We Get by With a Little Help From Our Friends: 6 Tips to Building your Photography Network

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The following post explores how to approach Photographers to help you improve your photography is by Natalie Norton from natalienortonphoto.com.

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Photo Credit: Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser, theimageisfound.com

Let me tell you why I love DPS. I’m completely self taught. Everything I’ve learned about photography has been through independent initiative… that’s just a fancy way of saying, “I screwed up a hundred thousand times but picked myself up and tried again a total of a hundred thousand ONE.” And for that I say, “Thank you, me, for not giving up on yourself!”

In the beginning… there was light. Wait, what I meant to say was that in the beginning I spent a good deal of time searching pro’s online galleries, being inspired to the moon and back, looking at breathtaking images and scratching my head thinking “How on God’s green Earth did they do THAT?” I wanted desperately to be like them (I still have a long way to go). I wanted to know how my camera functioned. I was determined to learn all the techniques and tricks I possibly could toward my best images.

There was a particular point in my early career where I got up the nerve to contact some of those photographers I so admired and just ask them a few questions. I was pretty shocked by the response. Most of them did share, but many of them with a great deal of reluctance that I hadn’t expected. The problem for most of them was that they were plain ol’ busy, over-committed, generally behind and, who would have guessed it, had lives that extended beyond me! The nerve!

I also encountered a good number of photogs (and by photogs I mean photographers… welcome to my world of informality) whose reluctance came because they just ABSOLUTELY DID NOT WANT TO SHARE. In the world in general, and I can speak specifically for the photography industry because I’ve experienced it here over and over again, there tends to be a scarcity mentality. It boggles me. So many photographers, and again people in general, just see limits and boundaries and not abundance. It’s unfortunate that so many of us have learned the faulty thinking somewhere along the way that by helping someone else learn and be great there won’t end up being enough success left over. Like the world is going to suddenly have a shortage of success… frrrrrrr. Give me a break. But whatever, there it is.

How to Approach Other Photographers

So how do we get around this awful plague of a mentality and work together to be the best we can be in this wonderful world of photography? Well to start, places like this… DPS. Here we can literally learn at the feet of masters! But this post isn’t a plug for the good ol’ folks at our beloved Digital Photography School. Through my shamelessly bold experience hunting down those photographers I consider to be “the greats” of this generation, I’ve put together a HOW TO for approaching other photographers for assistance in a way that will most likely lead to a bounteous response.

1. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again R*E*S*P*E*C*T (Aretha, I’m yours. Forever)

You’ve got to understand that these people are busy, and the first step in getting them to take even a second out of their schedules to help you is that you’ve got to GENUINELY respect them. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO HELP YOU. They just don’t. They may choose not to. You’ve got to be prepared to accept whatever they choose or choose not to share with you… GRACIOUSLY.

2. Brevity is the Soul of Wit (Thanks Shakespeare… you’re killer cool)

Keep it short. Don’t go all haywire with every question you’ve ever had in your life in one email. Here’s the scoop: When I asked short, simple questions… I got responses 100% of the time.

3. The Power of Praise

Now I say this cautiously because I truly am sincerity’s NUMBER ONE fan. That said, there is also the reality of ego that must be addressed. You can’t just present yourself as Joe Shmoe from Po Dunk, Kentucky… you’ve got to be Joe Shmoe inspired grand admirer of said photographer’s work. Tell them specifically what you love about their work and why you love it so much. But again and again and again: PLEASE BE GENUINE. They’re artists, not idiots. The goal is not to “butter them up,” but to truly have an opportunity to tell them why you love their work and to thank them for inspiring you. And Recapping on tip #2: remember, for the love of all that is holy, be brief.

4. You Scratch my Back, I’ll Scratch Yours

I don’t care how high up the scale of greatness they sit, photographers (let’s just be honest, people in general) respond well to recognition. I get emails from aspiring photographers all the time (there was a large influx in this trend when I started writing for DPS). I LOVE hearing from you. I LOVE hearing that you dig my work… but you know what I really REALLY love? I love it when you tell me that you added me to your favorites, that you did a “Meet the Artist” segment on your blog or that you emailed a link to my personal blog out to all your friends. Photographers want their business to grow. You help them in this regard, they’re going to be happy to answer your questions. Your BRIEF questions (hate to beat a dead horse but you’re catching my drift… oh and BTW, Horses, love them, don’t go beating on any dead or alive).

