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New to Photography? The Secret to Learning from the Pros

By Cole Joseph on December 21st 2013

You’ve found a passion in photography. You’re eager to learn as much as possible and are
becoming increasingly better behind the camera but you know nothing about what really goes on behind the scenes at a photo shoot. All the logistics, all the back end preparation, the editing workflow and process, interacting with the clients etc…

You realize how great it would be to shadow a pro photographer, so you email some local pros asking if you can help them on a photo shoot sometime.

If you are lucky and get a response, what typically happens is your request to help, shadow or assist on a photo shoot is turned down.

Have you been there? I have and it’s a real bummer.

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I knew that I wanted to learn the right way by second shooting weddings but it was starting to feel like no one cared or would give me a chance. It was so frustrating!

At the time, I didn’t know better. But now I realize that I wasn’t doing all the things that I could have done that would have drastically improved my chances of learning from the pros & would have made my journey a bit easier.

Within this article you will learn the insights as to why it is so hard to find a photographer willing to let you work with them and more important; exactly how to approach pro photographers that will dramatically improve your chances of finding a photographer willing to offer you work and even mentor you.

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Understanding Why It’s So Hard to Find a Mentor

There are a variety of reasons why an established professional photographer doesn’t want to help out a brand new photographer who is learning the ropes. Here are some of the main reasons:

  •  No time – Let’s face it, some photographers just simply don’t have much, if any, extra time to allow for mentoring anyone. The time spent blogging, answering client emails, meeting with new clients, actual shooting, editing all the photos all can add up in a hurry. Of course, this doesn’t even take into consideration if they also work another job, perhaps is a mother and busy with kids during “non-photo work” hours etc.
  • You aren’t “competition” now, but you will be – It is sad but true. We are in an industry that has virtually zero barriers for entry, which means every time a new photographer pops up, they can take away business from the existing pool of photographers. A quick Econ 101 lesson – more competition leads to greater price pressure. What does this mean? It means as more and more photographers enter the market each year, it becomes increasingly harder for experienced photographers to earn a living as there will always be a large percentage of consumers that will flock to lower priced alternatives, thus taking away market share from the higher priced pros.


  • No need for more assistants/2nd “newbie” you might not get a helping hand from anyone is experienced photographers already have a pool of assistants or second shooters that they regularly use and trust. This is most likely the case with anyone who is an established studio and is actively booked with photo-shoots. Or another reason is they simply don’t have enough photo shoots scheduled that would require an assistant or second shooter.
  • They “paid their dues” – There are certainly a handful many that feel they have “paid their dues” and have struggled to get to where they are at and feel others ought to go through the same process of hard work and struggle.

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How to Contact a Pro and Get the Results You Want

Now that you are aware of some of the reasons why it is so difficult to get a professional photographer to lend their helping hand to you, let me give you the tips you should follow to drastically improve your chances of getting on the right track and learning some amazing insight.

  • Compliment their work – Becoming a successful photographer is certainly not easy, and as artists, we all take a tremendous amount of pride in our work, if you are simply writing a generic email asking for help and don’t make any effort to complement their work and style you definitely aren’t doing yourself any favors. Just a small compliment can go a long way!
  • Meet in person – Emailing is fast & easy, everyone does it, and that is the problem. Trust me when I say many professional photographers get plenty of emails each year with people asking for the chance to work with them to gain experience. You have to be different to stand out from the pack and show how important photography and gaining experience is to you. Want to stand out? Simply explain that you’d love to have the opportunity to take them to lunch or coffee, your treat, to have a chance to introduce yourself & briefly chat in person. Wouldn’t that offer make you more inclined to want to help someone out?

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  • Make it easy to view your BEST work – Full time pros are busy so make it easy for them to see your work. Don’t send over a handful of photos as attachments in an email; don’t tell them they can check out your Facebook page to see your work. Rather, send them a polished, quick slideshow showing your best work, so they can see what you’re capable of, or send them a link to a recent favorite photo shoot. Bottom line – don’t make them hunt for your work.
  • Do it for FREE – Perhaps the best way to show a total stranger over email how committed you are to your education than letting them know upfront that you are more than willing to assist them in any way, for free. Don’t worry, I am not suggesting to always work for free, but when starting out, be prepared to work without any monetary compensation as the value and education you will get from on the job real training will far supersede any dollar value anyway!

[REWIND: Scott Robert Lim: 5 Steps to Becoming A Remarkable Photographer]


  • Focus on “giving” before “receiving” – This can be the toughest idea but it’s also the most valuable. If you really want to make a positive impact right away, figure out how you can add value to them and help them out. Keep in mind that the easy email to write is the same type of email and message that will be seen over and over again with the message and goal being asking for help, rather than giving. For example – a graphic designer can offer to help the photographer out with any graphic design needs they may have in exchange for being able to 2nd shoot a wedding.Learn from Pros (1 of 2)

I hope that you now have a better understanding of both the why and also the how and are able to implement these tips right away and start to get the results that you want!

Now it’s your turn:

  • Have you struggled with having any pros lend you a helping hand? If so, how did you approach and what kind of response did you get?
  • Are you a pro with additional tips & insight to add to my list above?

Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

For more photography business & marketing tips and a whole lot more, say hello and hop on over to Cole’s Classroom.


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Cole is the founder of the photography blog Cole’s Classroom and Cole Joseph Photography, a boutique wedding photography studio based out of San Diego, CA. Be sure to see Cole’s wedding work here: and watch or read his tutorials at:

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Greg Faulkner

    Great info

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  2. Austin Wheeler

    I got really lucky when I was allowed to get an internship with SLR Lounge’s very own Jay Cassario, and I have learned so much and I continue to learn more and more every shoot. I can vouch for these tips, even though I didnt have this article to read.

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    • Cole

      Austin – that’s super awesome man! Working with Jay…you are in good hands :)

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  3. Tanya

    I actually went to a workshop where I met a lot of photographers in my area who have since become friends and we help each other out. Making connections in person is a great way to go.

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    • Cole

      Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts Tanya! You are absolutely right and that goes for not just starting out but also even as you progress in your photography & business. Networking with other photographers (my competition) has been actually one of the best things I’ve done with my photo biz this year as we’ve naturally created our own referral network when already booked. Bottom line – in person will get people farther than: write email, hit send and wait.

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  4. Thomas Moser

    I got lucky. I worked for a company that held running events and the pro photographer that shot the races was happy to answer all my questions and even gave me assignments to better learn. Once i brought my own camera, he offered me a job. Because of him I now work for another event photography company as well.

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    • Cole

      That is awesome! Glad to see you had someone around that was so willing to offer their help.

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  5. Will

    So…anyone want a free meal?

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    • Cole

      haha…nice one Will! I am always game for free food! :)

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