How to Contact Photographers to Assist

After making a fantastic list of photographers you love, admire, and want to emulate,  what do you do? You contact them of course! Here is what I do, and it’s worked pretty well so far:

Get your resume together. If you’ve worked with a new photographer/equipment or received any additional training, update your resume to reflect the most recent work experience and ensure your contact information is correct. This is a simple, but when conducting any kind of marketing campaign (and you are, you are marketing yourself as an assistant) you want to make sure all your own contact information is accessible and accurate. There is nothing worse then sending out incorrect or inconsistent information.  If a potential customer can’t reach you, do not expect to get hired.

In the online world one does not know how/why/when a potential client will find you or on what platform, so make sure it’s all working together and don’t throw up roadblocks. Social media connections are helpful in building your own following, so don’t make it any more difficult than it needs to be for someone to contact you or see your work.  It just shows disorganization and a lack of respect for you potential client (photographer and art buyers alike).

Contact them directly. Email, phone call, etc. Your first contact should present your experience, reflect your work ethic, and express your personality. Generally speaking I include my resume, contact information, identify how I found them, and mention their work I’ve admired.  A phone call or hand written resume will stand out from the pack but nothing beats an email for allowing someone to contact you at their own pace. Email allows someone to keep you on file so if they are too busy with current jobs to respond to a phone call or voice message, then you haven’t missed an opportunity to contact the photographer.

If you decide against emailing as your first contact, be sure to follow up your phone call or letter with an email including your information and resume so that they have a digital reference to keep in their system.

The interview. When contacting a photographer suggest a meeting.  If you are contacting a photographer well ahead of time, they will want to meet you before hiring you, so why not suggest it yourself? This is a fantastic opportunity to present yourself and meet a potential client before being hired.  The interview is not always formal, and I tend to refer to it as photographer dating, which means I’ve had a lot of coffee.

Make no mistake, the meetup for coffee is still an interview and you should treat it as such. Be prepared to answer questions about your resume, work experience and even respond to situational questions like “If something was going wrong on set, what would you do and how would you inform me?”. Come prepared and make sure you know who the photographer is and what they do. To mistake someone else’s work for theirs during your interview shows a lack of attention to detail and will not leave a stellar impression, and you probably won’t get hired.

If you meet and there is mutual likability and you’ve made a good impression there is a much better chance that you will get hired and will work well with the photographer. If you meet and it’s not a good fit, then neither you have wasted much but a bit of time, a few bucks, and had some great coffee (especially in San Francisco).

Social Media : The passive marketing tool. In addition to direct contact, I also passively contact photographers via social media. Like their Facebook page, follow the blog if it interests you, follow their tweets, follow their profile on LinkedIn. Anything that will get you noticed and open up a channel of communication.

I’ve heard arguments for and against this, and my rule of thumb is if it appears to be a personal account (i.e. you find the person on Facebook but not a page for their photography) then you do not connect. If there are social media links on their website, then it is part of their marketing plan and that is where they would like to connect with you.  Everything is about networking, and living in SF with so many start up influences around me makes it impossible not to catch the social media bug and see it’s value.

My own personal philosophy is that social media is great tool to show interest in someones work and working with them while allowing them their own space. It lets a photographer know that I’m here and interested without feeling like I’m standing there screaming ‘Hey I’m here, come hire me!’, and it’s even better if they like or follow you in return.

KEEP contacting and connecting. Determine an interval that’s comfortable for you and stick with it. If you’ve noticed they’ve won an award, reach out to them. If you went to an event and saw their work, let them know. Go to a lecture they are giving, attend industry events, find excuses to contact photographers, and follow up as appropriate.  If a photographer has indicated they will keep me on file, I’ve decided that contacting them quarterly works for me, but for others who have specifically asked me to check back, it will be on a monthly or bi-monthly basis or at a time they have specified.

Remember: this is your assistant marketing plan. It can be applied just as easily to a paying photography client as it does to a paying photographer.  Getting into a groove at this stage and then modifying the plan to contact potential clients is an important piece to your business strategy. Not all the great photographers are financially successful, but all the successful photographers know how to market, so start exercising your marketing muscles now.

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