Photographers Looking For Agents – Q & A With Deborah Schwartz

One of the top questions photographers ask me is “how do I get an agent” but since I’ve never been a photographer I really have no clue how you get an agent. Recently a photographer in LA with some nice work emailed me after getting zero response from the agents he’d been contacting and I started to wonder what it takes, if you’ve got good work, to land an agent, so I called up Deborah Schwartz (dsreps.com), an LA agent I used to work with and asked her a few questions.

APE: Do you get inquiries from photographers looking for a rep?

I get them all the time, but I just don’t have the time to respond, even when I find the work interesting.

APE: When you brush someone off because you can’t take anyone on at the moment but tell them the work is great do they email you back angry, because you think their work is good but you won’t represent them anyway?

Sometimes the response is angry, but most of the time they write back with more questions and eventually I have to be rude and not write back because I just don’t have time. No matter what, I basically feel like I have to be rude at some point along the way. It’s not intentional but I’ve gotten to the point where I need to prioritize my work, and I don’t have time to get everything done that I have to get done. The two things that have made life more difficult is that everything has gone digital, which means more work to go through and edit for my photographers and tons more email coming in from all directions.

APE: It wasn’t always this way right? Before the web blew up people had to write you a letter, send you a book or come see you right?

I’m sure that it was difficult for reps to keep up even then, but now there are just too many photographers trying to get the attention of reps. I think that in the same way that a photographer needs to put together an amazing promo piece to sell themselves to an art director, they’re going to have to do the same thing for reps too.

Not to long ago, I think that photographers began to look for a rep once they were too busy to handle all of the work that they had coming in. Now, it seems that people put a portfolio together, put together a promo and then start looking for a rep as if that is the next step in the process. Add this to the fact that the economy is bad right now and imagine how many photographers are out there looking for a rep.

APE: So, do you think a lot of the volume is coming from the simple fact that there are a lot of people who can take good pictures, put together a website and then just start emailing agents?

Yes, I do think that this is happening. Three things that I see a lot are, photographers whose work I like, but I can see that they’ve not done any work yet which is a problem because they don’t know how to deal with clients, estimating, creative calls, meeting new potential clients and all that goes on with shooting professionally. I really don’t think that photographers should look for a rep before they have some of this experience under their belt.

The second thing that I see a lot of is portfolios that look like they’re copying what is trendy right now, not a real point of view or vision.

Thirdly, I get inquiries from people whose work is similar to my other photographers. I do not want to have any more crossover in my group. Too much competition within one group of photographers creates a different set of headaches for a rep.

APE: Do you think that there are more photographers than there has ever been and there are more good photographers than there’s ever been?

I think that there have always been great photographers out there. I do think there are more good ones who are not getting work, but that’s just because the economy is bad. And in general, yes, there are more photographer than ever.

APE: Is there a big difference between being a good photographer and having a career in photography?

Yes, of course. It’s about the ability to get out there and relate to people, so they like you and want to see more of your work. Then, not only does your work need to be good but you need to follow through with giving them that quality of work on a job. It’s one thing to take good pictures on your own but to be able to do it on an assignment or under difficult circumstances is entirely different.

APE: When photographers contact me saying that they’re looking for a rep the first thing I ask them is why would you want someone to take part of your income away. It seems like the time to get a rep is when you’re too busy to handle certain aspects of your business.

That’s the way it should be. It seems though that a lot of the time photographers look for a rep because they don’t know where to turn after they’ve created a website and sent out promos, and they’re still not working, so now they need help. This might sound harsh but if you’re getting out there with your work, and sending out promos and you are still not getting a response, then you’re doing something wrong. Like maybe the work is not up to speed yet, or you need to be patient. It takes time to build relationships with clients and to build a base of work.

APE: Are there reps who will take photographers where you see the potential in the work and you help them?

When I look back to when I first started and was trying to get established as a rep I only had photographers who were just beginning to get work. I saw something special in the work, so I told them what they needed to do with their portfolios in order to be ready for a rep and they came back and had done it. Then I took them on.

I am still able to do this sometimes, but it is all about timing. For example, I’ve worked with photographers on a freelance basis for a year and suddenly I had room to take on someone else and since I had been successful in getting them work during that freelance period, I felt that it would be a good move to take them onto my roster. So, their patience paid off and we were also able to get to know each other and see how we worked together in that time as well.

APE: How do you know when you can add a photographer?

I have a limit of 12. I know every agency is different but since I edit my photographers work–which is very time consuming–that’s my limit.

APE: But the photographers would probably like you to have less?

