JS: As a general rule, I always try to use good grammar and proper punctuation in emails and texts. My communication style is pretty formal and polite. I’ll loosen up a little once I get to know the client but it’s important to always be clear and direct so that everyone involved with the project is on the same page. Also, I like to keep the client posted with updates as the shoot unfolds and wraps. Most of the time things happen as planned but in the event that something unexpected occurs it’s always a good practice to let the client know as soon as possible so that we can create a solution.

EG: I think it’s really important to remember that you are 1 of many dozens of emails they get per day. Say what you gotta say. Be respectful of their time, let them be impressed (or not), and keep it moving. Also, make things easy for them. Make sure the links are easy to navigate, no mistakes, etc. Here’s a pretty basic example of an email I might send:

CC: When it comes to outreach and sharing new work, I think every editor and art buyer likely has a personal preference on the frequency of communication. Personally, I don’t reach out more than once per quarter with relevant updates nor do I expect a response. I trust that if they have the time or desire to respond, they will otherwise I’ll assume they looked at my email and will reach out when the right project comes along. If they responded to every email they received from a photographer they probably wouldn’t get any work done. As far as etiquette, I’m pretty similar to Jared in being polite, formal, and brief. I think there’s a time to be professional and when you establish a relationship with them and get to know them and their vibe it’s easier to be candid and casual. I’ve gained a lot of perspective from listening to Dear Art Producer (thanks Heather Elder!).

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EG: I always think that whether you can figure out how to start assisting is essentially a litmus test of whether you’re gonna make it or not. The formula is pretty easy, tbh.

1. Find photographers you like.
2. Email them. Say hello. Tell them you like their work and you’d love to assist someday.
3. Don’t expect a response. If you get one, great.
4. Stay in touch a few times a year.
5. Repeat until you no longer want to assist.

There it is. That’s the secret to a career in photography. Research. Interact. Repeat. This works for assisting, for magazines, for commercial clients, etc etc. If you’re cool, or talented, or a hard worker, or really pleasant, or any combination of those, you’ll be fine if you follow this formula.

JS: An easy way to get started is to assist your friends, you will both learn quite a bit in the process and it’ll be low pressure since you know each other. Another way is to reach out to photographers in your area. Send them a polite email sharing your background and experience level along with a link to your website, conveying your interest in assisting. Join a professional organization such as ASMP or APA both have databases for assistants.

CC: Do what is suggested above and follow up. I started assisting by doing 1, 2, and 3. I’ll also add that I didn’t get any responses from the 30+ emails I sent and when I followed up with all of them I received a response from 2 people who I ended up assisting regularly for two years and learned a ton from (while also testing and assisting my friends – make friends with other photographers at your level at local photo events and you’ll level up together as time goes on). As Emiliano said, it’s important to stay top of mind and if a photographer’s usual assistant isn’t available and you happen to follow up on your email, you might get hired. The tricky part is not having all the experience necessary (or any experience) to be a first assistant so Jake Stangel created this super helpful video. I’d have to say that nothing compares to being able to play with all the gear IRL so I would also suggest reaching out to 1st assistants and asking if you can be brought on as a 2nd or 3rd assistant on bigger jobs. I learned so much this way – during downtime, the 1st assistant would show me how all the gear worked. You can also try to get into the equipment rooms at studios or rental houses to familiarize yourself with the gear and meet photographers that way.

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EG: Don’t. If you can avoid it.

Obviously, sometimes you gotta take the money or the project is something you really want to do. Try to negotiate and ask if there’s any flexibility on the terms or the budget.

JS: Contracts are always negotiable. Do the best to communicate that the terms are uncomfortable and overreaching, then propose a new set that are more favorable to you. Also, it’s more than okay to walk away.

CC: Sometimes clients want a buyout of images or WFH so they don’t have to deal with licensing. There’s an opportunity to ask how the images will really be used and negotiate to keep the copyright and discuss licensing. You get to decide whether it’s worth losing out on any opportunity for a license extension in the future or to license the body of work to a third party in the future. Some great advice here from Photo Bill of Rights.

