How can I get work experience as a photographer? Should I leave sixth form now?

Snap to it

Q. I am studying photography at college. How can I get some work experience, and, if possible, recognition and a solid portfolio?

A. This is absolutely the right instinct - now you just have to put in the work to make it happen. You need to find and approach the right people. Research the photographers you like in an area you are interested in - do you prefer still life, architecture, fashion, sport? Look at the list of photographers on the Association of Photographers' website for starters ( www.the-aop.org). There you can search out photographers in the same way as commissioners, by looking up specialities and locations. Then you have to make the approach. There isn't one right way to do this, but sending a personalized e-mail (this means sounding as if you know about the photographer's work) and following up with a phone call is a good bet. Remember busy photographers are often looking for someone they can get on with on 16-hour shoots, so be as pleasant as possible and if they can't offer any immediate help, ask if they will just look at your portfolio. It's a good way to meet them and establish contact just in case, say, an assistant falls ill and they need extra help. To boost that portfolio, contact local companies to see if they want promotional material. Are there local bands needing album covers? Do charities need brochures? If you are working for free make the arrangement a one-off so your work is not taken for granted. The AOP gives free careers talks every month in London - it would be worth getting along to a session.

Sixth sense

Q. I am in the first year of sixth form. I go through days wishing I was elsewhere, and not reaching my full potential. I am very ambitious, and find it difficult to decide whether I want to leave school. I've been told the positions of junior barristers' clerk and trainee stock broker have good prospects.

A. Of course you can leave school and make pots of money - Richard Branson is the most cited example of a non-graduate who made it, and there are many others. You have ambition, but it's a tough route. You'd have to be hard headed about the fact that if you change your mind, in many careers, and particularly professions, a lack of degree will be a barrier. And, whatever you try, you are likely to be competing against graduates. Being successful is very often about doing what you enjoy, but leaving before taking your A-levels needs careful thought. Some large employers are opening up routes for A-level entrants, though you'd need good grades. And even those in the areas you've identified recommend finishing your exams as they'll help you start slightly further up the ladder. It might not be academic study you dislike, but your subjects. Seek any advice you can from your school to try and pin down the problem. Cheer yourself up by getting work experience to try jobs out. Pay for the jobs you mention starts low but rises steeply, and you can start as a school leaver. You could end up running your own stockbroking firm or as administrator of a barristers' chambers. The Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers ( www.apcims.co.uk) has useful advice for would-be stockbrokers; and The Institute of Barristers' Clerks site ( www.barristersclerks.com) explains what being a clerk entails.

Careers advisers: Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters; Anne-Marie Martin, director, The Careers Group, University of London.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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