Yes, but they understand that I have limited it to what I can handle. I might want to take on more photographers whose work I love but I’m not going to do that at the expense of the people I already handle. My priority is to take care of my photographers, the photo editors, art directors and art buyers who we work with.

My agency is a bit different from the model where you have one of each style of photography; all my photographer have a style that I love and that I know I can sell because I can relate to it and I believe in it. I don’t have car photographers for example because I just don’t get that kind of work. I just feel like I wouldn’t know what a good car book was, and I would have a hard time getting passionate about selling car photography.

APE: So, the question you still need to answer now and every photographer wants to know is “what does it take to get a rep?”

I think that you need to be at that point in your career when you need help to keep up with the work that you are getting, and when you have met the person who feels like the right match for you.

Being a photographer is a huge investment of time and money. You need to be able to show an art director that you not only have a good eye, but also that you can put it together in a unique way. Then, you need to get out there and hustle like a mad dog.

Some people think that a rep is just there to get you the work, but I am one half of a team. Photographers need to be proactive in getting out there themselves shooting personal work, meeting with people and getting editorial work. In order to make it, you have to be really likable, professional, responsible and a really fantastic photographer. If you are all of these things, you will be getting work and you will need a rep on your team.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is they have a portfolio and then they just wait for the work to come in. If you aren’t constantly pushing yourself and growing as a photographer–you see this all the time where the work doesn’t change and the book is the same from year to year–then you’re dead in the water and not getting work and will continue to not get work. You need to be testing and shooting for yourself all of the time.

APE: I’m sure you’ve had a situation where you lose out jobs to photographers with a style that’s not in your camp, do you then consider hiring a photographer with a hot style of photography?

No, only because trends change and I feel that chasing them is a waste of time. Plus, like I said before, I like a particular kind of photography so I stick with that. I can only sell what I believe in and I believe in photography that is authentic, humorous and sometimes a bit ironic.

APE: I will hear art buyers say that you don’t need a rep to get a job but do you think that’s really true? Are they really willing to hire photographers who don’t have a rep backing them?

I think that’s true. I mean, if you have a great crew and you know the business and understand the art of estimating then no, you don’t have to have a rep in order to land a job. On the other hand, if you are not adept at this, it can be a hassle for an Art Buyer to have to walk someone through the entire process and not all Art Buyers have the time to do deal with that. And, their ass is on the line too, so if you estimate incorrectly and you do get the job, it will make them look bad having to go back to the client for more money.

APE: Any more advice for photographers?

Don’t put all of your energy into getting a rep. Put your energy into shooting and doing good work. And, stay on the radar of a rep that you really want to work with, without being pushy. If you are green and a good photographer, work on getting experience as a shooter. That’s most important. If I say your work is good and to stay in touch, get out there and get more experience and stay in touch with that new work. Continue to hone your skills and to hone your vision.

APE: Is it possible to take someone who’s work is great but they’re just green and get them work based on the Art Buyers trust in you, your ability to produce a shoot and put together an estimate?

Probably, but here’s the downside to that. I have built relationships with Art Buyers and Art Directors for the last 15 years. I have to know that whoever I recommend for a shoot is going to do an amazing job on all levels. There’s just too much at stake to take chances. It is not just about packaging someone well with a good portfolio, website, promos and representation. I need to really know that they can back it up.

In the end the rep-photographer relationship is a serious. It’s like a marriage. You don’t get married after the first date.

I think that if you are a good but green shooter you will be even better if you have some business skills and experience behind you.

APE: I understand but I hear from photographers who look at those who have reps and are getting a lot of work and making a lot of money and they say I can shoot like that what’s the big deal?

That’s just copying other people. Whenever I hear that I think, they just don’t get it. It’s not about “I can do that,” what other people are doing. It’s about getting out there for yourself and shooting what you love because you love doing it. Have a strong vision and have something to say that people want to hear. Copying is just chasing trends and if you’re trying to do what everyone else is already doing you’ve missed it, because it’s already happened.

There Are 102 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thank you, it confirms my own theories and experience in looking for a rep. I made the rounds in NYC years ago, but decided instead to concentrate on getting work (anything involving a camera), shooting personal projects and testing. At this point in my career I am busy and considering putting some attention towards looking at representation, but I am a bit hesitant.

  2. I too find this interview interesting and informative. It leaves me with a question though – how is working with an agency the same or different from having a rep?

  3. Wonderfully concise and informative. This topic has been on my mind and these answers bring great clarity. Thank you, Rob and Deborah.

    Best wishes,

    David

  4. It really is a bit of a chicken and egg thing though and I think its increasingly difficult to get a door opened in ad agencies without being rep’d.
    Your certainly right about the need for stamina and new work.

