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August 11th, 2009

AFTER STAFF Expert of the Day – Maren Levinson, Founder, Redeye Reps

Posted by Maren Levinson

One of the questions I hear most from photographers, whether they used to be staffers or not, is, “How do I get commercial jobs?” A close second is, “How do I find a commercial rep?” As day and page rates for editorial work decline, it’s no surprise that photographers are paying attention to where the money is still flowing.

So now’s your chance to ask. As Maren’s introduction suggests, her areas of expertise are varied, and she’s truly eager to help. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and he’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice.

Maren Levinson

www.redeyereps.com

Photo by Amanda Marsalis

Photo by Amanda Marsalis

I founded Redeye in 2005 as a photo agency that supports photographers with both fine-art and commercial careers. I have always believed a photographer benefits from a multifaceted career, and I am interested in inspired work of any kind. Redeye currently represents six photographers, each with their own distinct photographic voice.

Before starting Redeye, I was a photo editor at Dwell and Mother Jones magazines, and consulted at various publications including Big, Chow, and GOOD magazines. I have also consulted with design firms and emerging photographers.

I love to edit and match up a photographer with their perfect job, path, or next project. Feel free to ask me anything and, if I don’t know the answer, I will make up something really good.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.


36 Comments

  1. August 11th, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Brian Palmer

    My question is what is the best way to approach potential clients for commercial jobs, and what resources are out there for finding them?

    What should those of us, who have not shoot a commercial job yet, do to get some experience undertheir belt before approaching a potential client? (I am already researching and practising by coming up with mock assignments from shoots I find online and in print. Yeah it’s a question for me.)

    Thanks
    Brian Palmer
    http://Brian-Palmer.net

  2. August 11th, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Maren Levinson

    Hi Brian,

    I find that Adbase or Agency Access are really good resources for contacting potential clients. They are both online listserves that are updated with great frequency. You can look up magazines, corporations, ad agencies, design firms, and book publishers.

    http://www.adbase.com/

    http://www.agencyaccess.com/

    They are also useful in that you can print labels and keep updated lists of the people who have responded to your work. Both provide services for bulk emailing as well.

    If you haven’t done a commercial job yet, I would start by looking at your existing work and see what’s most appropriate for you. What does the work you have indicate that you can do? I’d also look at the companies you want to work with. Local companies that are doing well or share a mission that aligns with your interests and passions.

    The other tack is to, yes, test shoot what you want to be shooting and then show those potential clients that you are capable of what they might be after. But don’t shoot what you don’t want to be photographing in the future. There are too many people who specialize in exactly what each client needs for you to be chasing your tail stacking your book with various disconnected types of work.

    Finally, look to your friends and colleagues and put the word out there that you’d do work for a good price to get started and gain some experience. I always say try everything and see what takes!

    Best,
    Maren

  3. August 11th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Ellis Vener

    Hi and thanks for taking questions!

    I think I do have a pretty good multifaceted portfolio (http://www.ellisvener.com ) . The problem is that I get encouraged to specialize otherwise art buyers won’t be able to define me. Is there a good way to multi-specialize?

  4. August 11th, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Steve Coleman

    Hi Maren … I have a successful Design business which now gives me the opportunity to balance my time with a fine art photography interest. Do you manage international clients? and can you give a quick critique of my work / site…. http://www.lightinframe.com/
    Best regards Steve

  5. August 11th, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Frank Rogozienski

    Hey Maren
    Thanks for taking the time and interest here.
    I’m curious about your take on the photog | rep relationship. Perhaps even the courting period. How do you choose your talent to represent? Would you consider your situation or business model unique in any way in terms of reps? You mention Adbase and AA as good resources for commercial and Editorial work, agreed. What would you consider a good resource for getting representation? Do you think all/most photogs benefit from representation? Why and why not?
    Finally, I have signed on with Wonderful Machine in the last year. What do you think of this new model of Rep/Web Portal hybrid?
    I know this is all over the map, but any insight is greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Frank
    http://www.frankrogozienski.com

  6. August 11th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Maren Levinson

    Hi Ellis–

    If you are competent at several different types of work, I would focus on what you enjoy the most and go from there. Just because you can do a bunch of things, doesn’t mean you should. If your passion is in architecture, go for it. Make a whole business out of that. If you love portrait work equally as much, then have another section on your site with that work, but make sure the style and approach all relates.

