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Jan 06, 2012

The 10 Rules to Contact Famous Photographers

“I e-mailed this famous photographer, and they never even responded.”

 It made me mad to be honest. It made me feel like they thought I was less of a person. It took like 3 days to build up the courage to even e-mail them, and I spent 45 minutes writing my email to make sure it was perfect. They can’t even spend 2 minutes and respond?

That Sucks. Lets Make Sure That Doesn’t Happen Anymore.

I know it sounds weird, but there really is a right and wrong way to get to this person. How do I know? I am one of these people.

1 – Don’t Assume They Have Time
2 – No One Owes You a Response
3 – Don’t Beg
4 – Be Prepared.
5 – Contact the Right Person
6 – Robot Until Proven Human
7 – Don’t Ask Favors
8 – Be Specific
9 – Google Google Google
10 – Format Your Message

Note: I will answer your email. Even if you don’t follow the rules. This article is to help you get in contact with the people you admire. It is not written as a guide on how to email me. I do want you to contact these people, and I do want you to get a response and even start a relationship. 

How do you know the rules?

I made them up. That is the honest answer. Not only that, but they are based on my experiences and my opinions, which change all the time.

Here is How I Came Up With the Rules.

I am in a unique position, that only a few people get to be in. I am in the middle. I am not a “Famous Person” to everyone, but I am a “Famous Person” to some people. I don’t really like being called famous to be honest, but that is a discussion for another article.

I am in the middle, and because of this, I see this problem from both sides. I have been in the shoes of both people many times. I am writing this article from the point of view of two people.

  • The Famous Person -I receive between 50 and 100 e-mails every single day, and I make it a point to answer them personally. Some emails come across very well, and others make me just plain angry. It is all in the delivery.
  • The Less Famous Person – I have contacted many people more important than myself, and learned from what does work, and what doesn’t work.

In preparation for this article, I have spent the last few weeks keeping a detailed list of everything I saw that was working, and everything that wasn’t. From this 3 page list, I narrowed everything down to 10 Rules that I feel encompass everything.

Why Are There Rules?

A famous person is really just like any other person. It is the relationships people have with famous people that makes things weird.

Chances are that you know a lot more about this person than they do about you. In your world, you already have a relationship with that person. In their world, they have no idea who you are.

Relationships like this are not normal. It is very easy for a famous person to get weirded out. Trust me, you would get weirded out too if you ran into someone you have never met and they knew everything about you.

This is why there are rules. For the most part, we just aren’t prepared to deal with these situations well.

Time=Money.

Famous people often have a lot more money than time. For them, time is a lot more precious. Chances are that for you, money is a lot more precious. Think of a request for their time as a request for your money. If it is something you would happily spend money on, chances are they will give their time.

1 – Don’t Assume They Have Time


This person is probably busier than you are.
I think most people would assume this before reading these rules.

There is however, a difference in just thinking that they are busy, and understanding how that effects their entire life. This person probably doesn’t function like you do. They can’t.

If they do respond to e-mails personally, based on the number of emails they receive, you are looking at 2-4 hours of typing e-mails every single day. That is over 20 hours a week that they are working more than the average person. Not only that, but that work does not directly benefit anyone except the person who e-mails them.

At this point, it becomes not worth their time to answer e-mails. Chances are that if a person is famous, they got to that position by doing something of value. If they abandon that to answer e-mail all day, everyone loses. Most people in this position hire someone to answer their e-mails for them.

Receiving a lot of emails could wind up costing these people $30,000+/yr in salary. 

You don’t have to feel bad for them though. When you get to the point where you have to pay someone to answer your emails, you will probably be making more than enough money to do so.

What can we conclude from Rule #1?

If you e-mail this person, you will probably get a response from someone else. If they respond to you personally, don’t take up much of their time. 

2 – No One Owes You a Response


Really? Yes. Your e-mail is just a request for their time, they do have the right to deny your request. In fact, one of the most important abilities successful people have, is the ability to tell people no. They assess the tasks laid out in front of them, and act on those that yield the highest return.  Everything else they either delegate or eliminate.

You can try this in your own life. You will be more successful because of it. Learning to say no is very powerful.