    Great insights,
    Thanks
    Cormac

  5. Wow, that was really fantastic. Thank you for putting this together.

    I can’t believe she edits 12 photographer’s work; that’s insane! I barely have time to edit my own.

  6. More than anything these days it’s about relationships, I find it’s much more productive to go out and try and meet people, get a conversation started and follow up. I never find the need to pitch or insist on giving them my card, often they ask, regardless, I try and follow up with them at another time. Personal courtesy will translate into professional courtesy.

  7. i have been reading your posts pretty regularly and i am always better informed after a visit to your blog. this one, particularly, has been very
    helpful as i am a greeny. thanks for your efforts in keeping discussion
    relevant to real photography/business issues. i will keep coming back
    for more.

  8. Great read Rob~

    I’ve only just recently gotten an agent, and I am lucky since I am their first photographer. They are technically a PR firm, but they rep a lot of designers, so they wanted to get a photog on board who shoots fashion. That’s me.

    I am still very ‘green’ about a lot of the business, and being in Berlin doesn’t help in getting as much work as I’d like, but I have to admit, it does feel good
    knowing that my agent is pushing for me, and riding on me to get shit done.

    But she’s right, I think. If you have the time to spend wishing and hoping for an agent, you have time to get out there and make more pictures. All in time, as they say.

    You always ask all the right questions. Appreciate it.

  9. Forget rep hunting. It just grinds your soul to a pulp and there’s a good chance you’ll want to chuck it in from all the rejection (even if you’re really good). Shoot what you want, at quality and quantity and get noticed through the quality of your work not through being pushy or desperate for a rep. It’s a small industry and people like to talk, people like to find the new big thing so they will find you out if your work is worth finding out.

  10. Deb Schwartz

    comment #12 nails it. If your work is worth finding – it WILL be found.

  11. Ludlowphotographer

    the answers seem very matter of fact, in reality there are so many right and wrong answers to these questions.

    Having the right rep is a seal of approval and will open doors for you, once those doors are open yes you have to prove yourself.

    I do believe that ad agencies do like to deal with a rep instead of directly with a photographer in the beginning of a bidding process, at that time it is just business and there is nothing personal, much better handled by the photographers rep.

    In the area of fashion, once you have your established editorial then it is time to get a rep, it is this marriage that will help you steer your career and in fashion you really have only one initial chance.

    All that being said if you are working and making money and just can’t keep up you might be better off getting a studio manager to help in the marketing and management of your career.

    I do think Deborah has her niche and I do think there is a lot of crossover with her photographers because she likes what she likes. Would love to hear some other reps answers to the same questions.

  12. Thank you so much for this interview. It was very informative. I graduated with my BFA in 2005, assisted and studio manged for after that, and started shooting full time this January. Though I was always taught not to look for a rep until I was shooting so much I didn’t have enough time for marketing, I’ve found recently that I’ve been up for some pretty sizable jobs and have lost out due to clients feeling uneasy about using a photographer without a rep.

    I was approached by a rep right out of school, but wanted to get more of a handle of the business end of the photography before I dove into shooting. I go between being so glad I did that, and kicking myself real hard.

  13. Kenji Arimura

    thanks for this interview! it really makes a lot of things clear to me.

  14. Meant to add that it took a long time to attract the right interest. It wasn’t an easy path to take to do work that is outside of what is considered safe.

  15. Thanks for posting this interview – one of the more interesting photography related posts I’ve read in recent times.

    What I would like to know is are there agencies that are approached for work that is either to small a budget for the photographers represented or is just beneath them artistically (like a white background catelogue shoot). I would love the be the guy a rep calls when the job is too small, just to get a foot in the door…

    • @John Reid,

      No you don’t. Thinking too small gets you pigeonholed as “the cheap guy”, the worst thing to be in an agency… you get all the same demands of a big shoot, but the dregs of a budget.

  16. from a photog who has a rep, which Obi-Rob-Kenobi graciously advised me on, I suggest that photogs who are looking actually study the reps they’re hitting up. I saw a niche with my reps and sent them some work. Now, a thing about e-mail. They get it. Always. I didn’t nag, or follow-up for that matter. If a rep likes our stuff they will respond. I just waited. I figured that if they got back to me that’s cool, if not, I’ll move on. And you should too.
    Patience worked.

  17. Deb. Wanna be my doubles partner for the all-agent nude ping-pong tournament at Connections in a couple of weeks? Molly dumped me for Rob Magnotta. Nice answers, by the way.

