times. Photography has taught me to be flexible and more open to adapting to new techniques and workflows. I find that by keeping my eyes and ears open, and my mouth shut, I can gain the trust of others and learn something from them. Research online for new gear, owners manuals, lighting set-ups, and tricks-of-the-trade. Take a lighting workshop or attend an Assistant Training Workshop.

Patience – is the follow-up to persistence. Allow the proper time for things to fall into place, especially when you are just starting out. When I had trouble getting assisting gigs at first, I took a full-time night job which allowed me the time to continue marketing and meeting photographers, little by little, until I could establish some good rapport with them. Everyone has their own pace. And, in our fast-paced world today, many opportunities are lost in the shuffle, or the right opportunities take longer to be discovered. Stay focused, and don’t be too discouraged when things don’t seem to happen quick enough.

Treat Photo Assisting as Your Business – because it is! When I started out I was pretty excited to be in business! I even started out using an assumed business name. But, as time wore on, I got lazy and a lot of administrative paperwork type stuff piled up on me. Thankfully, I got that worked out with help. Don’t be afraid to use a tax service or accountant. This will save you many headaches later on when you are too busy on set and don’t have the energy to stay on top of some of your administrative tasks. If you like doing this stuff yourself, go ahead and do it. But, remember to manage your time efficiently and balance your priorities. I try to schedule, hour-by-hour, my tasks when I am at my desk, so that I am at least making some progress on all the stuff that’s in the in box.

These are just some of the things that were going on, day-in and day-out, back when I started my photo assisting business. Of course, I still have to do a lot of this, even these days, but it’s second-nature to me, now. But, in the beginning, it can be a bit overwhelming and difficult to know if you are doing all the right things that will lead to getting some good work and starting to make an impression on the photography community. I remember always second-guessing myself and having doubts that would almost paralyze me. Then, I might have a good meeting with a photographer and get some work and things would be good. It can really be a roller-coaster ride, for sure!

The bottom-line is this: Be mindful of all these things, on a consistent basis, and show the photographers you want to work with that you are the real deal and deserve the opportunity you are asking for. Do your best to set your self up to get noticed. There’s a lot of competition, so you better suit up and show up. Otherwise, all your hard work and persistence is for nothing.

So, ask yourself… What would you have to do to walk into a studio for an interview and see one of your postcard mailers on the fridge?


PDN and PDN Online Photo Assistants Survey

PDN and PDNOnline are conducting a survey of photo assistants: what they earn, what skills are in demand, how they find work, what skills they would like to learn.  PDN’s editors want your input if you have assisted in the past 18 months.  The survey results will be published on PDNOnline in March.

It’s a totally anonymous survey, and takes about 10 minutes to fill out. Here’s the link.

After taking the survey, respondents have the option to enter a prize drawing to win a $100 gift certificate to a mail order photo retailer. To enter the drawing, survey participants can provide an e-mail address on a separate Web page that guarantees the confidentiality and anonymity of their responses to the survey. (In other words, survey responses go anonymously to one server, while e-mail addresses are collected on another server.)

PDN thanks you for helping us-and your fellow professionals-by participating in this important assessment.

A Photographic Benefit for the Survivors of the Haiti Earthquake

From MagCloud:

Several photographers including the iconic photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark, have donated the use of one or more of their works to help create this issue as a fund-raising photography magazine to benefit Haiti. The title Haiti: One Respe comes from a traditional Haitian greeting meaning “honor and respect.” See the article at OneMag.

How To Email Photographers To Get Assisting Work

Email Campaign example

Email Campaign example

This is the second installment of the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series.

Now that we have some photographers that we want to contact, we can start thinking about HOW we want to get in touch with them. There are many ways to do this, of course–phone calls, snail mail, knocking on doors, working at rental and camera stores–but I have found that sending an email is the best ice-breaker.

There are basically three important reasons to start seeking photo assisting gigs with email.

First, by sending an email, you are introducing yourself to the photographers you are trying to get to know. You are showing some initiative to the photographer that you are interested in working for them in a way that the photographer can handle with their schedule. It’s easy for them to read your email whenever they have time. Photographers are usually very busy, and some may find it distracting when, assistant after assistant, is calling on the phone or knocking on the door without an appointment. Obviously, this won’t help you. I find that an email gives the proper amount of “urgent discretion” that most photographers find agreeable. Also, once you’ve established some rapport with a photographer or studio, by continuing to send occasional emails helps you to stay on their radar. Many times, it’s the most recent assistant who has contacted a photographer who gets the job.

