Ask An Agent / Photographers Dining Club Special / Getting Commissioned

new2© Chris Brock / Lisa chatting with Christine de Blangy and Harry Borden

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography - a sort of photography agony aunt. Whatever area of the industry you are in, if you have any questions you’d like to ask please send them to

Lisa recently hosted a panel discussion at recent venture Photographers Dining Club on the subject of Getting Commissioned. The panel included influential commissioners Christine De Blangy from Leo Burnett, Daniel Moorey from Adam and Eve DDB and Emma Bowkett from FT Weekend Magazine plus legendary photographers Harry Borden, David Stewart and Chris Floyd. This month, in an Ask an Agent special, we bring you an agent’s perspective on the questions tackled.

What do you think is the most effective approach to getting commissioned?

a) Approaching clients directly with fully formed ideas the client just needs to find space and budget for. b) Approaching clients directly with your portfolio and letting them know you're available for commissions of their choice. c) Putting work out there through your own channels and waiting for clients to contact you.

Andy Waterman

I’ve always maintained that getting commissioned is rarely a result of a one off marketing tactic. I read somewhere once that you need to make contact with a potential customer seven times before even registering in their consciousness; whether that includes a folio meeting, a really cool mailshot or a top ranking place when you are googled it doesn’t really matter.

To get commissioned you need to remain in the back of the minds of potential commissioners at all times, and you can utilise a variety of methods to do this. Having said this, it’s not just about a tactical, consistent marketing approach. You can be reaching your potential commissioners constantly with your images, whether or not they connect and remember those images and whether or not they are then encouraged to commission you is a different matter. It’s a waste of time if the images don’t make the right impression.

In fact, it always surprises me how many successful photographers don’t seem to have a formal marketing plan, they appear to go from one commission to the next almost by luck, and this was confirmed to a certain extent by the photographers talks at the recent Photographers Dining Club. But what did occur to me is that these types of photographers have something in common. They consistently create great images that have impact and they are passionate and driven about their work, and I reckon this is what creates the luck (and therefore the commissions!)

So, my answer would be a combination of a), b) and c) at the very least but it only works if you produce consistently strong images and are passionate about your work.


© Rowan Fee A personal project by Rowan (the boots on the left) which inspired agency Kitcatt Nohr Digitas to commission him to shoot this Nikon camera in a similar way for John Lewis

To specialise or not. When viewing a folio would you like to see a variety of work or only the most relevant images?

Travis Hodges


Above: Example of a portfolio bound by Delta Design

The most important thing again is to be consistent, to show work by which you can be identified and to only show your best work. So many photographers make the mistake of not including some of their best images in a folio because they think they are too old, or including a weak image just because it was a commission. I remember representing a fantastic social documentary photographer once who insisted on including an awful studio shoot with models in cheesy poses against bright backgrounds just because it was a commission- nooo!!

It’s also about finding a middle ground between showing too much of the same, for example ten images from the same project or of the same model, and showing a variety of work without it looking too disparate. If possible also show a mixture of personal work and commissions- the aim is that unless you tell anyone there’s no way of telling which is which!

Getting commissions isn't just about attracting clients attention, can you clarify what happens at the estimating stage. Do you get several quotes and then choose which photographer to go with based on cost?

Jonathan Nixon

I was really interested to hear what the panel had to say about this as an agent (you can read their answers here) Here at LPA we can cost up to ten shoots a day, and quite rightly if a job doesn’t come off our photographers are always keen (to say the least!) to find out if it was down to cost. The problem is, it’s not always that easy to find out as art buyers, project managers and designers are often so busy once a job has been signed off that telling the unsuccessful bidders isn’t their priority.

All I can say is, that by working on several quotes each week, seeing which ones are converted to jobs, and always doing our damndest not to lose a job based on cost alone, there’s not always much you can do. The best you can do is listen properly to you clients needs, understand what’s required in terms of usage and final images, send anything that might help ‘sell you in’ including a professional, comprehensive estimate and build up the best rapport possible. Anyway, you’ll usually find it’s the photographer who deserves the job most that gets the job, the one whose work fits perfectly, the one that can bring the most to the project.

There's an old adage or truism in business that people buy from people. So, should photographers be thinking about building productive relationships with commissioners rather than expecting to make a pitch based on their portfolio, abilities, skills, experience, equipment, contacts etc?

Alec Leggat

Absolutely! In fact we did a little survey and a surprising nine out of the last ten jobs came out of a relationship our photographers had built up with a client or that we as agents had built up as clients. One of the main reasons people buy into a service is because they feel trust and confidence in what will be delivered and this comes from building a good relationship in the first place.




Above: Behind the scenes shoots in the UK and South Africa

If you can give us one tip or insider bit of information to get more commissions what would it be?

Christopher Everard

People buy from people!


Please Note: We reserve the right to shorten questions due to space constraints. We reserve the right not to enter into ongoing correspondence. We reserve the right not to answer all questions. Please state whether you would like to remain anonymous. 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.