5. Make an Offer

More and more individual photographers as of late are offering classes and conventions. I’m guessing that this is because the vast availability of low cost professional equipment has made the promise of great photographs available to the masses, thus opening up a new market for people who are learning to use their equipment. Find those photographers you love who offer such classes and services. If you love a photographer who doesn’t offer this service, make an offer. Maybe they need an assistant for a day and if you work for free they’ll teach you a few things… maybe that’s unlikely because you’ll get in their way. If the latter is the case, offer to pay them for a few hours of their time. They may say no… but they just MAY SAY YES!!

6. Accept What You Get

This goes along with the paramount concept of RESPECT. If a photographer responds to you… dance a jig around the kitchen! Wow! That’s great. If a photographer on the other hand does not respond to you… get over it. It doesn’t mean they’re awful and unkind… rather they’re most likely up to their elbows in Photoshop and quite possibly dishes and dirty diapers (yes, I’m referring to myself). You may just get an automatically generated response… if that’s the case you just have to graciously accept this and move along.Now that we’ve got some guidelines, let’s see this in action. Here’s a sample script:

Hello Phot O. Grapher,I just wanted to take a quick second to tell you how much I love your work. It is so powerful, and as an aspiring photographer, I am very inspired by you. I particularly enjoyed the most recent shoot in your gallery, the “Gopher/Chicken” wedding. You really captured the essence of that beautiful union in a remarkable way.I have a quick question, which lens did you use for your shot of the chicken and the gopher dancing their first salsa dance? It was absolutely beautiful. I was very impressed by the effect.Thank you again for being such an inspiration.Sincerely,Joe Schmoe

You get the picture? My success as a photographer has been largely due to the assistance of other photographers. Like for example, the lovely Amelia Lyon of amelialyon.com. She has answered my BRIEF questions so kindly and her work continues to inspire me to up the bar. My interchange with Amelia was successful because she’s a saint, but also because I didn’t inundate her with questions. You’ve got to respect boundaries. I did. Because of that I was able to glean a few pieces of treasured information from this rock star of a photog.

Photo 2

Photo 1

Photo Credit: Amelia Lyon, amelialyon.com

Another photography team that rocks my world is Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser of theimageisfound.com. I’ve never contacted Nate and Jaclyn with questions… because I haven’t had to. They are as far from the “scarcity mentality” I mentioned above as a human can get. They are abundance mentality to the core. They share, share, share on their website and blog (theblogisfound.com). They have a section dedicated to photographers with a list of frequently asked questions as well as a list of EVERY bit of equipment they use and WHAT THEY USE IT FOR! If this isn’t magnificence, I don’t know what is! Their willingness to share alone is an inspiration to me…their fantabulous work is like a cherry on the top of the already rich and scrumptious banana split (ew, I don’t even like those…cheese cake, yum, but no nasty cherry on top… strawberry… ok, whatever this is ridiculous).

Photo 4

Photo 3

Photo Credit: Nate and Jaclyn Kaiser, theimageisfound.comIn short, and as the title asserts, we get by with a little help from our friends. You don’t have to be in this alone. Start building a network today. Hey what’s the worst that could happen?… they could say no? Ouch. How ever will you recover? Happy Shooting!

Natalie lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, HI with her wonderful husband and 3 crazy sons. See more of her work and writing at natalienortonphoto.com.

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

  • AC

    This isn’t something that I have done before. But it is a good idea to develop a larger circle of photography minded friends. Great article.

  • Mandar

    Great article. You have written things which prinicipally apply not only to photography but to any profession in general.
    Definately good to read for new photgraphers.

  • I have always looked for contacts and masters and been happy to learn from them, I remember, my first internship, I was happy to even get the guy some coffee, and when his assistants didn’t show up or he needed something done, I was there to pick up the slack, and that is how I got noticed. I start again with him tomorrow or so, this time, I get more attention than before.

    There is one thing that this article is missing, and that is an extra point: humility!
    If you want to learn you have to be humble, you cannot expect someone to want to teach you when you act like you know everything already. Your attitude is very important in these cases.

  • Geaux

    Great tips and thank you for sharing! I’m a member of a new photo club and this will be very helpful when asking some professional photographers to speak to our group.

  • Hi Natalie – It’s so cool to see you posting here! Love it!

  • Great advice, particularly for someone who’s still learning the basics!

  • Shelly

    REALLY great article, Natalie. I’ve been looking on this website for another of your articles since the last one. Your writing is extremely fun and informative. These are fantastic ideas. Now, maybe I can get past my insecurity, often having that niggling thought, “if I only knew how they did that, I could have made that shot a masterpiece!”
    Thank you so much for your candid way of presenting these ideas!

