Many photographers dream of the day they can focus solely on shooting and not worry about hustling to get new clients. This is where photography agents or reps can come into play and generously boost your photo business. Similar to real estate agents and talent agents, a photography agent exists to help you manage certain aspects of your business and ultimately help you get more clients. But are you ready to work with a photography agent? In this post, we’ll explore how photography agents work, when you’re ready to approach one, and how to pitch your work to them.
How do photography agents work?
A photography agent is also known as a photo representative (rep), but from here on out, we’ll refer to them as agents. In short, they help match photographers with clients. Typically, a photography agent has deep connections with clients in need of photo services. The agent handles the business side of things, such as setting up assignments, negotiating fees, and ultimately giving you guidance to move your photography career forward. Sounds like a match made in heaven, huh?
Types of photo agents
Today, there are a wide variety of photography agents out there and they all might operate slightly differently. Some agents focus on a particular genre of photography, such as fashion, architecture, music, or event. Other agents might specialize according to a specific type of client, such as corporate or editorial. Some agents only work with photographers located in a specific area, whereas others will work nationally or internationally based photographers. It all depends on the specific approach of the photography agent.
What photo agents don’t do
While photo agents can certainly be helpful for finding you work and boosting your exposure, they do not manage your entire business. You still handle your own accounting and bookkeeping, procuring the camera gear you need, and executing every aspect of the photo shoot that your agents books for you. In fact, most photo agents do not give you enough continuous work to support your business full-time. That is to say, photo agents can supplement your client list, but you will still likely have to do your own marketing and promotions on the side.
My experience with photo agents
Throughout my 5 years as a professional photographer, I’ve worked with a handful of photo agents, mostly in the sectors of concert and corporate event photography. In every case, photo agents supplement my existing client base and only generate a part-time living for me. I still work very hard to find my own clients. Most of the time, I’ve been approached by photography agents as a result of being recommended by a colleague or friend. Thus, I am a firm believer in networking with as many people as possible, because you never know which connections will jump start your career.
I’m treated like a freelance photographer, where the photo agent contacts me (often out of the blue) asking if I’m available during a certain timeframe. The photo rate is pre-negotiated, so all I have to do is accept or decline the offer. After the photo shoot is confirmed by the agent, he or she sends me the contact info of the client and it’s up to me to work out the creative aspects of the photo shoot. Photos are due that same day and more often than not, clients want to pre-approve every image I submit. They might do this by having me shoot tethered or they will scrutinize my RAW, unedited images immediately after the shoot is over. Either way, it is a nerve-wracking experience that I’ve been forced to reckon with.
Not everyone’s experience with photo agents will be the same as mine. But based on my experience, I can attest that you need to be 100% confident in your photography skills and ability to communicate and work with a wide variety of clients. The photography industry is also very small and tight-knit, so it helps to know as many people as possible.
Are you ready for a photography agent?
Nearly every photographer who has worked with an agent ends up with more opportunities as a result. However, before you start chasing agents, it’s important to assess yourself and determine if you are a desirable candidate for them. Just like a job interview, the process of seeking a photography agent is about making sure the agent is a good match for you, and vice-versa. It has to be a win-win relationship to work. Here are several qualities you should have before pursuing a photo agent.
1. You’ve worked with photo clients on a professional basis.
Have you done professional photography gigs yet? If not, this can be a negative thing in the eyes of a photography agent. Here’s why. When a photo agent sends you on assignment, you’re representing the agent’s brand and reputation. Most of the time, the agent won’t be there to oversee the photo shoot, so you are expected to get along with the client and execute the shoot no matter what. While a photo agent can sometimes be a mentor and help you elevate your skill, they don’t have the time to help you develop a professional career from scratch. Typically, they will only consider working with proven professionals.
Pro Tip: Include a Client List or Case Studies on your photography portfolio to demonstrate your professional experience. Name dropping is important and can actually help if you and the photo agent have connections in common. If you don’t yet have professional experience, get some! Don’t approach a photo rep without it.
