Work Experience Advice

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can offer any student of photography when seeking work experience is let the application itself be part of the experience. I should preface by saying that I rarely offer work experience placements for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here, but follow a few simple rules and your application will stand a better chance of finding success.


  • Get the photographer’s name right and use it. Just saying “Hi” suggests you’re sending a round-robin email.
  • Don’t send a round-robin email and NEVER use the CC or even BCC functions to send out mass communications.
  • If you cut and paste an email text, make sure you tailor it to each individual recipient.
  • Do your research. Look at the photographer’s website to establish whether they’re working in the specific field you’re interested in.
  • Talk about the kind of photography career you’re interested in, but more in terms of the business than the style. Saying you like to photograph people isn’t the same as saying you want to shoot pictures for businesses (what I call corporate communications photography).
  • When looking at a photographer’s site, look at the kind of work they’re doing and establish from that whether they’re studio-based, work only on location or a mixture of the two. Students often ask to join me in my studio, but it’s possible to work out from my website that I don’t have one.
  • Make sure your contact details are correct, including mobile number and email address.
  • Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar and get someone else to check it for you – this should be someone who is really good at checking these things, so ask a teacher, lecturer or other competent person.
  • Be sure to include your ability to travel – do you have your own transport?

I could go on, but hitting these main points should get your toe in the door at least.

Although I can’t often offer work experience, a competent application will at least get a response from me. Usually I’ll make an offer to have a phone conversation about what the applicant wants to do in the industry, the opportunities and where else to get advice, but I’m astonished how often my email reply goes unanswered. Which of course makes it harder for the next student to get a response from me.

Work experience can be invaluable, it’s how I started out as a press photographer, but the industry structures for training, nurturing and furthering a career have either changed or disappeared since I set out on my journey. Students today will need to find their own tracks into their chosen career, but get these basics right and you never know, you could find yourself ahead of the game and on your way to doing probably the best job in the world.

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  • Paul Adams December 13, 2018   Reply →

    Good advice Tim. I got sooo many emails with just Hi, and then the usual, wanting to work in my studio etc etc. It is the basics that really do make the difference. A good friend of mine is a lecturer in photography, he tells students to hand write a letter to a photographer to gain work experience, very few do. Bizarre. I have had a few students assist when I am in need of help (which is rare), most have been keen. One guy from college started arguing with a client claiming he was right, same guy cut gaffer tape from a live cable with a knife, he also bounced cases (full of lights) up steps instead of carrying them. I haven’t used him since!! I have also heard stories of two students from the local college, who went on work experience with a photographer and ended up knicking the client and under cutting him. Rant nearly over, the local college also do cheap work for some big local businesses using students and college studios, undercutting everyone. Needless to say I no longer offer advice and help to the college.

    • Tim Gander January 7, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Paul, happy New Year! And sorry for leaving it so late to respond, I had “a bit of a time” before Christmas with my laptop away for repair (new battery) and rather lost track of my blog. Anyway, I’m back and raring to go now.

      Those experiences sound truly dreadful! I’m glad nothing like that has happened to me. The worst I had was handing a spare camera to a student to be second person on a job. Luckily I wasn’t relying on them because when they handed it back I discovered they had no idea how to use focus lock. There wasn’t a single in-focus image in the entire set (unless pin-sharp backgrounds are your thing).

      Too often students are beguiled by the idea of being a photographer, when the reality is often too prosaic for them to really want it.

      Happy 2019!

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