    Art buyers and editors want to know what they are getting when they hire you. If your work is too all over the place in terms of approach, then they and their art directors have no guarantee as to what they will get back from you and that is a scary thing.

    I believe certain photographers can be great at several things, but it’s a volume game. Most just haven’t committed to what they want to be doing. To be equally as good in several different areas, you must have shot a LOT of all of them and love doing it. It will show through in your work if you are more committed to one aspect than another.

    And remember, your overall body of work is only as strong as your weakest moment, unfortunately, so there just can’t be one!

    Best,
    Maren

  7. August 11th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Maren Levinson

    Hi Steve–

    Your design background definitely informs your work. I can see that!

    So, I have no rules about taking on international clients or not. I take on the photographer that makes the most sense for me and for my agency. This addresses Frank’s question as well, but a photog/rep relationship is a lot like a marriage. It’s not only about the work being good. It’s also about communicating well with each other, growing at the same pace, having a similar aesthetic, trust, faith and respect.

    I talk to each of my photographers almost every day. We need to like each other a whole lot! it needs to be easy for us to communicate well, so that is the only thing that might stand in the way of working with someone internationally. It’s just logistics.

    In terms of a complete critique of your work and site, I’m not sure this is the best forum for that, but we can continue the discussion offline. In short, I thought there was a lot of strong work up there but that you might want to streamline a bit. There are a lot of sections! My favorites were Nature’s Beauty and Snow & Ice. I thought some of the others might be able to be combined (like Earth Air Wind & Fie and Sydney My City).

    I hope that helps for now!

    Maren

  8. August 11th, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Ellis Vener

    Thank you. So to your eyes what are the weak spots in my portfolio?

  9. August 11th, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Ellis Vener

    I ask because making a comment like that is like a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter in a mystery.

  10. August 11th, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Steve Coleman

    Thanks Maren, i will be in touch…. cheers S

  11. August 11th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Maren Levinson

    Frank–

    I just wrote you a very long and thoughtful response and accidentally closed the window before posting it. Argh!

    In short, the photographer/rep relationship is different per agency. I have a very custom approach with the photographers in my boutique agency. Some bigger agencies play a volume game and have a bunch of photographers and a bunch of clients and it’s not as personal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not successful and lucrative. It all depends and what you want and need.

    I am interested in a longterm partnership with each of my photographers. I like to suss out their strengths and push them in that direction. Each of my photographers have very different strengths and the same approach does not work for all of them. Some are great at meetings, some do innovative promos, some are prolific as hell, some have a big internet presence, some are story-seekers and book publishers.

    I always tell people not to get an agent unless they absolutely need one. If you have to hand over a commission on your work, you will be grumpy unless there’s enough work to go around and you are not feeling super-strapped when you find someone. And no agent wants a grumpy photographer on their hands. All of my photographers would be successful without me, but hopefully I make things better– I’m a good collaborator, and I represent where they want to be going and the clients they hope to be in contact with.

    I have been in touch with everyone I have taken on for a while before I take them on. I never just sign someone on right on the spot. i follow their work and careers for a bit. I make sure we communicate well. it’s not something I take lightly, because with a small agency, they are a sixth of how I spend my time, how I get my income, and what shapes my agency. That’s a big deal!

    In terms of finding a rep, look to the photographers you respect in your field of interest and see who reps them. Just like finding a good client, show a potential rep that you have checked out what they do and why you think you might be a good match. Send them promos and emails and start a relationship. These things take time, so know that it might be a year or so before you land in the right place.

    I think Rob Haggart’s blog, A Photo Editor, has a good list of reps as well:

    http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2008/01/15/photographer-agents-reps/

    I don’t know much about Wonderful Machine, but it looks like a great place to start, and I remember as an editor really appreciating a listing of photographers by location. Redux does the same thing, and from an editorial perspective, that’s a blessing!

  12. August 11th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Frank Rogozienski

    Thanks Maren

    Not sure how much longer or thoughtful the first post could have been. Sorry you had to write it twice.
    Great advice and insight.
    I love Rob’s Blog and make it a daily read. And yes, he does have some great resources, including that list of reps.
    Perhaps it’s a bit off topic, but, as a rep, are there any blogs that you find helpful, indispensable, inspiring, or just plain fun?

