How to Become My Assistant (or Not)

I get a fair amount of emails from assistants moving to Portland looking for work. I totally get it. Portland is a cool place to live and being a photographer is fun. With NYC, LA, and San Francisco very expensive and hard to break into, Portland seems like an obvious place to start your career. Hey, it’s why I moved here.

There is definitely a fair amount of work here. But, there are a lot of assistants and probably more assistants than there is work. So you got to do something special to get my attention (and every other working photographer here).

Here’s an example of what not to do:

First of all, the email isn’t even to me. I’m BCC’d on it. Strike One! Mike mentions they are a graduate of a Canadian art school, but doesn’t tell me if he still lives there or in Portland. Strike Two! He also attaches a resume which really is pointless unnecessary as far hiring an assistant goes. I would have like to seen referrals. Strike Three! I don’t respond to Mike’s inquiry.

On the other had, here’s a great example of what you should do to get my attention:

First, a great subject line and I immediately opened the email. Dan then pretty quickly sums up who he is and why he’s contacting me. What sells me is that he specifically points out something I shot and that he shoots interiors, but wants to see how I do it. I would hire an assistant who likes to shoot interiors 10 to 1 over an assistant who is more interested in something else. I’ve hired Dan five times since he first emailed me and he’s been great. I highly recommend him.

The lesson here is to be straightforward and show genuine interest. It’s a huge mistake to feign interest in what I do, just to get assisting work. Always try to work for photographers that shoot what you like to shoot. You’ll enjoy the job more, learn things that you want to know, and connect with the person you’re working for. It’s a win win.

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  • Bitna11/02/2010 - 11:56 am

    Hi Lincoln,
    I too emailed a few months back asking to be your assistant, and guess what? You not only WROTE ME BACK, but gave me a great advice and encouragement. I really appreciated your response. I am still working to establish myself as a photographer who can make a living, and I visit your blog to be inspired and informed. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Taylor Cunningham03/20/2012 - 1:10 pm


    Wonderful post. I have to admit I’ve probably been the first emailer on occasion, but I’m improving 🙂 I wish I lived in Portland; it would be great to work with you. Your mix of lifestyle and food is something I would like to achieve. My favorite image of yours has to be the bacon that won PDN.


    • Lincoln Barbour03/20/2012 - 3:25 pm

      Hey Taylor, thanks for the kind words. It’s not easy breaking into the assistant world, but once you find someone you click with, you’ll definitely get hired. I think personality is way more important than any skill or experience. I used to use a bunch of assistants and then I found my go to guy and he’s always who I call first, mainly because we get along really well. I get a ton of emails from people wanting to be my assistant. I wish I had enough work for all of them, but I don’t.ReplyCancel

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