A Fantastic Glimpse Into The Tricky World Of Photographer Agents And Representation

A Fantastic Glimpse Into The Tricky World Of Photographer Agents And Representation

Disclaimer: This post isn't riddled with eye candy, nor will it be the next viral hit of the month. What it does contain, however, may be far more valuable to any working or aspiring commercial photographer than any viral video or cutesy photo series. Norman Maslov is a well-known artist's and photographer's agent who recently performed a great interview with PhotoPolitic, a website specializing in promoting photographers to agencies and representing photographers in negotiations.

We often get a lot of questions from readers looking for us to try and get information for those looking for representation, and once I found this interview I knew I had to pass it on. Information and insight into the commercial photography realm is pretty rare - and it's a treat to hear straight from the people who make it all happen.

I know years ago when I was searching for a rep and agencies to work with, I really had no idea of where to start (hell, sometimes I still feel completely lost). How do I get in touch with them? How do I know if they are trustworthy? Am I wasting my time with mailers and emails? Do I want to work with agencies? (it can be a big headache!) Of course, there are endless questions pertaining to this subject - and one could spend far too much time delving into it. The world of commercial photography, agencies, and representation can be very daunting for a newcomer, so hopefully this interview demystifies the process. I've included, with permission, some of the more interesting questions and answers in this post, but for the full interview I suggest you head to PhotoPolitic's blog. It might also be worth a shot to pay a visit to Norman Maslov's site; he represents a number of artists and photographers who's work is very inspiring and thought-provoking.

Q: I keep hearing about bids and how to win them. I don’t even know who puts out bids. Are we talking about ad agencies, magazines, corporate art departments???? Who puts them out and how the hell do i get involved?

A: Magazines don’t bid. They usually just have an all inclusive budget or a day rate and a limited expense amount. Some have contracts and come back to you when shoots are in your area. Corporations usually have a shit load of paperwork to get you in their system as a preferred vendor. Sometimes it is easy and other times it takes weeks or months, it is crazy. I just completed getting in a third party payroll system for one of my photographers for a large Tech company. I kept getting automated emails asking for the same documents over and over and over. OY!

Ad agencies (usually from art buyers or art producers) are usually the ones sending out specs and bid requests. They frequently suggest potential photographers to their creatives and then select several to bid on the project. It is usually a triple bid situation but they don’t always choose the lowest bidder. Sometimes they have a first choice. Sometimes they tell you if that happens to be you, but it’s not always the case. Some art producers will come back to you to modify your numbers if you are too high (or sometimes too low). They also may make a selection based on your entire presentation (i.e website, estimate and if you are smart, your submitted visual treatment containing a written essay along with your images that relate to the potential project). Your vision of their project. This is very important.

How do you get invited? Well isn’t that the question? Your work, your promotions and your agent (if you have one) help grab their attention. Awards, books, directories, social and in person networking — it all helps. It is more difficult to meet buyers one-on-one these days since many are doing the job of what 2 or 3 people used to do. Word of mouth helps a lot. If you do get the chance to work with an agency, ask for them to refer you to others. If they really like you, they will do it on their own. You need to do you homework and research who these people are and what they work on. There are no easy 3 step answers here.



Q: Should I make myself look more successful than I am? Would anyone hire me if they really knew the truth?


A: HA! Illusion works a bit as long as you don’t bullshit your potential audience. I was on a conference call the other day with one of my photographers who hasn’t been that busy lately. It was with several agency folks for a potential project. At the beginning of the call, the art buyer kept swooning over my photographer about how busy they must be as she had seen and received all these beautiful promotions from me and the photographer over the past year. I had been sending great test images, smaller projects and revisiting some older work that hand’t been shown for a long time. The work was consistent, so it all seemed like it hadn’t been seen before. It gave the illusion she had been busy all of this time. But being successful isn’t that necessary from their end. But they do want to see production value (depending on the project) and to feel that you can handle the entire production. That’s why you need to build a relation and/or discuss projects with independent producers. They want to make sure you can handle it all.


Q: Cold Calling potential clients. Should we be calling every potential client and asking them for an opportunity?

A: Good question. Again it is hard to get one-on-one meetings. Maybe it is easier with direct clients and magazines rather that ad agencies. I’ll call agencies to try to set individual appointments when my artist visits other cities and maybe I get call backs 50% of the time. Some people are open to it and others don’t have the time. If you do call, be sure you send them a visual first. A card or email with your work. Calling without a visual connection will never work. But as hard as it may be, don’t take rejection personally. I am sure it is easier for agents since we are not the creators of the work but that’s a whole other issue.

The rest of the article can be seen at the PhotoPolitic Blog. Many thanks to PhotoPolitic for allowing me to reprint these snippets here.

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4 Comments

Thanks for this. As someone who is on the outside but would love to get into this world, this was great. I've heard Zack Arias talk about bidding for jobs, but was still mystified about it. I guess it's probably just one of those things you won't full understand until you're in it. I hope I get that chance in the future.

Interesting interview, some good points raised. Here's an interview with my agent Mark George. It's a good read. He has previously represented Richard Avedon and Terrence Donovan and currently reps Don McCullin and Jim Fiscus... so knows his stuff! http://www.professionalphotographer.co.uk/Magazine/Industry-Profiles/Mar...

Ihab Mokayed's picture

This is brilliant!

Von Wong's picture

Spot on :)