Aaron – This seems to go against the entire spirit of this article. Why would you say something like this?

We need to keep things honest. At this point, you don’t really mean that much to this person, and they probably don’t have a huge incentive for spending time on you. Don’t worry, I will help you to build incentive in this article.

If a beggar comes up to you on the street and asks you for money, it is your choice whether or not to give it to them. You do not owe something you value to people simply because they ask for it.

3 – Don’t Beg


I know you are smart enough not to say things like “PLEEAAASE” in an email, but begging is not all about the actual words you write, it is about the attitude behind those words.

Just remember that in everything you write, there is denotation and connotation. Denotation is just how the words are defined, everything is very literal. Connotation is more of a secondary meaning, an undertone.

Take this sentence for example:

“I really want to be successful, but no one will help me.”

Denotation: This person wants success. No one will help them.

Connotation: I am really just waiting around for someone to come and take control of my life and do everything for me, because I sure as hell am not going to do it myself.

You really want to avoid sounding like this. It comes across as weak, and most successful people will not respect this. Successful people enjoy other successful people, they deal with beggars enough.

Begging will put you in the position of a person who doesn’t actually believe that they deserve other people’s time. If you don’t feel like you deserve another person’s time, they will probably agree with you on that. Remember, these are busy people, but they are still just people. Come in on their level, they will respect you more, and you will respect yourself more in the process.

If you do manage to get a response from this person after you beg them to do something, it will most likely be out of pity. This is not a great way to start any relationship.

4 – Be Prepared.


Remember crunch time before exams?

You had this really hard task ahead of you, and you spent a ton of time preparing for it. The day comes for you to take your test, you are really nervous, but a little excited. You have prepared a great deal for this challenge, and it means a lot to you to succeed. You open up your test and think “This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” You are a rock star, you ace the test because you already knew how to handle every problem.

Then there are the people who just “Show Up” to the test, and get frustrated when they don’t do well. If you are on track to “Just Showing Up” in life, you really can turn everything around just by learning to prepare.

It is not the time spent during the task that is important, it is the time spent preparing that makes a difference.

Writing an email to this famous or successful person should be treated the same as taking an exam. If you succeed, you will get a great response back, and it will be the start of a good relationship. If you fail, you get nothing.

The best chance you have of getting a great response is to be very prepared. If you ask someone to do something, and they agree to help, don’t make them wait. You should know more about what you want them to do than they do.

Here are examples from each category. Can you tell the difference?


Email #1

Them:
Hey Aaron,
I am doing a paper for school and have to interview a photographer. I picked you because my friend told me about you. Can you help me?

Me:
Thanks man, sure, what do you need from me? (truth be told I already felt insulted and wanted to say no)

Them:
I am not really sure. Maybe I could like, come up with some questions or something, and you could answer them

Me:
Sounds great, send them over. (or not)

Them (3 days later):
Hey dude, I got really busy. Here are the questions. The report is due tomorrow, so I need the answers tonight.

How long have you been a photographer?
How much money do you make?
How are you so creative?
Do you have any advice for me?


 Email #2

Them:

Hey Aaron,
{Flattery left out}.

I am writing a report on your work for my school.  I read through all of your websites, and found the answers to most of my questions, thanks for putting so much information out there.

I can complete the report with the information I have, but I want to make sure you are represented honestly. If you have time, I have 2 quick questions that will help people to get to know the real you.

By the way, I have told all of my friends about Phlearn, and now we all watch every day. Loved the “Do Hard Sh*t” Episode!

I will be submitting this report to my art teacher, and recommending her to tell all of her 350 students about Phlearn.

Thanks for your time
Them.
(link to their facebook, portfolio)

Could You Tell The Difference?

Of course you can tell the difference. These are extreme examples to demonstrate how much preparation makes a difference. I could probably write an entire book on what is wrong with the first one, and so could you. These are both real emails.

80% of the emails I receive are a lot closer to Example #1 than Example #2.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you to not email me. If you email me, I will respond, even if your email looks like #1.

Same But Different

Both people wanted the same thing. Both started out as complete strangers.  In truth, they were both honoring me by choosing to write a report about me. By the end of the first string of emails I felt annoyed. By the end of the second, I liked the person who emailed me.

