Ask an Agent / What do Agents actually do?
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column set up to answer all your dilemmas about the photography industry - a sort of photography agony aunt.
Whether you’re a creative director or a student, a photographer or a project manager , an art buyer or an assistant, a designer or a marketing director, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything!
This month I explain the point of agents and how to make it as a professional photographer.
Thought I would pop you an e-mail. I spotted you on Julian Calverley’s web site and would like to know what you actually do, forgive my ignorance? I am an upcoming photographer and have always wondered how people like Julian get to where they are, I can only assume you find photographers the work and you take a cut from the job. Sorry if I am being nosy, but I don’t want to look back in ten years time knowing I had potential to make a career from my photography and did nothing with it.
Hi Daniel and thanks for getting in touch. You raise a couple of points there- what do agents do and how do you make a living from photography. I wish it were the case, but the answer to the second question is not simply... ‘get an agent’ !
I don’t assume that you think Julian might be where he is today because of me, neither that you think that getting an agent is all that is required to become a successful photographer. Both are far from the truth. So I’ll treat what you say as separate questions.
Firstly, what do agents do? You are right, we do find photographers work and we do take a cut from the jobs. But that’s not all.
Aside from getting photographers work, most agents also negotiate shoot fees and expenses and take care of budgets. We usually get heavily involved in the creative side of things- editing images for promotional purposes, suggesting ideas for new work. Some agents also produce shoots ( we certainly do) and deal with all the logistics that go along with that. Experienced agents can give advice and support on all manner of business and legal issues, from industry trends to client contracts. As photographers agents we also sometimes take the role of mentor and counsellor. Being a freelance creative can sometimes feel isolated, so having an agent offers you the chance to part of a team, gives you someone to bounce ideas off, share the ups and downs with.
Many agents are willing to invest time and money in a photographer if they see real potential, but just having a great portfolio is rarely enough these days. We are looking for the whole package, all the other things it takes to be a successful photographer, taking good pictures is only the half of it.
If you are considering making a career out of your photography, you are going to need more than just an agent. (Some) Agents might be able to add a certain stamp of approval and raise your profile but we are not miracle workers. Photographers who find it difficult to get work will probably also find it difficult to get an agent. Which brings me to your second point, how do you make a career out of your photography?
If you want to fulfil your potential as a professional photographer, as well as being passionate, patient, personable and determined to succeed no matter what, you need to take on board everything that running a business brings with it.
Now, this might sound like some kind of business textbook speak but there’s no way round it I’m afraid, so here goes… you need a saleable product and service and you need to be able to market and deliver this successfully. You need to adapt your product to the demands of the market. Who is going to buy your photography and how can you get work from them? Have you got your pricing structure right? Can you earn enough money from your photography to run your business and survive on? If not, what’s your Plan B? Do you know enough about business contracts, legal obligations, insurance and producing shoots so as not to put your business at risk? What plans have you got for financing and developing your business?
Maybe you can answer all these questions or are prepared to work out a plan. If you do, then do something about it. I know for one thing, you’ll definitely look back in 10 years time and realise…. taking good pictures was only the half of it!
If you'd like to know more on the subject, I have a book coming out in January called "Setting up a Successful Photography Business’’
( published by A&C Black and available to pre-order on Amazon now). I'll also be presenting a workshop with Image Work on the Business of Photography to coincide with this.
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This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.