If you haven’t seen Part 1 of this two-part series, go back and read that HERE before going any further! It’ll set the stage for what we’re talking about today :).
Last week we talked all about the why behind both sides of the “I really want to learn, someone please help me” dilemma. Today’s post is focused on the nitty gritty part of that sentiment; now that you understand the why, here’s how to move forward in seeking growth/learning opportunities. Let’s dive in!
**Again, anything in italics + quotations is input I was lucky to receive from other industry professionals! **
Part 2: The Etiquette of Asking
1. Ask for opportunities to SERVE, not to be served. Requests to second shoot are often turned down because the photographer who’s being asked can sense that the person doing the asking really just wants to come and shoot for themselves. The role of a second shooter is a humble one- typically, you’re hired to help furnish the main photographer’s body of work that they’re providing to the couple, rather than shooting to boost your own portfolio. Your first step in the course of trying to earn learning opportunities? Learn to serve, and serve selflessly.
What does that look like? Rather than emailing a photographer you love with a request like “I’d love to come second shoot for you sometime, I like your work and I need to build my portfolio,” try asking for a chance to SERVE them instead. Something like this: “I’d love to come and assist you at a wedding if you ever have need! Whether that’s carrying bags or rolling film, whatever it is, I’d love to come make your life easier on a wedding day.” That sort of request will be much more likely to receive a positive response, because a photographer won’t have to worry that you have a hidden agenda.
2. Familiarize yourself with a photographer’s work before asking to shoot for them. Make sure you’re a good fit for them and their body of work! Also, I strongly encourage you to wait to ask to shoot for someone you respect until you have full command of your camera. Knowing how to shoot is obviously crucial- having to ask the main photographer what their settings are in the middle of the ceremony isn’t going to go over well, and almost certainly won’t result in you being asked back or referred to their friends.
3. When asking a photographer to give you a chance, do so with an attitude of humility. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but it’s important to recognize that you are not owed anything by anyone in the industry. All of us have had to struggle through the same frustrations you’re currently experiencing, and almost all of us did it alone without a college course to teach us how to run a creative small business. We’ve paid for the workshops, the mentoring, the conferences, we’ve put in the hundreds of hours of work, and we’ve made the mistakes that lead to growth to get to whatever place we’re in today.
Also those struggles, the ones that we’ve all experienced? Those can be made a lot easier by buddying up with another photographer who’s also new to the scene! That’s what Rebekah Hoyt has been to me in the past; we’ve shared joys, griefs, frustrations, and we leaned on each other through all of it. There were days when she’d have the perfect answer to a problem I just couldn’t solve, and days when I could repay the favor by doing the same for her. There was give and take in that relationship, and if you can find someone else to be your Rebekah, it’s going to make this journey a LOT more enjoyable!
4. Before emailing to ask if you can take them to lunch or coffee to “pick their brains,” do a little bit of research first: does that photographer offer mentoring? Do they teach workshops? If so, that’s probably a good indicator that they won’t be up for a coffee date with a new photographer.
The reason behind that isn’t a callous or unfeeling one, it’s just good business sense: these photographers charge other people for their time and knowledge, and it wouldn’t be fair to those who’ve paid for mentoring if the photographer was to sit down with you for three hours without being compensated. Plus, that time a photographer is spending with you is time they’re *not* working on their business, time they’re not spending with family, time they’re not being paid/compensated in any way. So don’t take it personally if you email asking for a coffee date, and they respond with “Sure thing! Here are my rates for mentoring.”
5. “I would say that it really means a lot when a photographer recognizes and acknowledges that we are constantly, feeling like we’re drowning in emails, and is so appreciative of our time. I read those emails and think ‘That’s so sweet of her to think of me and my time. I really feel like she’s going to appreciate my help!'” -Katelyn James
This is so true! Reading e-mails with questions from other photographers asking a question, who end the email with “I know you’re busy, so definitely take your time on answering this!” makes me feel a lot better about taking 5-10 minutes to put something well-thought out together.
6. Try not to be offended if they turn down your request- thank them for their response, and reiterate that if they ever have need, you’d love to serve them. You never know their reasons for saying no: maybe they’ve been burned in the past by a second shooter, or maybe they have a full-time assistant so they don’t have need of anyone else. Try not to be hurt if they say no, and don’t let it dampen your spirits.
So there you have it! I’d love to hear input from you guys- what were methods that worked well for you?