  18. Oh man, I’m going to forward this to every kid just out of school who e-mails me asking about “how do i get a rep”

    My answer is, and continues to be, get some clients first. You NEED to learn how to be in business for yourself way before you get a rep.

    When I was an assistant, I had a very wise photographer advise me about the key to success: He said, and I quote: “KNOW YOUR SHIT”. Not just how to take good pictures (duhh…), but know your business, how to market yourself, work with clients and actually make a living.

    Most reps won’t look at you until you have that down, and down well. Remember, they are a business too and they are not going to take on Kidsy McPhotoguy who doesn’t know how to behave around professional clients but loves taking polaroids of dilapidated theme parks.

    And finally, they’re expensive. Unless you’re Richie Rich (as so many of these same kids that write me are)… you are giving up a chunk of your income, usually contractually obligated to do numerous expensive promotions throughout the year etc…

    Having a rep is a serious business decision, and not the correct one for everybody.

    • Also its worth noting that I’ve always been contacted by reps and invited to representation. I know some successful people who did initially go after the rep, but most are found by the rep after being published, or otherwise doing good marketing.

    • @craig…Great points. Hopefully the rep you get will be a good one. I’ve heard tales of reps not sending out books as they’ve promised; taking over your house accounts; not getting work as promised; and charged heaps for ads and promos, etc.

      The way I see it, I’m not exactly out fly fishing every day so why not work for myself? I know how to call people, mail things and otherwise market mail things. I have a nice printed book and I have a goal of showing it to new people every week.

      I might consider a rep if one fell from the sky, but until then, I will take responsibility for myself and my business.

  19. Enjoyed the exchange, thank you!

    I often wonder about why a rep (or anyone else) is editing a photographer’s own work. Second, third….ninth opinions are absolutely essential. But a strong photographer can create and edit strong work – OYO!

    This goes for creatives too (ABs/ADs/CDs/PEs). More often we see the same cliquish trends over and over. Validation/status apparently being required by publication in XYZ contest, magazine, award or via representation. Many creatives often don’t seem to have the ability or strength to understand and value
    art without the recognition and approval of their peers. (Of course creative direction is often borrowed as well). What happened to creative vision?

    (This is not to say experience and ability is not important to handle all the other important details in this business – as Debra suggested).

    • @Bob,

      I agree that a good photographer is capable of editting his/her own work, however, when it comes to narrowing down from a large body of excellent work, to the very cream, it helps to have someone else look at it – I go crazy after staring at my own past work for too long… or I’m colored by the memories of making it…

      As for trends, well, yeah. I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule in life… 20% of people working in the industry are leading, the other 80% are following…

    • @Bob,
      Photographers often like images they create that do not “land” with someone else. Sometimes they have a personal understanding or narrative in the picture that no one else gets. It happens a lot.

  20. yeah enjoyed reading it.

    one question though: can there really be a harder job then being a photographer? Seriously? I mean sure being a US spy in Iran is prob pretty hard too but other then that…?

  21. I’ve done the rounds to meet art buyers, art directors, and PE in Chicago and New York and there isn’t anything more rewarding, as photographer, to meet people who I will -eventually- work with. Every single creative that I’ve met face to face has thanked me for my persistence. All of them also expressed their views about how important it is to meet the Photographer first.

    This was a very insightful interview. Thank You Rob.

  22. Yes this is a great read. Great questions and great answers. And, like everything else, there is never one answer or any one way to do things.

    There was a time when I would reply to each and every email a photographer would send me. I still try to but unfortunately my responses have decreased. Part of it is lack of time and the fact that so many are sent. But when something stands out, I will always try to at least send message back and bookmark the site for a viewing later.

    I also now receive many more emails from artists who already have representation. Since they might be slow, they seem to be looking for that golden ticket- the grass in greener or want to shake things up. Jumping from Agent to Agent is rarely the answer, but I agree it is a smart idea to continue sending new work to any agents you desire, keeping them up to date with your new work. Just realize that even if you partner with an agent, you’ll still have to work even harder promoting yourself.

    Our job as agents is to get you the audition. It is up to you as a photographer, to close the sale. I mean this in terms of your work (portfolio and web site) and the conversation you have with the creative. I have won and lost projects based on this part alone. How you interpret the project, your ideas and how you would produce it.

    The Agent Artist relationship can be a total crapshoot. But that’s for another day. I started out representing one specific style. A bit more on the artsy, moody black & white side which suited me well in the beginning (1986). These artists reflected my personal taste and I found myself competing regularly with myself. I wanted to have a left of center agency, which I did for several years and then I expanded and moved a bit more to the center.

