How to approach Photographers, and a small apology

Here’s something that popped up last week, and has been nagging me for years – how to best approach photographers if you’re looking for work/work experience/advice and so on.

I’m not a big name photographer, and yet I still get anywhere between 2 and 10 emails/phonecalls a week from assistants looking for work, students looking for work experience, people after advice generally and so on. I can discard around 60% of these emails/calls straight away for a whole host of reasons, and only a very small percentage of them actually get what they want out of me! Why?

First off, the simplest: people seeking advice. 9 times out of 10 I’ll simply point them to this blog, and if the answer’s not here I may possibly spend a little time either pointing them in the right direction or writing a quick email. I feel that the time I put into writing this blog, plus all the technical stuff on Flickr, removes me from any moral obligation to answer any cry for help I get!

Next, in order of complication, students seeking work experience. There are many similarities to assistants here, which I’ll be covering in more detail below, but essentially most of the applications for work experience can be discarded off the bat because they’re illegible, badly put together, and generally impenetrable and hard to decipher. Another common problem is that potential workies don’t seem to grasp that I don’t shoot 5 days a week, and that a lot of my work is comparatively last minute. Often they’ve been asked by their school or college to arrange work experience for a particular time, and it may well be that I just don’t have much work on that corresponds. I will always explain this clearly and politely, as well as pointing out that I may have something for them in future. In almost every case I never hear from them again. This doesn’t really demonstrate the level of motivation and commitment that is required to forge a career in photography, or even to be self-employed. I have even on one occasion had someone arrange to come on work experience, only for them to call me the night before and say that they couldn’t make it as “their Dad wanted them to stay home and wait for a delivery”.

Work Experience - How to approach photographers
This is how you get work experience – by always having the top button of your shirt done up – whether you’re wearing a tie or not!

Now comes the real meat – assistants who are looking for work. This lot makes up the majority of the emails I get, and as before I can answer most of them with a polite “Thanks, but no thanks”. Here are some really common faults that I see when people approach photographers via email:

  1. Writing too much – as a photographer I want to know what use you’ll be to me as an assistant. Therefore all I really need to hear about is what gear you’re familiar with, what software you can use, who you’ve worked with in the past and so on.
  2. Including lots of photos. I’m not looking for another photographer! I need an assistant, I’ll handle the piccies thanks. If we work together and get on well, I’ll gladly go through your work and give you my opinion, but not in the first email.
  3. Including huge lengthy CV’s. As 1, above, I’m only interested in relevant photographic experience. I couldn’t care less if you used to drive a fork lift truck, or work in Tesco’s. Sorry, but it’s got no bearing on the role you’re applying for. Likewise, listing every GCSE/A level and so on is a bit pointless – it’s sufficient just to list how many you’ve got.
  4. Bad English skills. I appreciate this penalises people for whom English is a second language, but if I can barely read your email, you’re not likely to even get your foot in the door. Plus, as I’m thinking ahead I’m wondering if you’ll be able to respond to requests for things when we’re working or whether it’ll quickly dissolve into a bad pastiche of Fawlty Towers.
  5. Addressing your email “Dear Photographer”. This should be obvious.
  6. Sending out a mass email to several photographers at once. Again – it should be obvious that this will not endear people to you.
  7. Trotting out standard phrases like “I work well in a team, but show individual ability as well”. Do you really? I’ve never heard that before. Likewise, a glib “I really like your work” isn’t as flattering as you might think!
  8. Pestering. There’s a very fine line between staying in touch, and therefore keeping at the forefront of my mind when my usual assistant can’t make it, and annoying the crap out of me with incessant emails and phone calls. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but as a guideline, I’d say contacting someone every 6 weeks or so, just to “check in” is fine. Much more often and you do risk becoming annoying, less frequently, and the photographer is liable to forget who you are.

Hopefully that will help some people on their way, and with any luck reduce the number of completely useless emails I get. Ah well, I can dream can’t I?


This post forms part of my Photographer’s Assistant guide. The other posts in the series are:

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