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If you're target is advertising photography, or the top end of editorial, assisting is perhaps the most valuable experience you will gain.

Before you apply, think thoroughly about who you will apply to. You need not focus on those who make work in your specialism; rather, think laterally about what will be valuable and who will deliver this. Start from the top of your list of people you most want to assist and work your way down.

Ben Roberts, who assisted Zed Nelson (among others), says "If you intend on being a photographer it's important to think who you're going to assist because it doesn't matter what you say, the people you work with will affect your own attitudes on photography and maybe affect your own work as well."

Research those you're interested in and send your CV, weblink and full contact details, along with a personally addressed covering letter, stating your position and why you're keen to assist that particular individual. It's important to get across that you are ready and willing to work, and don't just want to watch. Be aware that the keyword here is "individual" - any email that looks generic, or begins with Dear Sir/Madam will be instantly deleted.

Follow this up a couple of days later with a phone call or email. Be confident and show your competence, but take care not to overdo it. The Association of Photographers website ( is a useful resource for contact details, and also posts details of assisting jobs where you might be lucky enough to find some work.

Top music photographer Dean Chalkley says, "Be focused: think laterally, and think broadly about who'd on your hitlist. The beauty of freelance assisting is that in one week you could be with somebody who shoots people, someone who specialises in food photography, and another who does architectural work. This enables you to see how differently people work - their personal discipline. Photography is not like being a solicitor, where you have to follow a set of guidelines."