    I found that having a somewhat bigger stable actually worked better for most of us. I would be contacted to suggest artists for specific projects and everyone would benefit by being part of our collective. Art buyers found it easier to contact less people.

    Anyway, before I pontificate too much here and highjack this post, I will stop. But Deborah’s words are so true. Shoot all of the time and begin by promoting yourself and don’t think an agent will do it all for you. If your work is really good, you’ll get people talking and passing your name and work around. You might just eventually be paid to take pictures.

    Even when this recession is over, it’s going to be tough for photographers. Stay focused and be consistent and make sure your branding is strong.

    • @Norman Maslov,
      First, I do not wish to work as a full time photographer. This is just a one of those being in the right place at the right time type of happenings.

      I have several photos plus VCR footage of a very unique, one of a kind phenomenon.
      With extensive researching of the internet, photos of this nature cannot be found on the internet nor has this exciting discovery ever been seen or heard of by experts in their field. This includes experts at the Smithsonian Institute amongst others.

      It would be nice to be compensated for many months of work to get these photos.
      There are at least three magazines in the field of birds that I feel would be more than happy to publish these photos and a short article.

      So, how do I find an agent that will protect me in dealing with them.

  23. That last question + response is perfect – its THE most important thing a commercial artist must learn. Great interview.

    Reps + clients both can feel when a photographer is committed and inspired. Motivation is a result of those two qualities and not vice versa.

  24. Leaving the question of wether a rep is necessary or not I went and had a look at the artists she is representing. Those shooters would get work even without ever talking to a rep or an agent. Having a good rep means that they will get better work, and have more free time to concentrate on what they do best. Like she mentions in the inteview, it is all give and take. A must read interview for all aspiring photographers.

  25. “It’s about getting out there for yourself and shooting what you love because you love doing it. Have a strong vision and have something to say that people want to hear.”

    It’s refreshing to hear somebody else saying that you should be out there shooting what you love. Times are tough right now, and it’s tempting to just chase the money wherever you think it is, but if you’re faking it, it’s going to show – in your attitude, in your relationship with the client, and in the work you produce.

    The balance between business and passion is difficult. Most creatives never manage to strike it. It takes a creative business vision, the same way that shooting a good photograph takes creative vision.

  26. Another option is to create a niche for yourself outside NYC, LA, Paris or London in some other far off place. Then it becomes much easier even in this economy to find work. And I don’t mean just some smaller US city. I mean go somewhere exotic where you will stand out from the rest based upon location and the interesting things going on there. That’s what I did, but I’m a documentary photographer with an agency not a commercial one with a rep

  27. i never worked with a rep.
    When i moved in Paris i start looking for one, but with not some nice feeling. My work is atypical, in this day of digital mood, but there aren’t many photographers that have this touch…
    I think that is very hard to sell themselves, and most of all, is a real job. I like to shoot, eventually discuss with the client and the stuff… but is a feeling that have to happend between you and your rep. and you are lucky to find someone that really care about you and not about the money he can make with you.
    Very interesting reading , thanks ( and sorry for my english)

  28. Thanks for the great interview. I think a lot of photographers think that having a rep is a cure all and all they have to do is sit around and wait for the POs to start rolling in.

    It has been my experience that I have had to work much harder with a rep than without one. Every quarter , my rep and I would sit down and generate a 3 page to do list for me. It is a real partnership and think it takes time, perseverance and patience to work.

    thomas

  29. @35 I agree. I have to say it is nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. It is however not just their responsibility to find the work,(as Thomas said) it is still a big part of what I must do also. I will say having an agent has gotten me projects that would have been much harder to get without an one, but I still had to do the groundwork to get to that point. Agent or no agent, don’t give up! We are all freelance and have our high’s and lows, just keep your head up and keep pushing forward. Even if you don’t think anyone is looking, that when people notice you more, it keeps you true to your work. Recession be damed :)

  30. As a rep, I agree with almost everything said in this interview and am really glad it was put out there this way.

    My advice is never join on with a rep who isn’t absolutely floored with your work. I am my photographers absolute biggest fans and, from what I hear from clients, that enthusiasm is infectious and makes a big difference… without being forced or cheesy. If you find someone who is really excited about your work, keep them around. If they’re a rep, all the better!

    Also, do your research! Some agencies are looking to build their numbers without intentions of fully committing to each and every photographer. Pay attention to the other people on the roster and see how you fit… As a smaller agency, I’m very careful and deliberate on who I approach to sign on because I know it will be a partnership for years.

    Good luck everyone!