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EG: Make the type of work you want to be hired to make.

CC: Agreeing with Emiliano here. Think of it from the client’s perspective – they’re making an investment in your eye, your images, and your ability to run your set and deliver on the brief. What is in your portfolio demonstrates what you’re capable of, so you’ll get hired for what you show. It’s the same reason I look at photos on yelp 🤤

JS: This is an evidence based industry, in order to get the work you want, you have to demonstrate that you are able to do it- consistently.

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JS: Be the expert in the room, you need to have a solid understanding of the topic/issue/subject before you log into your email. If you’re proposing an idea to a magazine or a news organization, you need to be able to succinctly convey what the idea is, why it’s important and why it fits with this particular publication. Also, be able to mention, why you are the most qualified to tell this story. The more specific that you can be, the better. If you have examples of photographs related to the idea, its best to attach 1-3 of your strongest images along with 2-3 paragraphs describing the project, how it relates to the client and your approach. Also, be sure to acknowledge the recipient’s humanity, it’s okay to add a “good morning” or “good afternoon” at the top of the message along with a compliment about a recent project that they worked on that you enjoyed- this demonstrates that you are paying attention.

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EG: You have to approach this as a long-term thing. Just because a photo editor followed you on Instagram doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job. Just because they responded to your email doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot the cover. You’ll literally send hundreds of messages before getting your first jobs. You’re going to bid dozens of jobs and not get any of them. You’re going to spend many days writing treatments that you won’t win. You’re going to strike out a million times before you get any jobs. No one owes you a damn thing. It’s a slow, slow process, so bunker down for the long haul. The only thing that you can control is your creative output. Make sure it’s 🔥🔥🔥.

Some basic math: I may send out a newsletter to, say, 1000 people. Of those 1000 people, only about 100 of them will read it. Of those 100, only 25ish will respond with “great work!” And only about 1 or 2 of them will eventually hire me at some point. Maybe next month, but probably next year. The turnaround on success and ROI on any marketing is measured in years . . .not months and definitely not days. I’ve never walked out of a meeting knowing I was going to get a job from someone – it was always a pleasant surprise a week or month or year after the meeting.

CC: Let’s be real, it’s demotivating when I’m not getting responses…it’s a bummer when I’m not shooting, period. (Hence the importance of personal work) It’s disappointing when I don’t win the job after I spent my weekend working on a treatment. The reality is that someone is going to get the job and it’s not always going to be me/you. The way I see it is – I’m trying to get in touch with the people who love my work and want to work with me. If I didn’t get the job it doesn’t mean my work sucks, it just means that the client found someone who is a better fit for the job (for whatever reason) and the ultimate goal for the agency/client is to find the person who is going to help them make the images they need (after all, they’re trying to do their job, they’re not trying to go around bruising egos, I hope). Trust that they made the right decision for the sake of the project. I keep in touch with whoever rejected me because there might be another opportunity in the future where I am a better fit. I respond with an “aww man!”, I accept that decision and move on. I accept that rejection is a part of the business (and life in general) and I eventually become desensitized lol. jk. sort of. Also, don’t confuse a lack of response with rejection, not everyone has the time to respond to every e-mail they receive, like Emiliano said, nobody owes you anything.

JS: In the past few years, I’ve learned how to separate out the emotion that gets attached to rejection in order to learn from the process. There is typically a lot of good information that you can absorb from that experience. Use this information to keep moving forward on your path.

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EG: Figure out who you want to be. NOT who THEY want you to be. Stay on that trajectory, no matter what.

JS: Be yourself. Be dedicated to the craft of making images for the love- the “money” will show up later. Follow your interests and make work about people and issues that you are connected to. Don’t compare yourself or your work to others. It is more than okay to make mistakes, they are the hands that we hold to get us back on track. Let Roxette be your guide.

