The Agent AKA The Photographers Rep

- - Photography Agent

Agents are of course the best way to find photographers. Sometimes when I’m in a huge hurry to find someone in a city that’s not LA or NY on photoserve, I just look for listings with an agent so I don’t have to click on every single link. I posted my list of photography agents over on the sidebar (here) for anyone who wants to browse them. For a photo editor a really good agent is like having an extra person in your office. You place the same trust in their skills that the editor or creative director places in mine so their ass is on the line too. Ha.

There’s 3 basic types of agent I deal with. Editorial friendly, advertising heavy and fashion flacks.

Editorial friendly agents know their photographers love to shoot editorial and will bend over backwards to accommodate any job. They can juggle the tightest schedule to land a shoot, are quickly back with an answer about availability, let you challenge a first hold and have several other capable photographers available should your first choice fall through. All this for a paltry cut of the $500/day fee. Since these shooters take so many editorial jobs I always try and accommodate when an advertising job suddenly lands on dates I’ve confirmed.

Advertising heavy agents tend to favor shoots with $$$ attached to them. I’ve got no problem with this at all, everyone needs to pay the bills, but some of these agent will stall you for days as they try and get the advertising jobs to land while keeping the editorial option alive. It’s really impossible to challenge a first hold and sometimes it’s impossible to get the agent on the phone to see what the hell is going on. Sometimes I just let it slide because these ad jobs can be a bit finicky but when I get burned I’ve lost 2 or 3 days and still don’t have a photographer.

Fashion flacks primary job is steering their photographers career and that means investigating any potential editorial jobs to see how they will benefit the photographers climb to the top of the fashion food chain. Who can blame them really, the fashion industry feeds heavily on the perception of cool and photographers who want to land the next big campaign or high profile editorial spread need to pay careful attention to their image. Get caught shooting for an uncool magazine or having your brilliant photos hacked to death by an incompetent photography director and you’re off the list.

Jackonary asked a few questions in a post (here):

Hey APE while we are at it and now that I am representation free whats your feeling on agents, are they a help or a hindrance, do you prefer to deal with them or the photographer direct and if you are not so keen on an agency in general does that taint your view of the individual talent. Does it help your cause if you are on an uber roster. Do you feel more safe and secure if the photographer has a safety blanket of support or do you just not care. Oh and do you huck agency promos in the trash too ! I would love to hear about your experiences and I think it may be enlightening. Any advice and insight would be appreciated as I go through my own transition. I don’t think you have really posted heavily on this topic yet.

When picking a photographer for the most part I don’t pay attention to who the agent is or even if they have one. Landing the photographer I’ve picked can sometimes be challenging if the agent doesn’t like the shoot or there’s big ad jobs floating as I indicated above.

I usually always go through the agent especially with photographers I have a long standing relationship with. That way if a photographer is not interested in a job the agent can turn me down and that always seems to work out better for everyone.

I think having a ringer photographer on the agency roster is critical. It gets your agent on everyone’s list and there’s just more of a chance someone will bump into you. There’s also a little bit of unspoken horse trading that goes on where hooking up the other photographers on the roster will give you a crack at the big shot.

I don’t really huck agency promos in the trash because they’re so expensive to create and I really feel bad doing it.

When you’re looking for a new agent I would look closely at the other photographers to get a feel for their taste in photography and then see what kind of jobs their other photographers are getting because that’s a pretty good indicator of the types of clients that have the agent on speed dial. Most of the agents out there have photographers who’s work kinda hangs together in one way or another and I think that has to do with their likes and dislikes and their ability to sell a particular style.

In the end the best agents have a little bit of each trait I described above. They manage the editorial clients well by keeping the process transparent, they keep the advertising clients happy by letting them float around the schedule at will and help photographers make smart decisions to steer their career.

The first time I ran into one of these really great agents I was putting a shoot together and kept trying to cut all these corners to save a little money here and there and the agent refused to allow it in the nicest way by saying “I just don’t think it will turn out the way you want if we do that.” After it was all over and the shoot turned out great I realized she was protecting her photographer because if the shoot failed I’m no longer a client and even worse if the shoot failed and I published the results many future clients will be lost.

There Are 31 Comments On This Article.

  1. So, you don’t huck agency promos in the trash because they’re too expensive and you’d feel bad about it… how about the poor little individual photogs promo, which is probably proportionately more expensive to the photographer as the bigger promo is to the agency… you don’t have any problem throwing those away, right?

    ;-)

    Jeff

  2. I know a whole lot more about how to query an agent in the Writing universe..

    How does one court and query the photographer rep sort of animal? Do you or do you just get “picked”.