Second, is that it gives you total freedom to express yourself. You have total control over what you send, who you send it to, and when you send it. You can send out the same layout to zillions of photographers, or just a few. You might customize your template for a few special photographers you really want to focus on. You can attach a few shots of recent work. You can link to your blog and your website. You can just send out a letter with a resume. It doesn’t matter, just do it, but do it well. I started out just sending text emails, illustrating my skills and experience in a sort of advertorial. Then I started adding some images. Now, I use a program called Email Campaign, which allows me to create an HTML page with color and image and text options.

The third reason email is so appealing is that it’s basically free! If your ISP limits the amount of outgoing messages you can send each day, just send out 20 less per day than your limit, and send out all your bulk email over the course of a week or so. Otherwise, you can pay an inexpensive monthly fee ($2 or so) to increase your daily outgoing limits. The purchase of Email Campaign, or other software, will help you in designing and managing your emails, and is just a one time purchase (about $50-100). Or, you might use an email marketing service like Constant Contact or MailChimp, which will also incur some expense, but at least you won’t be licking or sticking postage stamps! The point is, that, sending emails can be free, or at least very inexpensive, and give you ultimate control.

As I began accumulating photographers in my address book, I would send out a simple text email to five studios at a time. My email was essentially a mini bio, highlighting some of my skills and background. Resume writing skills come in handy here, as you want to make yourself shine and be the star that will really help the photographer. Be honest, positive, and resourceful. Make your message unique and stand out from all the other emails that will also be in the photographer’s in-basket. Keep it simple, easy to read, and to the point. Give the photographer or studio manager a call-to-action. You want them to call you and find out more about you and have you come in for an interview and then hire you! Make it happen with an awesome email that will illustrate your character, skills, and passion for photography.

Add a photo of your own work into your email. It doesn’t have to be anything pertaining to working as an assistant, but it could be a shot of you working on-set or on-location somewhere. A shot of your own best work, which shows your own abilities as a shooter is great. It shows the photographer that you are serious, knowledgeable, and able-bodied. These days, I am creating assignments for myself, which work into a design or layout with a particular art direction or brand that I am creating for myself. Ultimately, this is what you will be doing as a shooter for your clients. So why not start practicing now? Look at the emails you get for ideas. Research what other photographers’ are using for their own publicity and marketing materials and try to emulate them with your own style and flair.

If you want to take this a step further, design an email campaign, which will encompass multiple emails over a period of time. A photographer does this to show a body of work on a particular subject matter, or previous ad campaign, to art buyers and ad agencies. You can choose a subject to explore photographically from different approaches, and incorporate a creative art direction using text, graphics, and color.

Send out your emails regularly–maybe every three to eight weeks. There is no right or wrong time-frame, but you ultimately want to stay on everyone’s radar without being like the kid in grade-school who is always raising his hand, squirming in his seat, and begging to be the one to get called on. Perhaps the best way to accomplish sending out your emails regularly is to make a schedule and stick to it. This will create a sense of urgency and help you keep creating new content for your emails.

Here’s a few other things to consider while creating your emails:

•    Use the words “photo assistant” in the subject line.
•    Personalize “Dear Photographer,” so that you insert the photographers first name into the greeting.
•    Illustrate at least one of your skill sets with an example of how you achieved a task or solved a problem.
•    Include links to your website or blog, and always include your phone number in your signature so it can be found easily. I have designed and built different text signatures, as well as graphical banners in Photoshop, then include them at the end of my emails. Many times I’ve gotten jobs because a photographer found my recent email with my phone number on it.

Keep in mind that sending an email to a photographer that you want to work with is just the beginning of the process. As the Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community series continues, we will look at more ways to begin, develop, and continue relationships with the great photographers we want to work with.

