OK – so you’ve decided you want to be a photographer. And you’ve also rightly decided that the best way to do this is to get work as an assistant first. How do you do it? Here are a few ideas… Bear in mind though that the best ideas will be your own!
1) Be persistent. Finding assisting work isn’t going to be easy. But there are jobs out there, and you’ll eventually find you’re in the right place at the right time, so don’t get too despondent if you get knocked back a few times.
2) Use social media. Look for Facebook groups (such as the Photoassist Facebook group) that are aimed at assistants and assisting. Also, make sure you follow photographers’ Twitter feeds as they will sometimes put out requests for assistants. Likewise with existing assistants – they will often already be following photographers and will re-tweet their tweets. Hashtags such as #photoassistant and #assistantphotographer are also worth following. We also flag up assisting opportunities when we see them on our own Twitter feed, so whatever you do, make sure you’re following @Photoassist.
3) Try getting a part time job in a professional photographic retailer or equipment hire company (e.g. Calumet, Direct Photographic, Fixation etc…) where you’re likely to meet photographers. Don’t be afraid to talk to them & let them know you’re looking for assisting work.
4) Consider looking for jobs in a commercial hire studio as a studio assistant (such as Holborn Studios). This can be very hard work, but there will be different photographers coming in and out the whole time & you’ll have a good opportunity to make contacts. Again, keep your ear to the ground for any assisting work coming up, talk to assistants that come along to shoots
5) Use any contacts possible. Don’t let yourself be in the position in 6 months time wishing you’d got round to speaking to your cousin’s boyfriend’s photographer flatmate before he moved out. Your best bet for finding work is through personal connections. If you have any sort of introduction to anyone who’s connected with photography, you should talk to them – you’ve got nothing to lose and as is often the case, you’ll probably find work where you least expect it.
6) Hang around places where photographers go – exhibition opening nights, seminars, workshops, association offices, photographic closing down sales, studio open days…. And talk to people (obviously without being a pest). Make sure you have a card handy with your name and phone number on and ‘photographic assistant’ or ‘photo assistant’ or just ‘assistant’. Do not give a card with ‘photographer’ on it to someone you’re hoping will give you a job as an assistant. Why would a photographer want to employ another photographer? They’d only worry they would be judging their work and pinching their ideas.
7) If possible, get to know other assistants. If they’re any good, they will be working for a number of photographers (assuming they’re freelance and not full-time). Inevitably, they’re not going to be able to do all the jobs they get offered & when this happens, the photographer will sometimes ask for a recommendation. Even if you’re starting out, if it’s a low-key job & you appear keen this could provide your way in.
8) Consult directories such as Contact or websites listing photographers (The Association of Photographers is a great starting point), and decide whose work you like. There are so many photographers around that your best bet is to narrow down the list to photographers whose shoes you’d like to be in one day, and go for a personal approach. Flattery will get you everywhere, so whether you phone them, email them, or write to them, make sure you tell them you like their work and make it clear you’re writing to them individually. Nothing will guarantee your letter of introduction ends up in the bin faster than one that starts ‘dear sir/madam’. If you don’t hear anything, follow it up in a few weeks time with a phone call. Try to get an appointment with them – a face to face meeting will make you far more memorable and might even make them feel guilty if they don’t try you out one day…
9) Get involved and immersed in photography as much as possible. Join associations and professional photographic bodies.
The Association of Photographers in London do a regular careers talk for aspiring assistants, plus they have their own assistants list for assistant members. See their website at http://www.the-aop.org.
And remember – be persistent!
Article on assisting from The Guardian : http://careers.theguardian.com/how-to-become-photographers-assistant?commentpage=1
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