    Frank

  13. August 11th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Maren Levinson

    Ellis–

    I didn’t mean to worry you! I hadn’t looked at your work extensively when I made that comment. I would say the same thing to any photographer asking the same question. That said, I do think your architectural work is your strongest. It seems you concur because you have placed that section at the top of your portfolios.

    I think you could probably combine people and portraits into one more tightly edited section and you could probably disperse industry into architectural and personal. Your personal work is taken with an architectural eye, so it all relates. And my favorite of your people section are the more graphic images (the hands in the center, the graduates from above, etc.), the more architectural, if you will. Does that make sense? I think these actions would make everything tighter and more focused overall. It’s just an editing thing. The strong work and voice is all there, it would just make a better impression if it were nipped and tucked a bit.

    I am unabashedly frank– I hope you don’t mind!

    Best,
    Maren

  14. August 11th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Maren Levinson

    Oh Frank, I am longwinded! Especially with caffeine in my system ;-)

    Blogs I like besides Rob’s:

    http://www.whatsthejackanory.com/

    http://amysteinphoto.blogspot.com/

    http://www.personism.com/

  15. August 11th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Ellis Vener

    Thank you. Honesty is always appreciated.

  16. August 11th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Brian Palmer

    Thank you so much Maren, your reply helps termendously!

    Brian Palmer

  17. August 11th, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Maren Levinson

    You are all very welcome. It was a total pleasure. Be well….

    Maren

  18. August 14th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    A Photo Editor - After Staff Week On The Resolve Blog

    [...] and 18 year old photographer who said he’s ready to start finding one so here you go buddy: (One of the questions I hear most from photographers, whether they used to be staffers or not, is,

  19. August 14th, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    J. Wesley Brown

    Hi Maren – My focus is on fine art photography and I have a day job, which thankfully, allows me to focus on shooting what I want. That being said, I’ve begun to think it would be nice to make some money with this gift but I’ve never shot commercially. My works been compared more than once to Noah’s and I would consider myself quite capable of shooting the right commercial jobs. Problem is, I never have and I’m not sure whether now is the right moment to spend all the time and money to try to get repped. Should I do some commercial jobs first or would I benfit from “hunting” without that ammo?

    Thanks!

    http://www.jwesleybrown.com

  20. August 14th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Vikram Singh

    Very informative. Thanks Maren.

    http://www.vikramsinghphotography.com

  21. August 14th, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Matt

    You’re doin’ it right.

  22. August 15th, 2009 at 6:28 am

    stephen

    thanks, interesting take.

    stephen

    http://www.stephengelb.com

  23. August 15th, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Nathan

    My question is concerning job prospects as a commercial/fine art photographer who isn’t represented by and agency such as Redeye. How can a photographer make a living with the millions of other photographers out there going after the same job? How can someone be part of an agency such as Redeye?

    Thanks.

    http//:naward.com

  24. August 15th, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Nathan

    Opps messed up on my site.

    http://naward.com

  25. August 15th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Doug

    Thanks for doing this it’s great info for us. I’ve been shooting solo for about 5 years I have a couple good steady clients and do 1-2 big national ad type jobs a year. My problem which seems to be a very common one is getting new clients. It’s so hard to get meetings I send postcards every three months and send an email update every two months both to about 500 contacts. I don’t do any editorial work but would like to just to help get my name out. I guess I feel like I have hit a spot but would like to grow.

    http://www.dougphoto.com

  26. August 16th, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Lindsay

    Hi Maren,

    I’m a multi-disciplined mid-career artist from Canada.
    To date, most of my commission work has been via ‘word-of-mouth’, but I’m now exploring greater ‘possibilites’ via the web … My photoblog has been ‘live’ for a year now, and even though it is a useful ‘referral tool’, I have not, as of yet, achieved any direct sales from the blog. Should I continue to invest in the site or just knock it down to a ‘sampling’ and use it as a ‘phone connect’?

    And secondly, my photo ‘strength’ resides in two rather eclectic areas: pinhole photography, and ‘mash ups’ of my own digital collages. The pinholes are selling best at the moment. However, the nature of ‘pinhole’ is very restrictive for ‘commercial work’, they work better within a ‘gallery’ venue. Thing is, the revenues from that source, are relatively smaller by comparison. What might I do to better ‘leverage’ my work from your p.o.v?

    http://canadadaPHOTOGRAPHY.blogspot.com

    p.s. I’ve never really considered the ‘idea’ of a ‘rep’ or agent, cuz they’re ‘take’ is generally the same as a ‘gallery’. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the 40-50% range, correct?