A Photo Assistant Gets MetaSmart


Last Friday night I attended an overview presentation about the use of metadata in digital files at MCAD, presented by David Reicks and made possible by the Stock Artists Alliance Photo Metadata Project, thanks to a Digital Preservation award from the Library of Congress. I had posted last spring about the getMetaSmart website and the upcoming presentations around the country. I was unaware that Minneapolis had been added to the tour, and found out last minute and decided to attend.
The meeting was informational, going into into uber-geek depth, much of which I was unable to absorb. No worries, everything is on the website at photometadata.org… videos, tutorials, and tons of articles. Make sure you check it out and get MetaSmart!

10 Ways to Attract Work and Stay Visible in the Photo Community

Hire Me!

A few weeks ago, Brian, a photo assistant in Minneapolis, emailed me and asked how I had been keeping so busy with work over the summer. He mentioned how slow things had been for him and how frustrated he was getting because the phone wasn’t ringing. He was besides himself, worried he was doing something wrong.

All I can really say, right off, is just hang in there. It probably has little to do with anything you’re doing. It could be something you’re NOT doing, but, I believe the biggest issue affecting Brian, and many of us in the photo industry these days, is the recession. It has definitely upset the scales, as far as supply and demand goes, so you just need to be patient, but stay disciplined and diligent in seeking work. You still have to go through the motions to let the photo gods know that you’re still available, willing, and able. Until there is more work, we all just have to weather the storm.

Now, I don’t know what Brian, or anyone else, is exactly doing to attract work. There are many things that a resourceful and proactive photo assistant can do to stay visible and communicate their availability. But, at the same time, if you’re just listing yourself on the ASMP and APA websites, and making a couple calls and sending a few emails, here and there, you can’t really expect everyone to be busting down your door with job offers… especially in a recession. At any rate, I figure this is a good opportunity to share with everyone some of my techniques for seeking work. They aren’t that revolutionary, but I do believe them to be tried-and-true. My methods are simple and require just a little creativity and resourcefulness. So, over the course of the next few weeks, I will share my thoughts, ideas, and techniques for attracting work for photo assisting, through a series of blog posts titled Attracting Work and Staying Visible in the Photo Community.

The following is an approximate list of topics I will cover in this series, so you can perhaps do a little pre-pro of your own. If you don’t see something you think I’ve omitted, and want to see covered, let me know in the comments.

Phone calls.
Online networking (Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, etc.).
ASMP, APA meetings, networking, and membership.
Flyers, post cards, and biz cards at professional camera stores and lighting rental stores.
Classifieds in PDN and workbook.com.
Online Forums — prophotoforums, ASMPproAdvice, APAnet, APAdigital.
More online resources like Photocrew.com, 1ProPhoto.com.
Even more online resources such as Craigslist, OMP, model mayhem (to find models for trade, stay active shooting, keep visible).

As the Attracting Work series unravels, you will begin to understand how every action supports all the other actions, creating a sort of a universal magnet. If you work just a little bit of each technique into your daily or weekly routine, over time you will expose yourself to many photographers, studio managers, producers, and other industry professionals which will eventually lead to more work.

Until then, happy shooting!

How to Find Opportunities to Shoot


Last week, I was at a local coffee shop meeting with a friend who I had done some head shots for. We were doing a little editing on the fly and talking about how to make our picks–what to look for, what to throw away, etc. The morning barista was closing out her till and asked us what we were doing. After I explained to her about the head shot session I had done with my friend and now his interest in hoping to use a few of the photos to assist him in his job search, she offered some feedback, and a dialogue opened up between the three of us. Turns out she is a theatrical costume designer.

After our little meeting of the minds, Megan, the costume designer, asked me what I shoot. I always struggle with this question because it means it could lead to some work, but answer it wrong, and maybe I’ll blow it… who knows. My shooting tends to be of the generalist variety, but I always like photographing and working with people, no matter what the application, and this is usually my response. I have found it allows me to find out more about what the person is looking for, and then let me adapt my answer to hopefully fit their needs. Turns out that Megan was just looking to get some on-stage (theatrical) production shots of her costume designs, so naturally, I could accommodate her needs. She informed me that there might be some other photographers there to shoot also, and that she couldn’t pay for my services, which is fine, at this stage of the negotiation. She was just looking to get some telling shots showing her designs at work. The hope here is that this little shoot will lead to bigger and better things. Bear in mind that I will retain the copyright on all images and any further usage will still be negotiated. Perhaps the production company, director, or the play-house will see something they like and approach me for other work or want to purchase rights to an image I shot.

