Ask an Agent / How to get assistant work
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemma’s about the photography industry.
Whether you’re a photographer or a project manager, a creative director or a student, an art buyer or an assistant, a designer or a marketing director, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, getting commissions, how much a shoot costs, legal stuff – anything!
This month Lisa tries to help a recent photography graduate who’s not having much luck getting assisting work.
I'm a recent photography graduate and am finding it impossible to get work as an assistant. I have been trying to get assisting work since the middle of my second year at uni, yet despite e-mailing nearly 200 photographers and following this up with phone calls, I'm yet to get even a single days assisting. I studied at both The University of Wales and Canterbury Christ Church. My time at UWN was spent being taught by John Wyatt-Clarke, and whilst at Christ Church I studied under Angus Fraser and I managed to get assisting work from Perou. I would consider these strong and very reputable links and references but have got nowhere. Where can I go? What else do I need to do to get somewhere?
First of all, thanks for getting in touch. I’m sorry to hear you are finding it tough, but hopefully we can help.
Assisting photographers is a popular gateway to becoming a professional photographer. It offers the opportunity to learn about the industry hands on, to see how a professional handles a shoot, deals with clients and makes a living. Assisting is a valuable transitional period, a time to develop your own skills, broaden your portfolio, build your confidence, expand your knowledge and eventually start picking up your own commissions.
Problem is, it isn’t easy getting assisting work, many photographers get up to several emails and calls a day from wannabe assistants. Getting your foot in the door can be very difficult … but not impossible. Bit like being a photographer then, if you are put off by rejection then this business isn’t for you anyway. Yes times are tricky at the moment, but my philosophy is that if you are good enough and work hard enough you will make it.
If you have all the basic skills required in an assistant -excellent technical, organisational and communication skills, a willing attitude plus an unflinching work ethic at the very least- there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get work in this area. You just need a couple more names to add to your CV and the chance to prove yourself, and it will just get easier and easier. Good assistants are always in demand.
Here’s 10 suggestions for getting assisting work.
1) Network. The best way to get assisting work is through recommendations. Get to know as many people as you can in the industry and make them aware that you are looking for assisting work. Join a photography association and attend as many photography related events as you can where you will meet like minded people. I have booked several people as a 2nd assistant or runner on a shoot after meeting them at a private view.
2) Tweet. Well don’t just tweet, embrace other forms of social media. Meeting people face to face is important but social networking can also get results. Find your voice by tweeting, blogging and posting relevant and interesting comments on photography forums. Put yourself in the frontline and keep your ear to the ground, its not unknown for photographers to find assistants through social media.
4) Look out for job ads from photographers for assistants as well as just emailing speculatively. These can be found on the above websites, in photography magazines and blogs and on photography association web sites
5) Build on and improve your own portfolio and regularly update your website with new work. Although your talent as a photographer is not the main consideration when trying to get assisting work, you can see why it might make the difference. If you only have a handful of average images that show no consistency you can see why this might put some off. Photographers are always interested in other photographers work and it’s fair enough that they will be looking for signs of technical proficiency, creativity, and a good eye in their assistants. Set yourself some personal projects and shoot as much and as often as you can.
6) Enter emerging photography competitions. It’s a bonus if you can add some extra accolades to your CV like an award.
7) Keep emailing and calling. More than you have already. As you know I asked to see the Ietter you were emailing along with your CV to check there were no issues here. Everything looks good, a very polite and targeted letter and satisfactory CV but it needs some more name checks and work experience. I don’t think 200 photographers is actually that many to get in touch with in over a year, try 2000. Don’t forget the more well known a photographer the more they will be contacted by other assistants. Once you have two or three assisting jobs under your belt you can be more selective- right now beggars cant be choosers!. Basically it’s totally a matter of right time right place, when a photographer needs an assistant for a shoot they are likely to contact the last assistant that contacted them. Make it clear that you are happy to be a 2nd assistant or even just to do work experience to get those names to add to your CV.
8) Broaden the search. Don’t just contact photographers, try agents, producers, studios, anyone in the photography industry. All related experience will be worthwhile, e.g experience as a runner on a commercial shoot will look great on your cv. You can find listings in several online photography directories.
9) Increase your knowledge of the industry. This will come across when you are interviewed and will hopefully inspire you.Read the trade press (e.g Campaign, Creative Review for the commercial industry)
10) Treat your search for assisting work as a full time job. Do all of the above regularly. Dedicate a certain amount of hours a day, every day, every week until things start to happen. Up your game.
Note: Since Luke wrote to me I asked him to pop into the office. He seems like a nice enough chap and not only have we agreed to give him some work experience at LPA, one of my photographers is going to give him some work as a second assistant.
If any photographers are out there reading this and able to offer Luke some assisting work please email him: email@example.com
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This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.