Photography Assisting in a Changed Economy (part 2)

In yesterday’s post, I outlined the current challenge faced by those who are looking for photo assistant opportunities, plus the first (of 10) steps that one should take for digital imaging and assignment procurement. Here are the rest…

2) Be Yourself
You should home in on your core skills and connection points.  I’d play up commonly shared backgrounds and get meetings with any photographer with whom you have a fundamental link: by regional background, alma mater, foreign language, even hobbies and interests.  Use all the online sources at your disposal to gather that information…Facebook, Twitter, blog sites, LinkedIn, etc.

3) Unique Positioning
Think about the ways in which photography has changed and where you might be uniquely positioned to be successful.  For example, clearly the industry has turned a corner away from editorial work being the qualifier for higher-paying and regular work later.  If that is the case, how will a photographer grapple with it?  What can you learn from the photographers that you’re looking to connect with to make yourself applicable to the future of the medium?

4) Plan B
Prepare a back up plan.  Preferably 2-3 of them all in line with that clarity of skill set, passion, and positioning that makes your talents unique and identifiable. The planning stage for this should be very familiar.  It is what naturally brought you to where you’re currently situated in photography in the first place.

5) Practicality
At a practical level, the technical skills of photography are becoming a dime a dozen.  Everyone can set up lights and everyone can download CF cards.  Focus on your service and responsiveness. Make sure people understand that you’re on-the-ball and a “go-to” person…these attributes are more rare and highly marketable in their own right.  Be willing to negotiate your rates, work around budgets, go the extra mile, and do two jobs at once.  This is the future of the industry.  Streamline yourself organizationally.

6) Be Personable
Make it personal.  Don’t be penny-wise and dollar-short.  Invest your time and money into personal meetings, notes, calls, and anything else that makes people remember who you are.  Wear a bright color on an assisting interview.  Bring a portfolio of gorgeous personal work.  If you have a good sense of humor, share that.  Be upbeat.  Make people remember you for you and be yourself. Buying a photographer coffee and listening to his/her story will in turn very possibly buy yourself a job in the long run.

7) Focus on Getting Hired
If you’ve completed a photography internship, next focus on putting yourself in front of the photographers who “can” hire you. Find out who is working regularly; not just who’s advertising themselves in source guides.  This discrepancy has become larger and more elusive as the marketplace has become more crowded. Get yourself seen in front of working photographers and, if possible, associate yourself with those who are working with them.  This takes time and a lot of planning effort; so make sure that Question #1 has first been clearly answered first.

8) Use Rental Studios as “Incubators”
I’ve always recommended the rental studios.  Keep hitting them up for jobs.  Don’t call them; rather, show up prepared to interview and talk to the equipment room managers and persons in charge. Your “going the extra mile” will be noted by them and appreciated.  Ask if they have work available and if you could work with them.  Rental studios are great hub sources of networking.  When you’re not working, you should be meeting new people.

9) Preparedness
If there’s one truism to freelance photo assisting, it’s that it can be unpredictable.  Jobs come in last minute and cancel themselves just as quickly.  Set up an easily maintained system for handling this.  Your contact phone number should be permanent, as well as your email address.  Answer the phone and emails quickly and professionally.  When you’re freelance, every call from a photographer or producer to hire you is literally an interview.  When you meet, bring business cards and a resume.  Be on time.

10) Avoid Discouragement
Don’t get discouraged if things are slow.  They’re slow for everyone. Figure out instead why you’re doing the work in the first place? This will carve your niche and ultimately your client base.  If nothing else, even if you completely shift out of photography altogether, you’ll have done it for the right reasons and will be taking your bag of tricks of the trade and learned experiences along with you.

Shannon Fagan assisted for three years before jumping fulltime into a lucrative stock photography and assignment career.  After a decade in commercial lifestyle photography in New York, he recently packed up his belongings and relocated to fast growing economy of Beijing to work in business development.

2 thoughts on “Photography Assisting in a Changed Economy (part 2)

  1. Laurel Black

    This post is full of great advice for any creative service provider at any point in his/her career. Just replace “photography” with whatever it is you do (design, illustration, etc.) and you’re there. (Except for the parts with photography-specific issues.) This works especially well in points #5 and #6. Thanks, Shannon!

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