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Should You Have an Intern?


A trend across all industries is the use of interns. In a tough economy, it gives the intern a taste of the work field they hope to enter. But what about the other side, the business taking on the intern? Is it worthwhile for a photographer or photo studio to bring one on board? We spoke with some CT ASMP chapter members to find out.

 

Start From the Beginning: How Do You Find an Intern?

 

Local colleges, offspring of clients and friends, Craiglist, high schools- all are sources of interns. Donna Callighan, of Stamford, finds her interns through the Business Council of Fairfield County. They send her forms annually, to match her up with potential interns who use the national site, internhere.com

 

In Litchfield County, member Rich Pomerantz finds his interns through the local high school, where the art department has “a great program channeling highly qualified students into local arts related businesses.”

 

Screening is Key

 

Every photographer emphasizes that screening your potential intern is the key to success. Personality, expectations, working together to find a schedule--these all need to be discussed upfront. Still, not every intern is a good match. Donna Callighan remembers one who didn’t work out well in her studio “...[she]broke a nail and cried. So it was a good learning experience for her to know that being a pro photog is NOT for her.”

 

While most interns are those interested in photo careers, don’t overlook others. Successful interns can also be business and marketing majors, or young people entering the graphic design field.

 

Scheduling

 

Figuring out how to work together is important from the start. Single day intern experiences are best for photographer Julie Bidwell, in West Hartford -more of a “shadowing” for the day. She explained that she works from her home, and it would be hard to find a way to fit an intern in with the way she works.

 

Bob Handelman’s formal interns were semester-long experiences and Donna Callighan has had interns during summer. Flexibility is very important: keeping in mind that the intern is trading their time for some entry level career experience, and they may not know what that means in real life terms. Bob advises, “Learn what's most important to them from the experience, to see if you can deliver AND vice versa. Assess if their skills and interests align with what you envision for them to do, which may be stuffing envelopes.”

 

What work does an intern do for you?

 

No photographer substituted an intern for a paid assistant, and most reported little overlap in the roles of intern & assistant. An intern is unskilled, and although they might help out on a shoot, they’re not expected to have the lighting and equipment skills of a photo assistant, nor the understanding of how it all works. Often interns tag along on client photo shoots, with the paid photo assistant and photographer showing them the equipment, and how a set up happens.

 

Donna said her interns help with marketing research, studio organizational projects, assisting, client hospitality, scanning, and data entry.

 

When a new intern joins them, Rich Pomerantz and his studio manager plan ahead. “We tried very hard to always have a project for the interns. I did not want to be taking time from my daily work to be figuring out what daily holes needed plugging for them to do. That would be terrifically unproductive for both of us. In fact I would not even take an intern unless I knew what projects I was going to have them working on.” Rich’s interns like many around the state, spent most of their time in the office/studio.

 

Bob Handelman points out that while there might be some intersection of an intern’s help and the work of a paid photo assistant, you want to be careful when you reach that juncture. An intern is a fleeting relationship, while a paid photo assistant is an investment in a longer term relationship, with more return to your business.

 

Rich Freeda’s first intern experience, last year, was a positive one. His intern Audrey assisted Rich on personal shoots, especially with collecting and keeping track of model releases, organizational tasks and paperwork. It was a boon for Rich, and helped him make his New Voters project happen. He said “It can be a rewarding experience for both the intern and the business /pro if they are a good fit. Set expectations of what you both hope to gain and understand that an intern is NOT an employee. They are still learning how to work and require some guidance. Infusing some youth and enthusiasm can be good for you and your business, but you have to be open to the good and bad it may bring”

 

Interning is a 2-Way Street

 

Donna Callighan and Rich Pomerantz also cited the value of having youth contributing to an established business. Rich put it this way “The upside is you get a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and pride watching a young person grow and learn about the reality of what we do. It's thrilling for them to see the inner workings of a studio, and feeling that energy coming from them helped keep me excited and energized by what I do. I also learned a great deal about where young people are at in the culture, where the trends really are (as opposed to where the media tells us they are). “

 

Donna Callighan summed up the give and take: ”YES, it takes time out of your day, but I truly enjoy being around young creative minds and fostering the next generation along. What is the upside? The energy from a young person in infectious! They have given me a confidence in the next generation of leaders. Free help. (although, if photo majors, I always wrote them a juicy check at the end of the summer as a surprise, for them to buy a piece of equipment for their camera bag.)”

 

If you take on an intern, here’s some extra advice (in no particular order)

  • Screen carefully (this advice came first, from everyone)
  • Definitely check references
  • Be clear on the confidentiality level you want, including social media postings
  • Take time to explain things to them
  • Let the interns know that asking questions is encouraged so that they don’t mess something up.

 

Try to find out how hungry they are. Will they be willing to do the less glamorous tasks you have in mind for them--like helping with mailings and scanning slides-in exchange for spending time with a working professional photographer?

 

-CT ASMP