So You Want to Work for a Photographer

Work for a Photographer |


Awww, photo intern season! It’s that sweet time of the year where if you are like me, you start getting a lot of emails from College and University students wanting to do their required internship with you so that they can then graduate and become a real-life professional photographer come April. 🙂 It’s all so wonderful! All joking aside, I was once of those students and in my last year of Uni, I was lucky enough to work with Ms. Debra Friedman (Hi Deb!). This woman taught me how to photograph people (and I now teach her how to manage her digital workflow.. but that’s another blog post!). For one semester, I would spend three hours a week with her learning all that I could. On the lucky days, I would get to go on shoots with her. On the other days, I worked at the studio, mostly filing negatives (yes, those were the film days!) and other boring, monotonous, fun tasks that running a small business requires. What I learned from that semester was some of the most valuable information that I still carry with me today. Nothing beats hands-on learning, especially when you’re being schooled by someone that you respect and whose work you admire.

I am all about giving back and in the past number of years, I have had my own fair share of College interns come through the studio. I have also had a bunch of different photography assistants that I have hired since launching my business. From those experiences of working with others – whether they be interns or paid assistants/second shooters – I have learned a lot. So if you want to work for me (or any other photographer), let me give you some hot tips.

Work for a Photographer |

Know the Photographer’s Work.
This may seem like an obvious thing to say but many years ago, I had a potential assistant come for an interview who had not even bothered to look at my website. He actually knew nothing about what I did and the meeting was an entire waste of time. I was astounded by his lack of research. I take my photography business pretty darn seriously and if you do not know what my work looks like, I’m not sure how you think that you could go out there and represent me at a shoot. You need to look at the work that the photographer does and you need to decide if you feel that you can stand up to them. I’m not talking quality or experience-wise, I’m talking about style and I’m talking about the images that you want to make yourself. I don’t believe that you can work for a photographer unless you admire what they do.

Experience in the Photographer’s Field.
Likely another obvious thing to point out but: if you are interested in photographing architecture and interiors, please do not contact a portrait photographer. Have experience in the field that the photographer you are contacting is in. If you want to work for a wedding photographer, you have better have experience with shooting weddings or at least have attended some. If your only experience is working in television, I’m not going to be very keen to take you on. I fully understand that you may be young and you may not have had the opportunity yet to photograph a wedding, but at least be open and honest about that. Maybe you have attended or photographed other events that would have some similarities to show that you would work well in those situations.

First Impressions.
I have to admit that I 100% judge people on first impressions. I believe that you can tell so much by a person in the way that they first introduce themselves and then behave with a new person. Your first contact with a photographer who you want to work for needs to be a strong one. You have no idea how many other people have contacted them for work (and if you are a student, some of those people may be your fellow classmates). You want to make a great first impression. How do you do that? First off, you need to write in proper English with correct punctuation. Those should be the basics. I love it when I get an email that is actually addressed to me (“Hi Jessica!” Just be sure that you get the name correct. I cannot tell you how many times I have been called “Jennifer” by people applying for work). I love it when I get to read full, proper sentences and I love it when the email appears to be well thought-out and not some form that has been sent to multiple photographers. When contacting a potential employer, you want to make it about them. You don’t need to tell the person your life story or your goals in life and how you want to be a real life working photographer. You need to tell the professional, why you would want to work for them and what you can add to the table. Make it about them, not you. Prove to them that you get it, that you’re professional and that would feel privileged if they took you on.

Work for a Photographer |

Be respectful of time.
Here’s the thing: most working professional photographers are pretty busy people. I mean, pretty much anyone that you talk to loves to complain about being busy. I’m a full-time working photographer and on top of that, I manage my studio that currently has five tenants. I photograph people, I do the editing, the album designing, the invoicing, the blogging, the hustling for more work. I do it all. If you want to do an internship with me, you need to be respectful of the fact that doing so will take me away from some of that. It will slow me down from my usual pace so that I can then show you how I do things, etc. My time has value and if I am going to give that to you, I would expect you to be respectful of it and understand that importance.

Lower Your Expectations.
If you are looking to do an internship with a professional photographer, you will have to lower your expectations of just what you will be doing with them. I am not sure what they teach in school these days since I graduated from Ryerson University about a million years ago but I can confidently tell you this: being a professional photographer is not as glamorous as it may seem. The actual making of images is a ton of fun but what may not be that exciting is all of the behind the scenes stuff that you may not know about it. Those things actually take up the bulk of any photographer’s time. So if you are expecting an internship where you will be on big and exciting shoots everyday – you either have to lower your expectations of that (and feel lucky to even get to be on ONE shoot) or perhaps look into getting into a different field of work. I have a friend who used to be an editor at a magazine. She once had an intern come in with the expectation that she would be designing page spreads for this very big National publication. Her job instead, was cleaning out the closets. 🙂

Do the Tasks.
If the photographer chooses to take you on, please do what they ask of you. I always lay out my expectations of my interns and assistants from the beginning and when they don’t follow through on things, I make notes. When I hire an assistant to shoot with me at weddings, I want them to take photographs of things that I cannot. If I am photographing a ceremony, I am focussed on the couple and the happenings there. I then want my assistant to photograph the guests reacting and the overall space (and not step outside to take a phone call from their real estate agent. Yes, that happened to me). For the reception, I then want you to continue taking great candids. I want to see images of people mingling during the cocktail hour (and I don’t want to see you standing still talking to one guest for the entire cocktail hour – yes, that also happened to me once and no, he was never hired again.) If a photographer hires you for a gig, simply do what they ask. Understand that it is THEIR job and that you are ASSISTING them on it. The clients are not yours – they belong to the photographers. Do not give the clients information about yourself (they don’t care, they care about the photographer that they hired) and do not give your own business card to the client or any guest at the wedding (you are there representing the hired photographer). Do what is asked of you by the photographer and you will be golden – and likely hired again!

Understand the Value.
If a professional photographer (or any professional for that matter) chooses to take you under their wing, really understand the value of that experience. Your life is going to be forever changed because of that opportunity. Someone like myself has been working for over a decade in the field. Throughout those years, I have learned a lot and I have a ton of information to share. Understand that those years of work have brought the photographer to where they are today and don’t expect that you can walk into their studio and know everything within a week. Also understand the value of time and the amount of it that it takes before you can truly call yourself a professional photographer (earning that degree or diploma does not always suffice). Be grateful for all of the things that you will learn from spending time with that photographer.

Work for a Photographer |

One Reply to “So You Want to Work for a Photographer”

  1. Well said Jessica and I love the pics you chose.

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