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Finding agencies to approach requires research. There are agencies that specialize in editorial or commercial, assignments or stock. Some do all four, some do just one or two.
There are good lists out there, like this and this at Rob Haggart’s “A Photo Editor” blog (although he still lists Digital Railroad, which abruptly went out of business recently… plus they were never an agency, more of a stock portal). Frank Neimeir’s list is bigger and more international, but it could take a long time to slog through. This list is more specifically geared towards repping firms (who might not do stock).
If you are an editorial photographer, look in publications that you like, and take note of the agency credits that appear next to the photographers’ names. Read the industry trade magazines to see who is shooting interesting commercial jobs and find out who their agents are.
Do your homework and understand what the agency is about. Does your work fit in? Would it make sense as part of their roster? Once you’ve identified who makes sense for you to pursue, start working your contacts to see if you know someone who knows someone at the agency. You don’t need to have an “in,” but it sure does help.
If you are cold calling, introduce yourself, tell them what kind of work you do, and where you are based. Let them know that you’ll be following up with an email and a link to your website. You probably won’t hear back unless you are offering something amazing (more on that below), so call to follow up a few days later (it’s like getting someone’s number at a bar… there’s no exact science to how many days you should wait).
Once you get a meeting, try to see as many reps at the company as possible. Everyone has a different opinion; while one person might not respond to a picture, another may love it. Take it all in and process it later.
Remember to show the agency how both sides would make money from the partnership. Just like you might be apprehensive about giving an agent a percentage, remember that agents are wary of who they take on, too. It is a huge amount of work to successfully represent someone, so tell the agent how everyone might benefit. If the agency also licenses stock, come armed with a list of sellable stock subjects you have in your archive. There are so many wonderfully talented photographers out there, so tell them how you stand apart.
Regardless of whether you are a portrait, travel, food, interiors, or news photographer, most reps love seeing personal projects. This work often gives deeper insights into your creativity and your own point of view. So hopefully you are working on one or even several distinct bodies of work even if you’re not getting paid for them.
Some people are going to be honest with their feedback (maybe more than you like), others are going to be polite but not offer any real critique. If you want to leave feeling you know where you stand, there’s nothing better than just asking, “Do you see us working together?”