  27. August 17th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Maren Levinson

    Hello everyone, I was offline this weekend– sorry! First, to answer J. WESLEY BROWN.

    Yes, I see the similarities between your work and Noah Kalina’s for sure. I also see some Philip-Lorca diCorcia. It’s beautiful and you have a lot of it. Which is a perfect first step. But it does not a commercial photographer make. Not right off the bat at least.

    Your work is strong enough that some agents might take you right away, but why not get some experience first? Then you can choose the agent who is best for you rather than feeling like you have to go with the first person who says yes. Plus, you will be way more attractive to the top agents after you have some editorial work under your belt and a handful of commercial jobs.

    There’s work to be done, like forming a team you are comfortable working with (assistants, digitechs, stylists, etc). You also will want to start meeting with potential clients, forming relationships, and creating a design and promotional materials that suit you. Because these things take time to get under way, my guess is that most agents will want you to do this on your own before signing with them. They can take 2-3 years to work out, and no agent will not want you blaming them for not getting you work during this period.

    I’d suggest getting some advice from me or a consultant or anyone else you trust to get yourself positioned to find the best agent for you. You might as well go down this road, even if you are not sure about leaving your day job, so you can find out whether this is a path you want to pursue. Worst case, you find the commercial route grossly unappealing, and you still have a strong body of fine art work and a good, paying day job!

  28. August 17th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Maren Levinson

    To NATHAN–

    I guess the answer to both of your questions is the same.

    How do you make a living without a rep whilst up against a million other photographers out there and how do you get a rep? Make work that no one else can make. With every picture you publish and put online you should filter it through the question of can any other photographer make this image or is it a uniquely Nathan image? If it’s not an image that reeks of you– no matter how good it is– it should not be on display. Because then you free-fall into the void of the masses. Your voice is all you have to set you apart, and I promise you, if you find it and keep producing that work that is honest to you, good things will happen. Maybe a rep, maybe direct clients, maybe a gallery, maybe fame and fortune. ;-)

    After working out your voice and being terribly prolific, the next step is getting people to see it, so that means sending it out to the people you admire– again, agents, designers, art directors, blogs, reviews, self-publishing. Anything that comes naturally to you. If this seems like a nightmare and not something that excites you, you will have a tough road. If this sounds like fun, you are in good stead.

    Remember, being a successful photographer is not only about making good pictures, it’s about these last things I mention as well– constantly producing and participating in your photo/art/design community. Good luck!

  29. August 17th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Maren Levinson

    Hi DOUG–

    Yes, you are at that point where you know you are a professional photographer, but you want to be at the next level. It’s a quantity thing. You’ve got to try LOTS of different things and see what sticks. Sending promos is good. Maybe send emails too, just to the people who have shown specific interest in your work. I don’t know you and what your other passions are, but I bet there are some ideas in there for getting your work out there.

    Also, talk to your 1-2 big clients and ask them to recommend you to their friends. See who else they think would like your work. I rarely hand over such helpful information without people specifically asking me. If people like working with you, they will want to help you, but there are so many things to do in a day, that they won’t think to offer up such information without a request. That make sense?

  30. August 17th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Maren Levinson

    Hey LINDSAY–

    Perhaps don’t blog if it’s just for self-promotion or to garner income. I say this without reading your blog, so please don’t be offended, but no one will want to read a blog that is designed to bring in work. Do a blog if you love doing it. It’s too much work otherwise!

    That joy in sharing something you have to say that other people are not saying, will come though and make the blog successful over time, but who’s to say when. Once you start putting pressure on your blog to bring you income– if it brings you no other satisfaction– it will lose it’s vitality (see the failed publishing model of recent years). That doesn’t mean you can’t make money off of what you love, just that it will be garishly transparent if that’s your only motivation and will probably ensure its imminent failure.

    As for your eclectic strengths, maybe separate them. Have separate books, separate sections on your site or separate sites altogether. The separation will show your disparate types of work as purposeful and not aimless. As time goes on and you add more bodies of distinct work, it’s possible they will soldier up to prove you as a strong artist in many different medias as opposed to one who hasn’t committed.

