For many of us photographers in the commercial world, the key to getting good jobs for exciting campaigns is having the right agent by your side. However, finding the right agent and with space on their books for you can be incredibly hard to do.
Most commercial photographers are represented by an agent. Agents come in all shapes and sizes. At the very personal end, you have small one-man bands who are a single person and a single photographer, and although these are pretty rare these days, there are still a few that do very well. Then you have the agent, who perhaps represents one photographer from each genre they work in, some who have a team of agents within them so they can take on more photographers, super niche boutiques that only represent a very specific style of photographers, through to huge agencies who have more staff than most have photographers. So, finding what works best for you is key.
I know they say put your best foot forward, but the agent you work with will be alongside you through the highs and lows. I always think it best to just be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you are not. It will all come out eventually. Most photographers are also booked for their personality alongside their work. You won't be everyone's cup of tea, but you will be the perfect match for someone.
Build a Very Specific Portfolio
For years, I did some soft, dreamy food photographs, a little bit of portrait work, and my more brash, graphic style of food photography, thinking that it was wise to have a bit of everything going on to make sure that I got as many jobs as possible. The problem with this is that no one knows who you are. I eventually got the nerve to cut my portfolio down to a very small niche within food photography that I was truly passionate about. I spent a year doing test shoots alongside my commercial work, and then, I sent my portfolio out. This was perhaps the most important thing I did. All people want to see is your personal work and that you can describe it as simply as possible.
Chose Specific Agents
Five or so years ago, I tried to sign with a photography agent, just before signing with a talent agent who wanted to branch out as a bit of a long stopgap. At the time, I emailed every agent in the UK. Every single one. At best, I got a rejection email; at worst, I was thrown in the trash as a time-waster. Once I knew what it was I needed in an agent, it was far easier to build a shortlist. I got it down to three agents in the UK, and I contacted them, set up meetings and Zoom calls, and met with each of them until I was certain I had found the right fit. Work out who would be the best fit for you and who would be able to help you achieve your career goals.
Sometimes, people are too busy and miss your email. Other times, you may find that the agent already has someone who does a very similar type of work to you and that you would create a conflict of interest within the agency. Either way, don’t give up straight away. You have made it to a point where you need an agent, You can wait for another year of trying to make contacts.
Make Sure You Are Ready
An agent won’t fix a failing career; if you are not already getting big campaign work often, then your work might not yet be of a standard that they would be interested in. A lot will also want to know that you can deal with difficult clients while keeping a good working relationship with them. Agents make their money by taking a percentage of yours, so you need to be making enough money that 25% of your profits can be used to pay a skilled member of your team while still supporting you.