The point here is that you must always be on the lookout for shooting work, either paid or unpaid, and whether or not you’re still assisting. Continually developing your skills and developing your portfolio as a photographer is a must. Always keep your eyes sharp and your ears peeled! Networking opportunities are everywhere, even when you least expect it.

A Photo Assistant’s Work Ethic

You’ve been working your ass off for what seems like weeks and weeks on end. You can’t remember your last day off. It’s been non-stop since you can’t remember when. And now, you finally have a few days off!

What to do, what to do…?

If you’re a photo assistant, there will come days, inevitably, when you’re not working on set. Yee-haw… you have a day or two off! Maybe you’re booked three or four days next week and you just want some time to chill, hang-out, and relax… great. But what if there’s no other work scheduled after next week? Awww… no worries, someone will call. But wait, what if they don’t?

The ebb-and-flow of the photo biz is unpredictable, at best. There’s times when the work is flowing in, and other times when you wonder if you forgot to pay your cell phone bill. So… yes, here it comes… don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today!

So you have a couple days off. What Should I do? You want to enjoy some time off to decompress, yet, you know you should probably take care of some business stuff while you have some time that you can focus on it. Where do I start?

The trick here is to prioritize, based on your goals. If you’re new to assisting, you probably want to focus on gaining knowledge on-set. You should probably be reading some books like The Photographer’s Assistant, by John Kieffer or The Photographer’s Assistant Handbook, by Matt Proulx. Or finding some blogs and websites that can help educate yourself to be more comfortable on set.

If you’ve been assisting for awhile, you might need to do some shooting for your portfolio. Then you need to send off some invoices and work on your website. Maybe you’ve been putting off the design and layout for a new email campaign.

And no matter what your experience, you should always be looking for ways to network and market yourself, whether as an assistant or photographer, so that work will continue to roll in and there will be less down time. And this is the trick… always keep marketing, whether you think you’re busy or not. Once you are used to it, you can easily pick away at those daily marketing tasks, sending out a few emails and mailers here and there, and always have more work to choose from.

I set small, achievable goals. One thing I do consistently, is add at least three new photographers, or other contacts, to my database each day. I can easily get online and search for any photographer in a particular city, research their website and work for a few minutes, and add their contact info to my address program. That way, I have an always growing email list to send my emails and newsletters out when I’m ready.

The bottom line is to always be searching for ways to progress your business in small, daily chunks. Determine your short term and long term goals, and break them down into daily item actions you can do every time you ask yourself… What to do, what to do?

Reverie, Behind The Scenes

In case you missed the debut video made by Vincent Laforet and crew on the Canon 5D M2 (shame on you!), that’s just too bad. The demand for downloads has caused Vincent and Canon to locate a new server to handle the traffic. But, for now, I found something even better… the behind the scenes footage…

You can also hear a podcast interview with Vincent Laforet about the project here.

Senate Passes Orphan Works Act of 2008

Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008 – Limits the remedies in a civil action brought for infringement of copyright in an orphan work, notwithstanding specified provisions and subject to exceptions, if the infringer meets certain requirements, including proving that: (1) the infringer performed and documented a reasonably diligent search in good faith to locate and identify the copyright owner before using the work, but was unable to locate and identify the owner; and (2) the infringing use of the work provided attribution to the owner of the copyright, if known.
Limits monetary compensation to reasonable compensation for the use of the infringed work. Prohibits such compensation if the infringer is a nonprofit educational institution, museum, library, or archive, or a public broadcasting entity and if the infringer proves that: (1) the infringement is performed without any commercial advantage and is primarily educational, religious, or charitable in nature;and (2) the infringer ceases the infringement expeditiously after receiving notice of the claim for infringement. Allows injunctive relief to prevent or restrain infringement, subject to exception and limitation.
Directs the Register of Copyrights to: (1) undertake a process to certify that databases are available that facilitate searching for pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works protected by copyright; (2) report to the House and Senate judiciary committees on the implementation and effects of certain amendments made by this Act, including any recommendations for legislative changes; and (3) report to those committees on remedies for copyright infringement claims by an individual copyright owner or a related group of copyright owners seeking small amounts of monetary relief.
Directs the Comptroller General to report to such committees on the function of the deposit requirement in the copyright registration system.

See all the reports on this bill here.

Get involved! Email your representative here.