    Finally, agents’ percentages tend to be in the 25% range not the 50% range, just so you know!

    Best and good night,
    Maren

  31. August 18th, 2009 at 5:59 am

    Lindsay

    Thanks Maren. That’s quite the assessment considering you never looked at the blog!

    Anyway – Yes, I’ve seen others set up their ‘publicity’ to be ‘websites’ first, with ‘blogs’ attached. Many have attached a ‘stand alone tab’ that promotes their services and/or merchandising , (like PhotoEditor, and/or even this site). I might try this ‘broader’ approach later once I become more familiar with the ‘technical aspects’ of managing web-publishing …

    As for my diversity, yes, it’s true I’ve done ALOT of different things. I’ve been very fortunate to have had a good run in several disciplines. The trouble with ANY of it though, is the Reality of making a on-going sustainable living as a living breathing artist. It’s never ‘easy’ unless you go fully ‘corporate’, ie. specialize to such a degree that you name is ‘branded’, (like Dreamworks!). If anything, that’s the point where I am not ‘committed’. Because I’d really rather do what I WANT as a WELL-ROUNDED artist then ‘specialize’ or limit my self to other’s expectations. And yes, that’a a bit of Catch-22 for me …

    As an example, I recently finished a complex conceptual for a wall mural 20x7feet. It’s not something I would normally think of doing or even pursue as a ‘job’, yet, the opportunity just fell in my lap. Luckily, my OTHER disciplines enabled me to visually articulate what needed doing. It got done, and ended with a VERY NICE cheque & a VERY happy client. I’ll be posting the end result soon on my blog, if you care to take a gander:

    http://canadadaPHOTOGRAPHY.blogspot.com

    Thanks too fo the heads up re: reps fees. I get the distinct impression it’s a ‘sliding scale’, and depends very much on the relationship between the two ‘principals’- and their respective industry contacts.

    Best to you,
    Lindsay

  32. August 18th, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Eric Mehl

    Hi Maren,
    This is a great resource, thanks for sharing so much information.

    My question is along the lines of the first one, from Brian. Without Agency Access or Adbase, what is a good way of finding the right person to contact at a company, what title should I look for in their staff list? I’m in New York where there is a huge number of companies, do you think cold-contacting companies that work in an area I’m interested in would be worth while? I’ve contacted a number of graphic designers, but few of them assign photography, so are the companies themselves the place to market myself to?

    Or is part of the value of Adbase and friends that they have already found companies that are explicitly looking for photography?

    Thanks!

    - Eric
    http://ericmehl.com

  33. September 28th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Lou Mora

    Hi Maren,

    I hope you’re doing well. I was wondering if you do any sort of consulting… helping a photographer (that you don’t rep) edit their website/book to really make their true work shine.

    Thanks so much for your time.

    Cheers,
    Lou

    http://www.loumora.com

  34. September 29th, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Maren Levinson

    Hi Lou–

    Yes, I love doing it, actually, as editing is one of my greatest pleasures. Please feel free to contact me directly so we can schedule something: maren@redeyereps.com.

    Best,
    Maren

  35. October 15th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Michelle

    Hi Maren,
    My partner and I have been shooting together for several years and we are just now getting ready to start submitting our work to reps. We have shot many kinds of editorial and commercial work, but our first love is fashion. It seems to me that partnerships such as ours are more common in fashion photography (ie- Mert Atlas & Marcus Piggott, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin). I am wondering what a rep’s perspective is on team photographers. Our clients love us because we are a 2 for 1 deal, but I suspect a rep might see it differently. This is uncharted territory for us and I would love to know your take on it. Do you think there being 2 of us will be a help or a detriment to finding representation? Have you ever worked with team photographers before?

    thank you so much for your time and input!
    Michelle

  36. October 16th, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Maren Levinson

    Hi Michelle–

    There are no rules with this sort of thing (for me, at least). If you do good work and are productive and operate smoothly, 2 is probably even better than 1. I would think the toughest part would be splitting the profits, but if you are doing well then everyone wins. I wouldn’t worry about that aspect of your desirability. If it works for you, it will work for others, assuming you are making terrific pictures and everyone gets along and communicates well.

    Best of luck!

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