  31. Excellent post. General message I got was, DIY until you are so busy that it makes sense to have a rep. Create your own way with your own vision… Good stuff. Thanks.

    Brent

  32. I hope the WayBack Machine continues to exist well through Internet’s history — websites like this one need to be preserved for as long as they possibly can be. Thanks a lot for the informative interview.

  33. I thought it was a great post. I am especially glad that other reps chimed in to give their thoughts. Someone commented that being a photographer is one of the hardest occupations out there, and I would have to agree. I did realize from reading this that I definitely need to market a lot harder and do in person visits all the while not appearing pushy. Coincidentally I called the director at my old alma mater, Academy of Art College (now University) to schedule a portfolio review to get some feedback. Thanks for this post, I am just going to continue to push harder!

  34. Hey Rob,

    Awesome interview & incredibly timely. I’ve been making my way as a commercial photographer for a while now and tried to reach out to reps, but keep hearing the same response:

    “sorry, we’re not accepting new clients…”

    Finally, out of the blue, I had one of them pick up the phone to call me. She still said they weren’t accepting new talent, but she was really kind & encouraging. And, she’s been someone that I can email if I have a quick question.

    I’ve definitely found this piece of advice to be absolute gospel:

    “Don’t put all of your energy into getting a rep. Put your energy into shooting and doing good work.”

  35. One point overlooked: as a photographer, one needs to be grossing a minimum of $300,000 per year in fees or a rep’s 25% isn’t going to be worth very much. There’s a bottom line aspect to all of this: 25% of zero = zero.

  36. Good read. You would think this would be almost common knowledge for photographers but I guess not. When I started thinking about getting a rep I looked at my work and where I was in my career and decided I wanted to wait another year, land 2 new major clients and a bunch more editorial then I would find a rep.

  37. Very informative, Thank You for the interview.

    I’m also surprised the Ms Schwartz edits her photographers work.
    Are these edits for portfolios or for commissioned projects?

  38. Great interview! Love Deborah’s roster of photographers, have assisted a few of them in the past. This is my point of view, but I think instead of looking for a rep, young photographers should look for consultants to help get the work tight then maybe start working with producers when paying jobs come in to help with estimation or building a production for the shoot. Should probably take my own advice. :-P

  39. Most photographers want reps because they dont have a clue how to run a business. Its not just about making pretty photos. Understand loud and clear its a business and you must be a business owner.

    If you are too lazy to run a solid business why would you expect some “rep” to want to sell you?

    Also why would any photographer that can run their own business really want a rep? There are few good reps out there. Just look at their sites. I think most reps would get an instant upgrade if they had sites that at min were like Livebooks or A Photo Folio.

    Also most reps have artists with a similar look and rep way too many photographers.

    Unless a rep has killer contacts and is business minded save your time and money and get a fresh college grad or intern and have them make sales calls. But then again you have to have your business set up like a business in the first place so a intern can perform properly and the majority of photographers can make pretty pictures but have no clue how to run a business.

    • “If you are too lazy to run a solid business why would you expect some “rep” to want to sell you?”

      Not every great photographer is going to be a great businessperson; I don’t think it’s always laziness so much as it is recognizing one’s weaknesses..then getting the necessary people on their team to fill in those gaps. Whether that gap-filler is in the form of an agent, a marketing manager, a salesman, or what have you, finding that proper synergy can potentially lead to success – the same way getting fairly professional web design can be key to certain people taking a photographer seriously. Of course, having the money to hire those people is another can of catch22 worms, but assuming one has that seed money and fills their gaps wisely…

  40. Deb Schwartz

    I have seen a few posts about the fact that I edit my photographer’s work. I want to clarify that I don’t edit all of their work. I work with my photographers in editing which images will go into their portfolios and onto their site and mine.

  41. About ten years ago I read something that said you don’t need a rep unless you are billing 200k or more on your own, without a rep. Needless to say, I was not billing 200k and I went looking for a rep. My reasoning was that reps know Art Buyers and have connections with Art Buyers and Art Directors and these connections would take YEARS for me to build. My reasoning was correct, I got a rep and started to get big jobs. I met producers, stylists, art buyers, art directors and crew members that I work with and dearly love. I also believe that art buyers, no matter what they tell you over cocktails, still feel better when a photographer has a rep. So while I agree with most of what Deborah has to say, I do not think that it is always the case that young photographers starting out should not find a rep. I think it is difficult, but always remember, there is no one way to succeed in this business. There are a lot of opinions, but many different ways that photographers have gotten the work they want to get.