  • GREAT IDEAS! THANKS!

  • I love your writing style, Natalie – so entertaining!

  • mikeboy: HUMILITY!!! So true. Great addition.

  • I think your totally right. Networking is for sure an advantage to not just having good business sense but also for just plain inspiration. So many times i have seen the talent of others improve simply on the fact that they hang out with someone that is on the “next level”. You learn by association (not always guilty LOL, sorry, lame haha.) Love the write up. Peace

  • I think that anyone trying to break into the business has experienced some of these same issues. Another great way to learn from other photographers is to attend a group photoshoot. They usually cost some money but well worth the price for the experience gained.

  • Interesting set of ideas. I going to look into your points.
    Thanks

  • Richard

    Wow! Talk about insight! Most people are looking for little tricks to get good shots but to be honest, getting mentors is probably the biggest secret that the pros rarely have the humility enough to share. This is probably the most important post on professional photography I’ve seen…if this principle is applied correctly it answers EVERY question I could have and takes me to the next level at whatever stage I’m at. THANK YOU!

  • WAY TO GO GIRL… ANOTHER GREAT PIECE. YOU ARE SO TALENTED AND ONE WILL ONLY GET BETTER BECAUSE OF YOUR DEDICATION TO THE ART AND WILLINGNESS TO SHARE WITH OTHERS LIKE ME…

  • Thanks for the great information. I will be sharing this with a few other photographer friends of mine.

  • I’ve really enjoyed this article because it has hit close to home. I am often inspired so much by a photog that I might email them and ask them a question. Sometimes they answer and sometimes they don’t. And I am amazed at the playing-the-cards-close-to-the-chest attitude of so many! I even read in one article on the net to keep your favourite or popular post processing tips to yourself! Some fellow photog friends and I have even started up a co-op to pool knowledge, material and workshop resources specifically because others won’t share what they know!

    Your article reminded me that there’s busy people at the other end of my email and I’m off to ask an amazing Flickr photog that I’ve been beating my brains out over the past few days, how she does it!

    Thanks!

  • you might also want to look at meetup.com, they have photography groups in most large cities

  • Jing

    Very informative article. Thanks

  • dear, if it could come into practice, thousands of photographers will be benefitted since the internet made it so easy to be in touch, understand, interact, showcase photos from any corner of the globe. thank u for bringing up this great idea/platform for the benefit for upcoming, enthusiasts and pros alike.

  • kris

    Hey, great article! and I LOVED the wedding pic by amelia lyon and wanted to know how she did the graduated blue/lighting etc… I tried the approach suggested in the article in contacting the photographer and so far havent got anywhere… perhaps I need more practice!! Anyone know how I could reproduce the same effect in photoshop??

  • Kris

    I lie … turns out I’m just impatient!! Thanks Amelia for your willingly offered help!

  • so maybe this post is over 2 years old, oh well! okay…the lyons and the kaisers are my 2 most favorite photographers! amelia shot my wedding (we also got to model for a recent lyon shop) and i am going to the image is found shootshop next month! i just found your stuff online and i am in awe at all you share! thanks so much 🙂

  • I’m very happy to have found this site! I recently have been looking for resources in local photographers to help me get better at doing something that I love… taking pictures! 🙂

Some Older Comments

  • Shannon Tiernan July 10, 2010 12:09 am

    I'm very happy to have found this site! I recently have been looking for resources in local photographers to help me get better at doing something that I love... taking pictures! :)

  • jenn king April 8, 2010 09:39 am

    so maybe this post is over 2 years old, oh well! okay...the lyons and the kaisers are my 2 most favorite photographers! amelia shot my wedding (we also got to model for a recent lyon shop) and i am going to the image is found shootshop next month! i just found your stuff online and i am in awe at all you share! thanks so much :)

  • Kris February 29, 2008 10:43 am

    I lie ... turns out I'm just impatient!! Thanks Amelia for your willingly offered help!

  • kris February 29, 2008 10:03 am

    Hey, great article! and I LOVED the wedding pic by amelia lyon and wanted to know how she did the graduated blue/lighting etc... I tried the approach suggested in the article in contacting the photographer and so far havent got anywhere... perhaps I need more practice!! Anyone know how I could reproduce the same effect in photoshop??

