Ask an Agent / How important is it to be based in the capital?
Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography – photography’s first Agony Aunt! If you have any questions that you’d like to ask a Photographers Agent please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
This month it's all about the Big Smoke. I help a photography student in a quandary as to whether he needs to move to London when he graduates, and a 'regional' photographer wanting to work for London agencies and pick up representation.
I'm a student just about to graduate this summer! My question is, what do you think the Pros and Cons of living in the City are? Obviously I’m very aware that the majority of work is in London, but is commuting from outside of London not an option? Are there hidden benefits to living inside the City? I assume clients look for Togs in London so as not to travel?
Good question. I need to be careful to remain philosophical as I’m a bit of a Londonphile and I don't want to be responsible for making you move to London!
Personally speaking it was a no brainer when I was your age ( god, now I sound like an old fogie) I originally came from a village in the Midlands and couldn’t wait to get to the Big Smoke as soon as I was old enough! Years later I felt the pull of the countryside again and now I have an established London agency (with several staff) I’m lucky that I’m able to split my time between London and the New Forest- although I still need my 3-4 day London fix. But that’s just me. What I'm trying to say is, deciding where you live is often an instinctive choice based on many factors, including personal taste, hobbies, desired lifestyle, life stage, influence of friends and family, career aspirations.
Some people feel they need to be in the cut and thrust of things and perhaps might be missing out if they don’t immerse themselves in cities such as London, whereas others prefer a less frenetic pace, with less pollution and expense.
I don’t think clients ( as in ad and design agencies, or magazines etc) are too bothered where you live in terms of giving you work unless there is ever an issue of you not being to get to London at a certain time (e.g for a shoot or a meeting) or of you asking them to pay for your travel.
And in terms of getting work in the first place, as long as you consistently make your presence felt and keep yourself in the consciousness of those that count, both virtually and physically that should be fine too. Whether this is easier to do when you live in London is another question. If you live more than say 3 hours away from London and don’t regularly come to the City, then that might be a game changer and it’s going to be a lot harder to get a foothold.
I guess at your stage as well you might be considering assisting, and I’m afraid there will be times when a photographer might be put off hiring you because you don’t live near and commuting will seriously eat into your daily rate
Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s.
Pros of living in London
• If you are thinking of getting assisting work (or other photography related work) you might have the edge over someone not based in London) e.g a photographer might think it will be problematic for you to get to work.
• Shorter traveling distance and therefore easier access to top ad and design agencies and publishers.
• Lots of exhibitions, workshops, networking events etc on your doorstep.
• Seen as a creative epicentre attracting top talent and ambitious people – you will be influenced by this. When you live in London it seems to send a message to work harder, try harder, be the best.
Cons of living in London
• Competition is high. More photographers competing for the same jobs.
• Too many people. (although this could also be a Pro!)
And two final thoughts. There are many successful photographers who don’t live in London but work for London agencies. And there are many nice commissions coming out of agencies outside London.
Good luck Mitch and let me know how you get on!
I'm a commercial photographer working with some relatively high profile clients. I'd really like to progress further & pick up some larger accounts however I'm concerned that by being based outside London I'm going to have problems connecting with the right people. What advice would you give to an ambitious 'regional' photographer looking to approach London agencies & find the right representation?
Thanks for the question James.
You don’t necessarily have to live in London to make an impact and 'connect' with London based agencies and agents and the fact that you have some high profile commercial clients already gives you a distinct advantage.
You just need to make your presence felt in London, and with so much communication online these days the need to be somewhere physically has diminished. Having said that, I don’t want to give the impression that face to face interaction isn't important, it is , you’ll just need to be prepared to do a bit of commuting.
The process of picking up new clients in the capital should be the same as picking up any new client, regardless of geography. Once you have identified a client (or agent for that matter) that you feel will be interested in your work, get yourself on their radar and stay there. Apparently you need to hit someone with at least seven ‘marketing messages’ before you seep into their psyche- and that’s if you are showing relevant, well edited work!
I would suggest showing your book to a few agencies and hopefully pick up a couple of London clients before approaching the more established agents, but we are all different. You don’t need to make a big deal about the fact you don’t live in London and it doesn't have to become an issue.
Let’s take two photographers, one lives in London, one lives in Gloucester (for arguments sake). They both produce award winning distinctive work, tirelessly promote themselves and art directors and picture editors love collaborating with them both equally. Would the London based photographer get more work or be a more attractive prospect for an agent? I don’t think so.
If however the logistics of not living in London start causing problems for clients or the photographer, e.g expensive travelling costs, has to pay for somewhere to stay when shooting in London, doesn’t attend so many networking events, or ‘go sees’ then the London 'Tog’ ( to use Mitch’s term! ) might shift into the limelight.
If an agency or agent sees something they really like , believe me, your address won’t be the deal breaker.
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