  42. I really don’t like the answer that I don’t have time to respond to solicitations from photographers. If I was a rep, I would have 2 template responses. One basically saying thank you but we’re not interested and one saying thank you but stay in touch. Photographers are intuitive people and will quickly get the message.

    • @Carlo Hindian,
      The response to that is always “tell me exactly what it is you don’t like about my work.” Followed by, “what exactly should I change that would make you like my work or make it more appealing to agents in general”

      • @A Photo Editor, Sorry but I have to chime in here again.
        This is a point thats been on my mind; Deborah says twice that she ‘has to’ be rude.

        …Nobody ‘has to’ be rude.

        And Carlo has a point, who can argue with a few templates to deal with those answers too: “I’m sorry I just don’t have time to open dialog or offer feedback” or even ‘please feel free to email me again, if you have a new body of work’ but definitely not within the next twelve months as I won’t be able to reply and don’t want to cause offence’.

        • @cwh,

          Nonsense. Honesty is good. If your work sucks, you should know that it sucks.

          You have two options at that point:

          a. Give up.

          b. Get better. Then have yourself a “how about DEM APPLES!” moment.

          I was there once. I went with choice B.

          • @craig,

            Let’s get one thing straight here. If we’re approaching reps I would assume one would have carefully assessed their work and have come to the conclusion that it is good enough to play on a national and international level. By this point, we have seen just about everything this business can throw at us. All I want when I approach a rep is to get a quick and concise response as to whether this conversation is worth pursuing. Just as they feel their time is valuable so is ours.

            • @Carlo Hindian,

              I think you underestimate the ego of many young photographers.

          • @craig,
            ….Nonsense?, ….sucks?, …..sucks?

            My only thought was that I don’t see there ever being a need for rudeness. Thanks for illustrating the point though.

            I’m sure reps don’t like being blanked by art buyers and agencies any more than photographers like it from reps.

            • @cwh,

              You sound very sensitive. Do you handle criticism well? Or do you always want it to be put in gentle terms?

              • @craig, You do yourself no favours sir.

                Just a barrage of strongly held opinions with the volume set to max.

                I might explian to you how some place a value on sensitivity ….but that might distract you from sitting back and admiring ‘dem apples’ you are so fond of.

                :)

                • @cwh,

                  I suppose it might be a difference in philosophy. I see no point in mincing words or beating around the bush. Time wasting – and I don’t have much time. If you disagree, take it or leave it and get a second opinion.

                  Perhaps its why I get along well with clients in nyc. Less BSing, just lets get to where we want to go.

                  Funny how some people love it, others hate it. Oh well. :)

                    • @cwh, Wow, you guy’s are really childish to have such a lengthy back and forth here in public. It was slightly entertaining though.
                      Cheers

    • @Carlo Hindian,
      I get about 1 to 5 young photographers wanting to assist me a week (I’m sure more well known Photographers get 5 or 10 times as many.) I wish I could say that I wrote each and every one of them a nice e mail, but to be very honest, I get distracted and don’t have time to write back or forget to write back. (I’m an artist after all, so it is very easy to get distracted.) This is just what happens. So If Deborah doesn’t have time to write everyone back, perhaps this is just the reality of a day at work. If there are times when she has to choose between a conference call with one of her photographers, agency folks and the client for the job OR responding to a photographer that wants to join her group, who do you suppose wins that contest? I suppose I should make up a template response for assistants looking for work, but would that be better than forgetting to write some of them back? Even when I do write assistants or call them, wouldn’t you know it, about 50% of the time I don’t even get a nice note back saying, “Thanks.”

  43. Thanks Rob, as someone early in his career I find this as a great insight. It seems everyone is out looking for a rep but I always wondered the same, why give away a percentage of your income until you are too busy to manage your work load?

    • @Graham,
      As long as you are getting the kind of work you would like to get on your own, then you don’t need a rep. If not, and your work is fantastic and what the market place is hungry for, go get a rep. A rep may be able to find you better, more high paying work, even if they take a percentage.

    • Before reading this article, I was under the impression that the point of an agent was to get a photographer work (though I’m seeing the mantra that in some ways, you have to work even harder, which is understood). Yeah, giving away a percentage of your income might be less than ideal, but if one sees that it’s the difference between them getting jobs and not getting them then how is it not worth it? The opportunity to simply be introduced to a potential client via a passionate, trustworthy referral is worth a lot.

      Me personally, I think years of having no niche hurt me – an agent or salesperson likely would’ve done me no good back then. Now that I’ve gone through my share of soul-searching and found a niche that resonates with me..I realize that I’m in the wrong place for it; again, having an agent in a land of little to no opportunity…not quite ideal. People around here love the work but have no use for it, or don’t have the money to spare, so I shall move where the conditions are not such. But even then, I will do my own legwork first to better survey the new territory.

