Updated: Nov 13, 2020
If you are looking to make money with photography but aren’t yet ready to take on your own projects? Try assisting other photographers.
This is one of the best ways to gain some experience and start making money fast. I remember my first assisting jobs- I learnt so much! Like don’t forget you will be able to watch this person in action, from getting clients to their entire process. You take the bits you like and leave the bits you don’t but make sure you do everything that is working for them.
You probably won’t get behind the camera- it depends on the assisting work. You could potentially be a second shooter for say a wedding photographer. Some wedding photographers like this as you are covering them from any shots they may potentially miss.
If you land yourself a job assisting in a large studio with many photographers you will have a higher chance of getting on camera than someone who is assisting a photographer one on one. This is just because there is a lot more photography work to be done. There is also a lot more photographers that can give you permission to use a camera- more photographers more chances.
I remember when I landed my first assistants job in a studio. This studio did like clothing, household items and full room sets for magazines. The first month for me was actually a lot of DIY jobs, tidying up, making people drinks and not much to do with photography. I was around it and I observed it for the first month and that was about it. As my career progressed and people got to know me. They would ask me to like set up their camera or build a light set for them. I found a great way to progress faster was to show them my work and what I was doing in my spare time to give them more confidence that I knew what I was doing.
After a while I did end up doing some photography work for them and kind of jumped between assisting and photography. Once you get on camera in a place like that you will learn so much. You will have senior photographers that have been doing this for 20+ years critiquing and showing you how to improve your work. That is what it is like going down more of a studio route. It takes time to get to the camera but once you get there you will learn a lot.
The hardest part is actually finding work. People will not come to you. Even if you have a great portfolio and social media etc. The chances of someone messaging you like “Hey, I just saw your work! Would you be interested in assisting for me?” Are very low. Most photographers are very busy and they normally get approached themselves so why would they go out of their way. If they were looking for an assistant they’d probably find one through recommendations or look for people advertising with experience online.
It’s like a lot of industries you need to get experience and it's really hard to do that. But once you’re in you’re in. Once I had my first job after like a year I was working in 4 different studios and constantly getting different job offers. It took a while to get there though and the hardest part was getting started.
So how do I get experience? Is probably the question on the tip of your tongue right? I would suggest you contact the photographer- or organisation and offer your services for free initially. Do your research first. Don’t just try to work with a random photographer for the sake of it. Actually look at their portfolios, clients etc etc see if that’s what you aspire to be like. Just a simple google search of [whatever specific area of photography I’d like to get into eg wedding] photographers near to [my location] and you’ll have loads to look through.
Bear in mind a lot of photographers actually like to work alone so don’t get disheartened when you don’t get a load of responses you’d like to see. This is something you will have to work at and persistence is the key. By persistence I don’t mean pestering these people a no is a no. I mean keep looking keep asking you will find something sooner or later. Oh and if you are looking to get into landscape photography practically no landscape photographers- that I know of anyway have assistants (sorry!).
Once you have landed a job make sure you make a good impression. Your reputation is everything in this industry. I’m not saying you will but I’m just saying this to illustrate a point. I remember working in a studio where one of the photographers was stealing clients from the owner. This guy got caught and word spread like wildfire- everyone knows everyone (more or less) and he could no longer be a photographer in studios. Like any studio in the area he lived in. That was it his reputation was destroyed and he had been building this up for like 20 years. Thats the way it goes. Theres so many freelancers and people moving between studios word gets around so quickly. Note that this can go the other way. If you have a good reputation that will also spread around. Hard work, works, trust me!
Anyway back to what I was saying about landing a job. Once you have a job if you do good work you will be called back. More than likely for paid work too. Or possibly recommended to someone that will pay you. The wages aren’t the best and you will probably start out freelance too. But you can work your way up. Then once you have established yourself and studios/ photographers want you more your pay will gradually go up. All while you are learning more about photography and getting paid for it everyday.
In the meanwhile there are other ways to earn while you are doing all of this to get into the industry. Click HERE for a free e book and some more training about making money with photography.