    (Not really sure if its worth my time but this is the right time/place to ask)

  3. I’m getting a few emails from agents not on my list and just realized that the list only has agents of photographers I’ve worked with or tried to work with. Not intentionally just because I bookmark sites when I’m visiting. It was never meant to be a complete list of agents. There are of course omissions from agencies I forgot to bookmark who have photographers I like and I will correct that.

  4. If only there were a way to see who the good reps are, and who the bad ones are. I’ve heard so much talk about photographers suffering career wise because they had bad reps. Suffering that extended well past the time they moved on to someone else.

  5. “I’m getting a few emails from agents not on my list and just realized that the list only has agents of photographers I’ve worked with or tried to work with. ”

    Oohh.. Now I’m wondering who you’ve possible worked with through Carol Leflufy as I have friends over there. :-)

  6. Great summation. I’m going to post soon on something related, suggestions on seeking an agent.

    I would only add that agents are very, very powerful people and should be highly feared and respected.

  7. @7 — What I’ve found is, there is this (incorrect) belief out there that getting a rep will get you work, or make your career, or put you on the map. I do not think that that is true. You have to be already making it, and making it well, in order to get a rep, and really, the rep is not going to “save you” or “make you”. They might get you better clients, or might get you slightly better fees, but they won’t make your career. No rep wants to take on a struggling photographer; why would they? Would you want to take on a struggling photo assistant?

    Any photographer must be at pretty advanced level in order for a rep to have interest. The photographer has to be self-sufficient already. The rep will simply guide them to the next level, but the basic level to even have a rep is pretty darn high.

    And you’ve still got to keep doing all the things that you did before, even after you get the rep — personal work, tons of advertising, great website, etc. It’s still all on your shoulders.

    I just think that the sooner that photographers stop believing that reps will “make their career”, the better off they’ll be. It’s almost a Catch22; you’ve almost got to get to the level where you don’t even need a rep, before you’re able to even begin to attract a rep.

  8. @APE

    “Get caught shooting for an uncool magazine or having your brilliant photos hacked to death by an incompetent photography director and you’re off the list.”

    Thank you for this. I’ve had one story I shot so far “hacked to death” to the point that I found it almost embarrassing. Lesson learned.

  9. @10: Not true. Or, I should say, generally true, but not true in all cases. Once again, it’s about the work. If a rep feels that a photographer can earn her/him money, they’ll take on the photographer. That doesn’t belie the fact that the photographer has to be at a high level of work and competency, but it’s not necessarily the case that the photographer has to have years of hard-fought experience.

  10. @10: I agree that you may still have to sell yourself, even if you have a rep. We highly encourage our photographers to help themselves increase their exposure. Just like a photo shoot can be a collaboration between a photo editor and a photographer, an agent and a photographer are collaborating to increase both parties’ reputation.

    And sometimes I find that Art Buyers are flattered to meet photographers, rather than some stuffy agent. It’s like two artists are talking, instead of a an artist and a “suit.” (not that I’m stuffy, and didn’t go to film school).

  11. I’d be curious to hear some agents chime in here, and let us relative new comer photographers know how they’d like to be approached by photographers who seek representation.

    Also, some guidelines as to when the general population out here believes it is a good point to look for representation.

    This is an issue that has confused me for some time now.

  12. This is really one of the most insightful posts to date!!
    I couldn’t agree with Jay Peg more. With having so many friends as photographers they all say the same thing. ” If I just had a rep, I would be busy all the time!” My answer is ” oh what’s 10% of 0? ” and my one friend who is all ways busy with work doesn’t need a rep, just 1 studio manager.

  13. My experience: The primary reason I would end up with representation is the advantage their experience offers when negotiating with agencies on estimates. It’s often easier when the artist isn’t directly involved in conversations.

    If you can’t find work for yourself, a Rep. will be of little sales help, however, they should make a difference in career direction and marketing over the long haul. If you can’t invest 2 years don’t go there.

    They can also help keep momentum going when you’ve got it going.

  14. @APE

    ” Get caught shooting for an uncool magazine or having your brilliant photos hacked to death by an incompetent photography director and you’re off the list.”

    Could you touch a little more on this subject? I want to make the right choices. Are you saying young (fashion)photographers should avoid smaller magazines ? Local ? In your opinion, what is “uncool” ? Should my FIRST story end up in “ID” or “V” and no less ?

  15. A friend just referred me to your blog. Nice blog! I was a bit sad not to see my agent on your list, but I’m not going to let it get me down. :)
    I enjoyed your comments and would like to add this:
    Agents can be a great buffer between and artist and a client, allowing the artist to stick to the creative stuff and letting the agent to get the business part right. It is a complimentary relationship though and both have to be involved in all aspects to truly be effective.