CC: Make the work you want to make, show it (perfection is the enemy of progress). Repeat. Be patient. Find a community for support and to support. Figure out your business systems and data backup.

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JS: The nice thing about mistakes is that yield information so it’s really a good opportunity to learn something. With that said, I made a lot of mistakes earlier on…lol

One in particular, at the early stage of my career, I was in a rush to meet with editors to show them that I “existed.” The meetings that I had setup really didn’t have a purpose other than “oh hey, look at my work and please hire me” so the conversations weren’t that deep. I noticed that the meetings ended up being pretty short because I wasn’t able to offer anything substantial. Now, I am more intentional in terms of who I am contacting for meetings and I make sure that there is a clear reason for me to show up at the office. I’m either coming in with a project proposal or presentation. Also, making sure the work that I’m going to share is ready to be seen by the world.

EG: I’ve accepted several jobs over the years that I probably should have passed on. Earlier in my career, getting a call felt like a victory, so I said yes to any job that I was asked to do. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t worth the few hundred bucks. Nowadays, I’m more conscious of what I say yes to. We all have a finite amount of energy, and sinking that energy into projects that don’t fulfill you is a great way to burn yourself out.

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JS: I spend more time than I would like to admit in front of computer- sending emails, retouching work, updating my website, biz dev, YouTube rabbit holes, making calls, sitting on Zooms, PrePro, blessing recipients with PDFs, invoices and WeTransfer links. If I have an assignment coming up, the preparation starts a couple days before- getting lighting concepts dialed in, ideas for locations and concepts plus moods as well as color palette. The day of a session, my only focus is making photographs, being present and enjoying the time. If I’m dipping out for a 10 day personal work trip, then my out of office reply is on so that I can concentrate on making the most of my time developing the project. The big change for my career was when I started using a calendar and understanding the need to be more thoughtful with my time- this took a while for me to figure out…

CC: Similar to Jared, I spend a lot of my time in admin world. My weeks look different depending on current project timelines and upcoming shoots. This can mean I’m scouting, pulling references, and producing one day, picking up equipment and shooting the next, in post/retouching/billing the next, or I can be spending one or two days creating a treatment for an upcoming bid. I still do most things I did at the beginning of my career now besides estimating, negotiating. My agent also helps a lot with marketing and outreach. When I first started out, I didn’t have any boundaries between work and my personal life – I felt as though every waking hour not invested in furthering my career was a lost opportunity. I realized that wasn’t healthy nor true. I find that my task list is never-ending but what’s changed as my career has evolved, is the balance between work and rest to avoid burnout and prioritizing the important but not externally urgent tasks (personal work) that are investments in my portfolio, alongside the urgent and important tasks (client work) and letting the rest fall by the wayside.

EG: Every day is very different. Some days it’s building a creative deck all day. Others it’s just sitting around and trying to focus on invoicing and other office stuff. Some days I blow everything off and play tennis. And then on production days it can be full gas all day and night. The more rigor you can bring to your day-to-day practices, the better. I’m not great at discipline and rigor . . . so I try to make up for it by really focusing when I actually sit down to do something. It’s not atypical for me to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning just trying to build my network, researching, or blowing out some ideas.

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JS: My biz is structured as an LLC. Always best to keep personal and business assets separate plus it helps with taxes too. Talk to an accountant to figure out what makes sense for you.

CC: I incorporated my business after being a sole proprietor for 8 years for tax benefit and liability reasons. I was fine with not incorporating before because I didn’t have any personal assets that I was concerned about losing should something go wrong and I get sued. My business is currently incorporated as an LLC and treated as an S-Corp (confusing, I know). Based on my income, the tax benefits I receive outweigh the annual fees associated with filing as an S-Corp. Everyone’s tax situation and income is different so it might not make sense for you to change your business structure. If you want to learn more read this and reach out to a CPA or accountant. If you’re looking for one in the LA area, I work with Jason at Safer & Co.

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