Ask An Agent / Commissioned or Personal Work?
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly feature answering your questions about the business of photography – the photography industry’s first Agony Aunt!
If you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to email@example.com. Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything.
Dear Ask an Agent,
I want to try and get an agent, should I show them my commissioned work or personal projects?
You should absolutely show them both if you have the option!
Honestly speaking, you are going to be more appealing to an agent if you have a proven track record of commissions. As much as we love looking at stunning pictures from talented photographers, we are running businesses and need to be instilled with confidence that clients will commission your type of photography. There is more of a guarantee that you are going to be regularly in demand for commercial commissions if you have already built a reputation and are a known name in the industry, so many jobs are commissioned on familiarity and trust.
Aside from that there is a huge added value to an agent if a photographer has realistic expectations of the industry and knows the in’s and out’s of the shoot process, from initial enquiry to delivering the images (and all that is likely to happen along the way!). This can only really come from having a regular track record of commissioned shoots, but boy does it make our lives as an agent easier!
Don’t go too overboard though, I think I’d actually rather see a portfolio full of personal projects than a book of commissions! Who wants to see a book full of someone else’s ideas, conceived and art directed by someone else? Personally, I find this frustrating as I then struggle to grasp the essence of the photographer. We want to know what inspires them, what sets them apart, what’s their unique take on the world. A great personal project fast tracks recognition, little or no personal projects can give a message that the photographer lacks the passion and imagination to shoot their own ideas. Besides, so many amazing commissions are inspired by photographers personal projects.
Promoting your personal work also allows you to remain in control of the direction you are going in creatively. Photographers generally get commissioned based on the images they define themselves by and choose to show the world. So 5 years down the line you are going to end up being commissioned to shoot images based on other peoples visions and ideas, not your own if you aren’t careful.
The perfect portfolio is a mixture of both where you can’t see the join!
But please, be original! Don’t jump on bandwagons and do try to make your work unique. Don’t forget that agents and art buyers, and all the other influential people that can potentially give you a big break, see countless portfolios (or websites) every week. Often I notice the same repeated themes and it is a bit of a turn off. I asked the wonderful Ben Cole, guru of the art buying world and Visual Director at VCCP what he thought too, I love what he had to say and 100% agree!!
‘I would say test constantly, keep shooting arresting images, you are always commissioned for your eye, your personal work, not just the brands you have worked on. Find a project to work on, but research it very carefully as we have all seen plenty of stories on travelers, boxing gyms, surfers and poor Martin Parr observational copies.’
Whether you’re a creative director or a student, a photographer or a designer, an art buyer or an assistant, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll answer as many as we can!
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This advice should be taken as a guide only.
Lisa Pritchard, LPA and guest bloggers take no responsibility for any omissions or errors.
The images used in this article are for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily correlate with specific facts or examples cited in the text.
Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.