This is just as much because of the tone they used as the actual words written. Denotation vs. Connotation. 

Example #1 basically says - Hey, I am more important than you are. Write my paper for me. Oh, and answer 2 questions that are already answered on your FAQ, one question that cannot be answered, and one that is totally out of line for me to be asking in the first place. Also, do it now.

Example #2 basically says - You are important. I really don’t want to bother you, and I have done a great deal of work to get everything I need without bothering you. I am actively marketing to 350+ people who are in your exact demographic for free.

I want to be sure you are represented exactly how you want to be represented. This will take at most 10 minutes of your time. More proof that I am very interested in what you do. I respect your time. Thank you.

Additional Notes

2 weeks later I received a follow up email from Example #2, saying what a success the paper was, and thanking me for my time. I like this person. You probably would if you got an email like that too.

I answered the questions in Example #1 and never heard back from the person. I have no idea if they even wrote the report. I do not like this person. You probably wouldn’t either.

In person, the first person could turn out to be really cool, and the second might smell really weird. At this point, what you are like in person doesn’t really matter. The only information I have of these people is what they wrote me, and so I have no choice but to judge them by that.

5 – Contact the Right Person


Most photographers use a camera, but that doesn’t mean that most photographers are alike.

If you were to ask me a specific question on landscape photography, I am incapable of giving you the best answer. I would either have to make something up, or say “I am not qualified to answer your question” or simply “I don’t know”.Don’t put people in this position. Not many people like to say “I don’t know”, so they are left to make something up. Either way you are not getting the best answer.

This is like emailing a person and saying “You’re from Texas! My buddy used to live in Texas! Do you know him?”

If you want to photograph weddings and want more information on how to grow as a wedding photographer, contact a wedding photographer. Don’t email a commercial product photographer and ask them about weddings.

I know this sounds extremely obvious, just remember there are for more niches in the world than you will ever realize.

Most photographers are specialized, and they are so for a reason. They don’t really like the other stuff. Don’t bother them with it, you are wasting their time and yours.

6 – Robot Until Proven Human


Aaron Nace Robot Phlearn

Meeting someone face to face is very different from interacting with someone online.

Almost everything that makes us human is not present. For instance, you have no idea where I am writing this, what clothes I am wearing, if I am energized or worn out. Because I am not an experienced writer, you probably even took seriously things that I meant to be a joke.

I can’t make you feel better with a hug.

“Most social psychologists will tell you that nonverbal communication makes up about two-thirds of all communication between two people or between one speaker and a group of listeners.”

- Hogan, K., Stubbs, R. (2003).

When a person reads your  email for the first time, the only thing they know about you is your name, your email address, and a few lines of text. It is pretty easy to ignore a few lines of text. It is much harder to ignore a person.

How are you supposed to stand out from the other 40 emails they just went through with a name, an email address, and a few lines of text?

This is not your chance to tell someone your life’s story. 

Remember, that this person’s time is very important, asking them to read a novel in an email is not effective. If you do feel it is necessary to include more than 2 paragraphs, be sure to format your email well.

Tips: On Becoming Human

  • Avoid using words that are too formal. You don’t greet your friends with “Salutations”.
  • If you use Gmail, get Rapportive and fill out your details. If the person reading your email also has this installed (people who get tons of email love this service) then they will see your face, and more personal details.
  • Find out if you have anything in common with this person, and mention it. BTW, photography doesn’t count. This could be your shared love for classical music (like mine). It could be that you are both Sagittarius (like I am). Maybe you even studied abroad in the same small town in Sweden(Lund). Whatever it is, it will make you more human.
  • Use your email signature to your advantage. Include one or two relevant links i.e.your portfolio.
  • Embed a photo in the email. This one I haven’t decided on yet. Depending on their privacy settings and their email provider they might not see it. I do feel that If I received a short, well written email, with a stunning photo embedded, it would get my attention a lot more than that same email with no photo. Use your best photo, and avoid anything indecent, in case they open it at home in front of the kids, or at work.
  • This may be a generation thing, but personally I hate being called Mr. Nace. Aaron works just fine. I will let you know how I feel about the whole “Mr.” thing in 30 years.
  • Someone last week sent me an email spelling my name Erin, and then stating they did it on purpose to get my attention. It actually did work, although it also pissed me off.
  • If you have done something relevant and impressive, include it. For instance: I am best friends with Janet Jackson if you ever want to do a photo shoot with her.
  • If you follow them on twitter, give them a shout out first, so they know who you are and that your email is coming.

