Also known as:
- Photographic agent
- Agent (or sometimes ‘representative’)
What does a Photographer’s Agent do?
A Photographer’s Agent (or more usually, just ‘Agent’) can be an important link between a photographer and a customer base. An agent sells the photography services of the photographers they represent, so first and foremost, an agent is a sales manager. That’s not the whole story though – agents need to promote their photographers’ work and connect them with people who might buy those creative services, so marketing is a skill that’s needed too. An agent will use the photographer’s portfolio as a starting point for this marketing activity.
In addition, an agent will need to be able to manage a large production (a shoot or a commercial, for example) and co-ordinate lots of people from different areas and get everyone to work towards one goal. An agent will negotiate the terms of a contract (the ‘deal’) between their photographers and the clients (‘commissioners’ or ‘buyers’) who may be from advertising agencies or established businesses, so they’ll try to get the best deal they can from the client.
Many agents will also handle the business side of their photographers, so they’ll deal with the financial aspects of not only their own businesses, but their photographers too.
Agents will often also get involved in the career path of the photographers they represent. They might suggest themes or subjects that a photographer might shoot for new portfolio work to keep the portfolio fresh and exciting.
Agents make their living by taking a commission (a percentage of the photographer’s fees) on the work they bring in. This amount can vary and is discussed between the photographer and the agent when they start working together.
Agents usually run their own businesses, either on their own or with a small team of people employed to do the work of marketing, selling and managing their photographers. Sometimes an agent may be part of a bigger company that represents creative people who do other stuff, not just photography.
What’s an Agent good at?
(You don’t have to be good at all these things, but it helps!)
- Understanding art and photography: Having an understanding of what’s ‘current’ or ‘on-trend’ in photography as well as a desire to explore and discover new things and some knowledge of composition and framing (not the ‘hanging on the wall’ type!) as well as understanding form, colour, texture and light and shade are all pretty vital to being an agent.
- Understanding people: Professional photography, at some point, is always be about the relationships you build with others, so being able to empathise and get along with people, whether they’re your photographers, your team or your clients and customers, is important, as is your ability to put across your own views with confidence.
- Understanding the marketplace: Whatever sector you might work in as an agent, you will need a thorough knowledge of the other people in that market. For example, in the fashion sector, you will need to know who the good stylists and make-up artists are, who the magazine editors are and so on.
- Diplomacy and collaboration: You need to be good at striking a balance between lots of (sometimes opposing) views without creating unnecessary friction or stress. You’ll need a thick skin and patience too!
- Organisation: You’ll need to be disciplined and able to prioritise tasks. You’ll need to be able to motivate yourself and manage lots of different tasks at the same time.
What are the tools of the trade?
Probably the most important tools are a good calendar and a good contacts database. Once you have those in place, you will be able to prioritise and manage several tasks or commissions at once. Given that everyone works by text and email, a decent computer is probably the only thing you actually need.
Who does an Agent work with?
An agent acts as a bridge between the photographer and the client. That means (photographers’) agents work with photographers – they represent (‘rep’) them and take on the work of marketing, promoting and managing a shoot, in return for a fee (commission) and they work with clients and customers who want to buy the services of the photographer. On the client-side, these people are often in the roles of art-buyers, creative directors, art directors and designers.
You can be an agent that works with other creatives, not just photographers. Some agents have a mix of photographers and illustrators, for example. Agents exist in every creative field (so there are agents for artists, designers, musicians as well).
How do I become an Agent?
Becoming an agent is not usually a first-job-scenario. Most often, people will get experience at a photography studio, working with other photographers or working in a business that buys (‘commissions’) photography, such as an advertising agency. It’s only when you have an understanding of the business and relationships involved and the necessary contacts that you might be in a position to decide you’d like to become an agent.
At school or college:
What you choose to study at school or college is likely to be a mix of arts or creative subjects and perhaps something more business-orientated.
There are no degree courses specific to this role. You can choose to do something that will enable you to work perhaps as a photographer, an art-buyer, a creative director or a marketer.
Straight to Industry:
You do not need any formal qualifications to be an agent,
As mentioned, this role is not suitable for a first job as you will need experience and understanding and a good list of contacts if you are to be successful.
It is very rare for jobs for agents to be advertised, as most agents run their own businesses and are self-employed, but occasionally you might see larger photographic agents advertise for people to help out in administrative roles. These jobs will often be advertised in the creative press, like Creative Review magazine, Campaign and The Drum as well as on platforms like Linked-In (and to a certain extent Twitter). Keep your eyes open and get friends and family to help look too. Word-of-mouth is probably the most effective means of getting yourself in the right place at the right time. You will find that your own contacts and networks are the key to being a successful agent.
Keep yourself up-to-date with visual trends and what’s ‘hot’. Look at advertising campaigns and note who’s shooting them, who’s producing them and who else is involved. Get involved with creative groups for networking and decide whether you think you’re more suited to becoming an agent via photography (and related media) or through the buying and marketing side as that will determine which route you might take.