Do I Need an Agent for Photography?

Do I Need an Agent for Photography?

Photography agents are nothing new. They've been around for a long time, but since the advent of social media they seem like something we are all a lot more aware of; anyone who's anyone has an agent, right? However, there are a few misconceptions out there as to what an agent offers. 

Do You Need an Agent?

This is hard to answer. Hopefully, by the end of the article, it will be a little clearer. Not everyone needs an agent and it's in no way a marker of how successful you are. David Attenborough doesn't have an agent, you leave a voicemail on his home phone and he then returns your call telling you whether he is interested in the project or not. Generally speaking, if you're so busy that you can’t keep up with all of the inquiries, meetings, and invoicing, you probably need an agent. If like me, you are not a fan of talking about money, invoicing, chasing debts and negotiating, then an agent can be invaluable and frankly, save your sanity.

Can an Agent Get You a Higher Volume of Work?

This depends on the agent you are with. If you work for an agent who represents someone a lot better than you, there is a chance that you will get their cast-offs when the fee is too low or they are too busy for the job. If your agent is also located in a certain postcode where creatives go to book people or if they already have a relationship with certain clients, there is a chance that some additional work will fall your way. When I got my agent I was shooting five days a week and I was certainly burning the candle at both ends. Since having an agent my volume of work has actually decreased (in terms of shooting days), but the quality of work I produce and the prep that goes into the jobs has increased. 

Will You Get Better Clients?

I certainly have "better" clients now that I have an agent. Agents kind of act as a filter. Anyone who says “I won't work with agents” isn’t worth working with. It has also decreased the amount of time wasting inquiries I get. In general, I would say that the quality of client I work with is higher than before I had an agent. By higher I mean more professional, more collaborative and with realistic budgets. I get fewer calls about "opportunities" where the pay is in beer. 

Do You Make More Money with a Photography Agent?

This is a difficult one. I would say that I make about the same money at the end of each month, but this doesn't give the full story. I pay a % of my income to my agent for his services. This money covers negotiations, invoicing, invoice chasing, diary management, and all of the difficult conversations that fill me with fear. This fee also covers a degree of counseling; I trust my agent and I discuss big decisions with him. Many agents become good friends with the people they represent over time. Because my agent frees up so much time, I end up being able to do more of what I love (shooting) whilst maintaining my income. I constantly have personal work ticking over in the background now, which is something a few years ago that I couldn’t imagine being able to find the time for. I might not be a richer photographer, but I am a happier one (And I reckon my work is all the better for this happiness). 

How Do You Get an Agent?

You don’t, if you need one, they will come and find you in most instances. If you are hidden away, have little or zero social media presence, and generally have no need for a digital footprint, you may need to make contact. If this is the case, avoid sending generic emails to every agent in the city. Instead, find the ones that would be best for your niche and send a well thought out cover letter to them. Keep it short and to the point. Think about who else they represent. If you are very similar to another one of their photographers, it's highly unlikely they'll be willing to represent you. You'll become a conflict of interest for them, and everyone knows how fragile the ego of a photographer is. 

What have your experiences been working with or without an agent? Do you want one but can't seem to find one? Is it something that you think you would benefit from having?  

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5 Comments

Great post, i've been wondering about this for a while. Thanks for the input!

Go with caution. Agents are middlemen that force themselves between you and clients. I could write a book about this but not till I retire. Tread carefully.

Color Thief's picture

In the US at least, when photographers have someone in this role they call them a ‘rep’. One of the things you want in a ‘rep’ is for them to have good, deep relationships with the photography industry. Art buyers and photo editor know and trust them and the reps understand the whole photography process from estimate to delivery. I assumed the difference in terminology – rep vs agent - was simple a cross-the-pond semantic difference. But when I looked up The Markham Agency it seems like they are much closer to what we would call an agent – they work with tv, theatre, and. musical theatre talent. This seems quite strange to me that a photographer would be working with this kind of agent rather than a rep dedicated to working photographers. Is this the norm in the UK?

Scott Choucino's picture

It is far from normal, but it works for the work I do. A lot work with a specific photographic agent, but I have a different working week to the norm too. I am not sure reps is a very UK used term, but it would certainly be understood over here int he UK.

This is one great article which I will reshare soon Scott. So many good points. It's funny, I'm a rep and I often don't know how to articulate what I do. To me it's like breathing and being asked to explain air. You articulated so much of what a rep is about in a way that simplifies it into understandable terms. I have an Instagram - @AskSternRep you may like. I'd like to post a point from this, is that ok with you?