2. You have a consistent photography style.
This goes along with the above tip. The photo agent has to know what style of photography you specialize in so that they know which jobs or clients you would work best with. You should also be able to replicate your photography style or vision no matter what. It’s one thing to take a great picture by yourself, and quite another to do it under pressure or with a client over your shoulder.
Photo agents also prefer unique styles not currently represented by their current roster of photographers. They don’t want any crossover or competition between their photographers. So it helps to do your homework and get familiar with the work of the photographers already under the agent’s wing. Understand the need that you might be filling and why the photo agent would value working with you.
3. You have a solid photography portfolio website.
In the past, photographers would print books and physical handouts to send to photo agents and prospective clients. Today, there’s still a certain type of photographer that will take this approach. However, I’m a pretty firm believer in saving on the cost of printing and investing those resources into a solid online presence. Your photography portfolio website should be your number one concern. Keep in mind that most people, including photo agents, will spend mere seconds scanning your portfolio website. As a result, make sure that website looks professional, downloads fast, has intuitive navigation, and highlights your very best work.
Instead of direct mail flyers, pamphlets, and newsletters, invest your time and energy into curating your social media feeds. Update and clean up your Facebook (personal profile and business page), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Do a Google search for yourself and make sure you edit and control the content on as many of those search results as possible. Every photo agent and every prospective client will certainly Google you, so take control of those search results.
How do you find a photo agent?
Finding a photo agent is much like finding a new client. As I stated above, I strongly believe that personal recommendations are the best way to go. But you can also approach agents directly. Start with evaluating what type of agent you’re looking for. Do you want an agent that focuses on specific photography genres, works with a specific type of client or operates in a certain geographic region? Determine these qualities first.
Based on those qualities, start searching for an agent! There are two main ways to do this. First, you can look for lists of photo agents. The Agent List and At-Edge are two great online resources worth exploring. Second, you can ask Google for ideas. Below are some screenshots of some Google search results I found by plugging in my specific qualities I would seek in a photography agent (in my case, “Seattle” and “food”). Consider varying your search terms to see if different results pop up (ie. “photo agent” versus “photo rep). Click the screenshots below to enlarge.
Tips for Approaching a Photo Agent
Keep your email short and sweet.
Keeping in mind that photography agents are busy people, make your email short and to the point. Introduce yourself briefly, and provide a link to your portfolio. Also, offer to meet in person or speak over the phone. Remember that the photographer-agent relationship is all about establishing trust, so you will absolutely need to personally interact with the agent at some point before moving forward.
Sample Email Pitch
My name is ____ and I am a _____ photographer based in Seattle. I’ve been a professional photographer for ____ years and have worked with a vast majority of clients including ____, ______, _____. At this point in my career, I am seeking photography representation and thought your agency might be a good fit because ______.
Please browse through my portfolio here: [Insert link]
If you like what you see and think we might be a good fit, I’d love to chat with you more. I can be reached at [Insert your phone number].
Thanks for your time!
Understand that photography agents are busy people.
Since the explosion of digital photography, it’s increasingly tougher for photographers to get the attention of photo reps. They probably get dozens if not hundreds of emails a day from photographers seeking a photo agent. As a result, there is a high chance they will only respond if they have an actual opening to fill.
It’s all about timing.
You never know a photo agent’s exact circumstances when you first approach them. Perhaps they just took on a new photographer, or a new spot on their roster just opened up. It’s impossible to know what’s going on behind the scenes. If you don’t hear back from a photography agent after sending your initial pitch, feel free to follow-up a week later. Ask if they received your message and had a chance to view your portfolio yet. If they don’t respond to your follow-up, leave it be. I would consider emailing them 6 months to a year later, but only when you have a decent amount of fresh new content and professional experience to show off.
Above all, keep being proactive.
Even if you manage to get a photo agent, understand that they are just one half of a team. Yes, a photo agent can help you get new work and boost revenue. But they also rely on you to keep pushing your limits and improving yourself professionally and creatively. This is especially true if the photo agent doesn’t respond to your pitch. Keep improving your skills and networking, and reach out to photo agents again as you build your experience and portfolio.
Have you worked with a photography agent, or are you planning to seek one out? Let me know your experiences in the comments below!