7 – Don’t Ask Favors


If anything you should be doing the opposite.

Do a favor for them and don’t ask for anything in return. That will get their attention. The more famous a person gets, the more people want things from them. It is rare going the other way.

If you went out to lunch with Mark Zuckerburg, you would probably expect him to pay – because he is Mark FrigginZuckerberg! That dude has so much money, that if he spent $1 every second of every day, it would take over 500 years for him to go broke. I did the math. He is rich and he is powerful and he is famous,

and if he paid for your lunch he would still be doing you a favor.

There is not much that pisses famous people off more than expected favors.

Never ask this person for a favor in your first interaction with them. NEVER EVER. Remember, you may feel as though you know this person, but they do not know you.

If you do want them to do something, highlight what benefits they will receive by doing so. As in the case with Email #2 under Rule 4.

“I can complete the report with the information I have, but I want to make sure you are represented honestly. If you have time, I have 2 quick questions that will help people to get to know the real you.”

This person is asking me to do something for them, but they word it in a way that makes it seem like I would be doing something good for myself. After all, the thought of people getting to know the “real me” and inviting me to be represented in the way I would prefer does sound nice.

You may have to get creative here, but you will be able to figure out how just about any action will benefit the other person. Focus on their benefit, not yours.

8 – Be Specific


Figure out exactly why you are emailing this person, and have that be very clear.

They should be able to read your subject line, and know exactly what is going to be in the email.If you plan on asking this person questions, avoid questions like “how can I be a better photographer?.” That question is pretty similar to “How can I be a better soccer player?”

If you expect this person to be able to tell you the answer to a question like that in a short email, you are indirectly insulting them by implying that something they have spent a lifetime mastering can be learned in 3 sentences.

Incidentally I do know the answer to that question, but no one likes to hear it.

Take a shitload of pictures. Then take a shitload more. Repeat until you are dead.

Be specific in your requests, and you will receive specific answers. No one can answer “How do I get better at lighting” in an email. Instead, try something like – “I am thinking about making the jump from speedlights to monolights, but I am a little concerned with portability. I saw that you have the Lithium Ion Vagabond, are you able to run a shoot with multiple lights on a single battery charge?”

That is a question I can answer. The answer is yes BTW. I have run 3 WhiteLigtnings at close to full power during a shoot that lasted over 2 hours.

9 – Google Google Google


If your question can be answered by doing a simple search on Google,

DO NOT WASTE THIS PERSONS TIME.

By the way, this site is awesome – Let me google that for you

10 – Format Your Message


Formatting your message correctly could mean the difference between someone reading it and not. Imagine if this article was one long sentence, you would hate me.

Images

If you would like someone to see your image, send it in the first email as an attachment, or embedded. They don’t care about your 125 Mb Tiff, send a small 800px wide compressed jpg. If they like what they see, they can always pursue.

Personally, I prefer seeing images directly in the e-mail, rather than including a link to a portfolio. Everything I need right there, without having to leave my inbox.The last thing you want is for someone not to respond to you because you sent a file that they thought was going to take up too much of their time to download.

Text

It is ok to use BOLD and ITALICS in an email. It is ok to have headers, and sub-headings.You don’t want your email to look like a sales pitch, but people will appreciate you taking the time and effort to making it easier to read.

Here are a couple of great resources on formatting. They are written about blogging, but apply to email as well.


I know this is a crazy long article. Thanks for taking time to read it.

If you have any other insights, let us know in a comment. This article is only half of the help, the other half relies on your wisdom.