  16. I agree with #10 and I think reps do as well. Somehow reps know when you are doing well. I have had as many assignments as I can shoot for 2 years now. Reps have been contacting me regularly during that same period. Strange.

    How do reps know when a photographer does not “need” a rep?

  17. I’m young (under 35) and I am on my second rep. I’ve learned so much from my experience. When I was starting out, I was so exited to even get noticed by a rep, that nothing else mattered, I was validated as ‘good’. I was so excited, that I had no idea what I was doing and what I was getting into. I also had no idea how reps worked so I couldn’t see what they didn’t know. I was new and they were new, blind sided with no work. I didn’t really know anything about marketing and they wanted me to leave everything in their hands, BAD IDEA. This was both our faults, but taught me I need to learn how to swim before jumping in the water with the sharks. I work in a city and my rep worked in another state, in the suburbs. They were new, not in the fast paced environment of the city, and had no to little connections. Also another red flag was they liked everything I did and had no ‘opinion’ about my work. How can this be if you have to sell it? I look back now and should have noticed these things.

    We split, and I was a slowly, but working photographer. I quit assisting and had to make my rent shooting on my own. I went to as many seminars and free events to get an idea what to do. My work was good but no one had heard of me. All the promoting I thought was being done by my rep before wasn’t, and half of it was my fault because I was not on the phone. I started calling and sending promo’s, and most importantly, following up.

    This may sound like a task that was obvious, but it wasn’t. I really learned that you need to do it for yourself, otherwise you will be oblivious and end up blaming someone else for your short comings. After my learning experience and tons (I mean tons) of hard work I started getting where I wanted to be. When things with estimating and usage rights started to become difficult for big jobs, that’s when I knew it was time to seek out a rep.

    A rep is there to help you on your way, not lead the way. That is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. They want you to work, thats how they get paid, but it is like a marriage, and there is no slacking off. You both have to promote and bring in new relationships. You are not working for each other, you are working with each other. I hope this has helped someone out there deciding or thinking of getting a rep. Just because they want to represent you, make sure you stop and think before getting married. Divorce is ugly. (kidding…)

    I have an agent now and it has been a very different experience, and a very positive one. I hope everyone is lucky enough to be in the same situation. Good Luck.

  18. For those that find themselves in the same situation as anon photon above, the one where you suddenly find yourself needing guidance on an estimate that is bigger than anything you’ve ever done, try talking to Suzanne Sease. She has a great service where she does professional estimates on a per job basis for a fee plus percentage if you win the job.

    http://suzannesease.com/

    I know I sound like an ad for her, but I’ve always just thought it was a great idea that someday I’ll use.

  19. @PE – I would also like you to elaborate on what defines a “Uncool” Magazine. Do you feel that cities other than Chicago, New York and L.A can produce nice publications?

    Your valuable insight would be much appreciated.

    Thanks:)

  20. We too (like Anon) are on our second rep. We definitely jumped into working with our first one without taking much time to think about it, just excited they wanted to represent us. Of course it ended badly but was a great learning experience and made us take time and get to know our new rep http://www.giantartists.com before signing with them and it’s amazing and feels like home. We decided to get the help of a rep again after when the budgets that were coming in were more than we ever imagined were possible and our heads were spinning. It’s great to think of a rep like a pimp, they help with your business when it gets to the point when handling the business side starts taking away from the creative side. Pimpin ain’t easy.

  21. as a photographer i appreciate your insight AND the list of reps (especially the list of reps) – it’ll save me some time with respect to sourcing one for myself . . .
    best regards,
    p

    PHI-
    LIP
    DY-
    KES

  22. nice list rob, one thing new and young photographers need to understand is pick an agent who is going to “carry your karma” meaning pick someone who is going to represent you and what you are all about. its not ALWAYS about the money but about building relationships and working on cool projects. your clients are NOT the VISAS, VERIZONS, AND NIKE of the world but the Cindy Rivets, Bill Hornstein’s, Jimmy Bonner’s, and Kim Hubbard’s. and sometimes some reps forget that. thank god mine is amazing and get’s it.!!~

  23. This is an old post, but a relevant timeless topic. Your link to your photo reps within the post has been hijacked by urlsleek which redirects me to their advertising page, with no return link to APE.

    Would you mind reposting the link thread? Or re post the list?

    I am getting my house in order to begin introducing my work to photographer reps/agencies.

    Thanks, Debra

    http://www.debrafrieden.com