  44. Ludlowphotographer

    years ago I did a mailer and got some really good response and a few jobs, one of the people who responded was Marge Casey and she left me a message. I called her the next day and she told me how she liked my promo piece and then proceeded to ask me who my clients were, I listed off the two magazines and one design firm I has worked with at the time and she then told me that she didn’t think that she would good representation and abruptly ended the phone call.
    I still look back at that phone call and wish she had taken the time to see me, she liked the promo enough to call, she didn’t know that i didn’t have a killer test book and assisted for ten years and knew the business well. She lost the perfect opportunity to develop a new talent which someone else decided to do about three months later.
    This has always left a bad taste in my mouth…

  45. Not that I’m interested in a rep, this is undoubtedly one of the best interviews about photography business (in general) I’ve ever read. Thanks, guys!

  46. it”s seems to me , that this photo rep forgot how it”s fells to be there when you started, and she just looking for working photographers that can bring her more money from their commision, but some time you need to give a chance to a young photographer that may not be that busy yet , but good vision , that”s when happend to me this year , and my agency , made a great commision of over 250, ooo $,so rething about everthing you jyst said , i just thing that some reps getting lazy with the years , and they to lazy to face it…

  47. If anyone’s an expert and in the game, it’s a lifestyle punter in Pasadena.

  48. Very good interview.
    I, like most other naieve photographers, have put together a site, have a body of work, and now expect the ‘reps’ to come running all wanting to sell me and my work. However I guess, as this interview shows, it’s just not like that.
    It makes sense that you should already be working, and have contacts with clients etc, and, well, that’s what I’m not going to do.

    Thanks for the interview, and for showing me the error of my ways :)

    Mark

  49. Heather Rager

    I just came across this article. I feel very silly now because I recently contacted DS Reps with all the above mentioned questions. I appreciate her candid honest answers in this piece. I’ve been a portrait photographer for years and have come to find it less than fulfilling. I’m ready to start branching out but was not sure how to even get started. Ms. Schwartz no need to reply to my email you answered all my questions right here.

    Thank you for the insightful interview.

  50. This was a good read. The plus side of the digital phenomenon, and technology, is that it’s 1000 times easier to promote and sell yourself. You should not need a rep unless you can’t handle the business side of it (like just happened to me on a job I got from my gym!). If you get too much work to handle, any good attorney, that understands licensing and art / intellectual property, would make a great representative / agent if you need help. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and have always heard that agents don’t want you unless you already have work. Most people think agents get you work, and I don’t think they really do. So keep your money and sell yourself!! Also, an agent has a roster, which means you’re competing with (11, in this case) other photographers instantaneously, even if the client wanted you :)

  51. How does one know what to charge for photos?

    Someone wants to use some of my photos in a book on the history of the Unitarian Church of New Bedford. I took photos during the 300th year anniversary.

    I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers but and I don’t mind donating for church use but
    if the author is going to charge for the book I think that I, probably should get a residual on the photos per book sold.

    So I’m trying to get some idea how to approach this and what book publishers normally pay and how.

    Any suggestions?

  52. I think years of having no niche hurt me, in the beginning; I did tons of networking but had no clear message about what I was bringing to the table – even an agent or salesperson likely would’ve done me no good back then.

    Now that I’ve gone through my share of soul-searching and found a niche that resonates with me artistically..I realize that I’m in the wrong place for it; so now, having an agent in a land of little to no opportunity wouldn’t do much for me. People around here love my work but have no use for it, or don’t have the money to spare, so I may move where the conditions are not such. But even then, I will do my own legwork first to better survey the new territory before trying to get an agent.

    I agree that you still have to be professional and put in the work and know how to communicate with people, but I disagree with the notion that an agent taking a chunk of income is unilaterally not worth it. Not every photographer is going to be the best at creating opportunities for themselves; they may know themselves artistically and produce great work and be getting better by the day, but having someone in their corner that’s well-connected and can get them in front of some great opportunities can go a long way towards getting more projects that are right for them that they may not otherwise get.

  53. What a fantastic Q&A. It’s not often that I search the internet and find quality stuff. Thanks for your time and energy in putting this together.

    steven planck

  54. A good article and advice. A second opinion might be worthwhile?
    In addition the choice of professional representation might be directly
    connected to the subject material of the photographer? This is not an
    easy one to solve!
    Being based in Israel, I am looking for somebody with international connections.
    …tom_meyer…
    >www.meyerimages.com<
    (the way I see the world)