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    Tokki Risa

    Great article :) Thank you so much for your time writing all this. It’s very helpful tip to me cuz I am doing mobile phone donation project for my master degree and it is so hard to contact someone even they are not famous, so you have no idea how you help me to go on after being stuck at some point. Even this ‘s the first time I heard about you and Phlearn, but the more I google on your website, I become to like your works very much. Cheers on you ^^

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    Anna Äärelä

    Thought I’d ask a bit different kind of a question; here you’re talking about contacting famous photographers, but what if you want to contact someone you want to shoot? I mean, I know someone who knows someone who knows someone (yes… :D) who I really want to shoot, but the problem is – I don’t want to sound like I’d be jus taking advantage of these people. What do I do?

    Or, is that exactly what I’d be doing? I am certain that this has to go through these persons since the actual person that I want to shoot – he’s way too ‘high profile’ for it to be possible for me to contact him. Gosh, I really know how to explain stuff.. :D 

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    Selene-alexia

    Again thanks for writing all this out for us :) theres a lot of really great information here <3

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    Kim Thompson

    Brilliant .. can’t help but being rather impressed at your making a detailed list of what was and wasn’t working. That is the organisation I am trying to achieve in my life .. I must keep aiming. I have to admire people who are able to communicate effectively – it usually shows their passion for the subject. You are very generous, many thanks!

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    Beth

    Excellent article!!  Very well written and informative.  I think the above guidelines should apply to contacting any successful person that is superior in “rank” to oneself.  Thank you for taking the time out to enumerate these “rules” for us laypeople. :o)

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    Daniel James T. Cook

    This article made me miss my letter writing correspondence with Michael Jackson. Course he thought I was Freddy Mercury writing from a city 6 miles below the Earth’s surface. So I guess that doesn’t count.

    Hey I have an idea – How bout a paid online service that allows people to send emails to dead famous people! At the higher price level they’re even guaranteed a response from the person or their money back. Hahaha. Sorry, I’m messed up. :p

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    GregGardner

    Great read, thanks for that! In retrospect I can see where I went wrong in the past in not only the photo stuffs but also everyday life interactions.

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    Tavis Glover

    Wow, awesome article Aaron! I’ve been wanting to read this since you posted it, but I’m really reluctant when it comes to reading. That is the biggest compliment I can give you since I don’t read very many articles. I read every word!! haha! :D Great points in there, and you kept it interesting with solid examples. So sorry that my email ticked you off a bit, and I would never think about disrespecting you or your name…but I’m really glad it got your attention! You are right, I felt like I already knew you from watching Phlearn, but you had no idea who I was. You were spot on!I also read that you like classical, so maybe I can make it up to you by telling you a composer I just discovered a few weeks ago. His name is Ludivico Einaudi and he plays classical piano. A lot of his music is great for editing photos, or getting inspiration from. Hopefully you already know of him, if not, I’m glad to introduce you to him. I’ll link to one of my favorites, and list a couple more for you to check out if you get time. Take care man, and keep the inspiration flowing!! Ludovico Einaudi – “Primavera” “Nuvole Bianche” “Divenire” “Andare” and my new fave “I giorni”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4LFk4bBMkM

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    Cornflake Couture

    Brilliant article.  I have wondered in the past how many emails you get a day (phew I didn’t email to ask :) but yes, your spot on about real life vs. online, I don’t always appreciate there are probably thousands of people out there watching you daily like me, I just have an idea of some of them, so I do feel like I know you, and “oh you cut your hair today and I like that shirt, and did you move the light-up A lamp?” I’d be REALLY freaked out if someone started to correspond with me as a friend like that!!

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    L0NDONER

    Thanks but I am not a photographer. Just kidding All of the above can be used in every day communications, even with my own peers. Thanks for sharing :)

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    23X

    OK, I’m guilty of using the word beg, because I asked you to follow me. Two reason why I resorted to that:
    1. I really do wonder in what way it will effect me if I know someone I admire is following me, or can see my work.
    2. I took your previous episode seriously on how to get whatever you want in life….ASK! So I did. Normally guilty of wanting without the courage to ask, I have tried to summons the intestinal fortitude to ask for simple things that I know I personally would not be bothered to grant for others. Also, incidentally, I have become more aware of people asking for free things from me. It used to bug the crap out of me, but now I look at it like, ‘well, I can’t blame them for asking!’