  • gopalshroti February 26, 2008 02:50 am

    dear, if it could come into practice, thousands of photographers will be benefitted since the internet made it so easy to be in touch, understand, interact, showcase photos from any corner of the globe. thank u for bringing up this great idea/platform for the benefit for upcoming, enthusiasts and pros alike.

  • Jing February 22, 2008 01:37 pm

    Very informative article. Thanks

  • Sam (Stock photo review) February 22, 2008 02:51 am

    you might also want to look at meetup.com, they have photography groups in most large cities

  • Gabby February 20, 2008 05:22 pm

    I've really enjoyed this article because it has hit close to home. I am often inspired so much by a photog that I might email them and ask them a question. Sometimes they answer and sometimes they don't. And I am amazed at the playing-the-cards-close-to-the-chest attitude of so many! I even read in one article on the net to keep your favourite or popular post processing tips to yourself! Some fellow photog friends and I have even started up a co-op to pool knowledge, material and workshop resources specifically because others won't share what they know!

    Your article reminded me that there's busy people at the other end of my email and I'm off to ask an amazing Flickr photog that I've been beating my brains out over the past few days, how she does it!

    Thanks!

  • Embrownny February 20, 2008 03:16 pm

    Thanks for the great information. I will be sharing this with a few other photographer friends of mine.

  • frank peck February 20, 2008 10:12 am

    WAY TO GO GIRL... ANOTHER GREAT PIECE. YOU ARE SO TALENTED AND ONE WILL ONLY GET BETTER BECAUSE OF YOUR DEDICATION TO THE ART AND WILLINGNESS TO SHARE WITH OTHERS LIKE ME...

  • Richard February 20, 2008 04:41 am

    Wow! Talk about insight! Most people are looking for little tricks to get good shots but to be honest, getting mentors is probably the biggest secret that the pros rarely have the humility enough to share. This is probably the most important post on professional photography I've seen...if this principle is applied correctly it answers EVERY question I could have and takes me to the next level at whatever stage I'm at. THANK YOU!

  • Digital Flower February 20, 2008 12:06 am

    Interesting set of ideas. I going to look into your points.
    Thanks

  • david February 19, 2008 11:45 pm

    I think that anyone trying to break into the business has experienced some of these same issues. Another great way to learn from other photographers is to attend a group photoshoot. They usually cost some money but well worth the price for the experience gained.

  • Jake February 19, 2008 03:38 pm

    I think your totally right. Networking is for sure an advantage to not just having good business sense but also for just plain inspiration. So many times i have seen the talent of others improve simply on the fact that they hang out with someone that is on the "next level". You learn by association (not always guilty LOL, sorry, lame haha.) Love the write up. Peace

  • Natalie Norton February 19, 2008 01:30 pm

    mikeboy: HUMILITY!!! So true. Great addition.

  • Nadine February 19, 2008 08:49 am

    I love your writing style, Natalie - so entertaining!

  • Heather February 19, 2008 08:18 am

    GREAT IDEAS! THANKS!

  • Shelly February 19, 2008 06:40 am

    REALLY great article, Natalie. I've been looking on this website for another of your articles since the last one. Your writing is extremely fun and informative. These are fantastic ideas. Now, maybe I can get past my insecurity, often having that niggling thought, "if I only knew how they did that, I could have made that shot a masterpiece!"
    Thank you so much for your candid way of presenting these ideas!

  • Deanna February 19, 2008 06:29 am

    Great advice, particularly for someone who's still learning the basics!

  • Sheila February 19, 2008 05:30 am

    Hi Natalie - It's so cool to see you posting here! Love it!

  • Geaux February 19, 2008 03:52 am

    Great tips and thank you for sharing! I'm a member of a new photo club and this will be very helpful when asking some professional photographers to speak to our group.

  • mikeboy February 19, 2008 02:24 am

    I have always looked for contacts and masters and been happy to learn from them, I remember, my first internship, I was happy to even get the guy some coffee, and when his assistants didn't show up or he needed something done, I was there to pick up the slack, and that is how I got noticed. I start again with him tomorrow or so, this time, I get more attention than before.

    There is one thing that this article is missing, and that is an extra point: humility!
    If you want to learn you have to be humble, you cannot expect someone to want to teach you when you act like you know everything already. Your attitude is very important in these cases.

  • Mandar February 19, 2008 02:07 am

    Great article. You have written things which prinicipally apply not only to photography but to any profession in general.
    Definately good to read for new photgraphers.

  • AC February 19, 2008 01:20 am

    This isn't something that I have done before. But it is a good idea to develop a larger circle of photography minded friends. Great article.

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