    Anyway, Aaron, while I used the word beg in my tweet, I hope it came across more as a simple request. I’m very good friends with an internationally well known, future hall-o-famer pro hockey player, so I’ve seen the inside of a famous person’s life. I can relate to everything you said, but I know my position even better. I’m on the outside looking in and just recently getting the courage to tap on the glass….maybe make the dog bark. Best wishes.

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    Peter Cornelisse

    Very nice article. The title could also be: How to contact anyone who is NOT your friend or close relative. Time (as is money) is a commodity and therefore precious. Educate the world, start with at home. I would like to add: Be courteous, it will not kill you and make a better impression.

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    Jenna Petrone

    I think this is a helpful article for anyone especially in the photography field.  I had a professor for Internship Prep who always emphasized how important it is to professionally write emails and make phone calls.  She also reminded us every class to write thank you & follow up emails if the person we emailed did take the time out of their day to get back to us.  It really helped out in the long run and I think this article will really does cover everything we need to know.

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    Stephen

    I get the type one emails all the time and rarely respond to any of the. I’m in the almost famous to some category. Dude, if you want to make contact with me, pick up the phone. You’ll have a much better shot. Nothing impresses me more than a personal effort. It’s easy to send a bunch of emails, it takes a bit more work to call someone or go visit them. That makes a difference, to me at least.

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    Dmitriy Elyazov

    Brilliant article as always, Aaron! That is really interesting piece! I’m looking forward for your book that you’re wrighting!

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    Reem

    Aaron!! this is great!! I read this 5 times!!
    the funny thing is I thought about sending you an email  to ask you few questions because I’m studying journalism and I have to interview someone that inspire me!
    I noticed the improvment in you writing the fonts, colors and headings made this so easy to read!
    I’ll let you know if I’m emailing you :P

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    Waseef Akhtar

    haha never thought I’d have fun and informative as this article with my breakfast today. So fun to read it! It was kinda scary as I thought my email’d be there in the examples lol as I always show me sillyness in every email I write and people get that really very fast. I guess, no more sillyness now? (or a little maybe) I’ll try not to show though. Thanks a lot!

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    Anonymous

    Thanks for this Aaron. I really like that it’s written from both sides. So important to consider the perspective and feelings of others.

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    Peaches07x7

    On #8 – your answer to the question – spot on! And at the same time – LMAO!!!  But it is true……

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    Seth

    Awesome article Aaron. I’ve been looking for suggestions on how to best approach local photographers for interning/assistant opportunities and this is quite helpful, much appreciated.

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    Rob Castro

    Don’t Assume They Have Time:

    Remember that episode of the Simpsons when Ringo Starr sent Marge a thank you letter for the portrait she had made of him over 30 years prior?

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    Anonymous

    Aaron, You always write about things that I never even think about. Your site is very informative. Thanks 

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    Matt Goslee

    Wonderful article and I was just telling my friend that you (Aaron respond to your own emails, heard you say it once lol) I may have done a few of those in my past with you and a few other people, but I try on a whole to answer my stuff with the GOOGLE wizzard! best thing since sliced bread! Great Article and I think we have seen a decline in writing since the internet aged kids have come about. I experienced that when I was a science teacher the kids did not know how to write well Lab Reports (mine were very hard…. I asked the kids to think). I would say that this article and your response to the theft of your work is a product to the information age children. The lines that are drawn in the sand are easily changed and moved or either washed by the waves of change. I say Back to the Basics! Wonderful article i have already tweeted my favorite line in the article and have given credit to a MR. Aaron Nacer! lol haha 

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    Beth Duri

    Great article Aaron!  I personally love #9.  I’m a pretty big fan of trying to find out as much as I can before asking questions.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when someone asks me something that would have taken them two seconds to find by doing their own google search.     Thank you for always sharing such great information.

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    Artripoli

    Good article. I run a site called spit the real which revolves around interviews with photographers and I was already using most of these tactics when emailing people, but it does feel good to have it reinforced from someone.

    Shameless self plug: http://www.spitthereal.com

    P.S. Aaron you are on my list of photographers to contact. ;)

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    Gixster92

    thanks for taking the time for this…. now I am thinking back in time when I have contacted you to see if I made any of these oops mistakes :)