Col­lab­o­rat­ing with a photo agent

In this is­sue, The Pho­tog­ra­pher’s Mail is de­lighted to in­tro­duce new colum­nist Aaron K, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the AIPA. In his first ar­ti­cle, he talks to IDC founder and photo agent Michele Richards about the ben­e­fits of hav­ing an agent and how to pre

The Shed - - Column - Aaron K

As pho­tog­ra­phers, when we see an ex­cep­tional pho­to­graph, we are quick to praise the pho­tog­ra­pher who took it — and rightly so. How­ever, it’s also im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that, in most cases (and par­tic­u­larly in the com­mer­cial sphere), pro­duc­ing a great photo re­quires the com­bined ef­forts of many tal­ented and skilled peo­ple; that is, the pho­tog­ra­pher’s cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tors and sup­port crew. In this new col­umn, I will con­duct in­ter­views with var­i­ous in­di­vid­u­als who play a vi­tal role in the cre­ation of high-qual­ity pho­to­graphic im­agery.

For this first in­stal­ment, I spoke with photo agent Michele Richards, who founded the IDC pho­to­graphic agency (idc.co.nz) back in 1999. With a ros­ter that in­cludes some of New Zealand’s top ad­ver­tis­ing pho­tog­ra­phers, IDC is widely rec­og­nized as one of the lead­ing photo agen­cies in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

Aaron K: Can you briefly ex­plain the role of a pho­tog­ra­pher’s agent — what ex­actly do you do?

Michele Richards: Pri­mar­ily, what I do is mar­ket and pro­mote pho­tog­ra­phers to an ad­ver­tis­ing au­di­ence, which is mostly ad agen­cies and some de­sign com­pa­nies. I do that in New Zealand, Aus­tralia, and through­out Asia — and, by de­fault, that ex­tends to a global au­di­ence.

I work with my pho­tog­ra­phers to tar­get a spe­cific au­di­ence. We get to­gether and we talk about which clients we’d like to shoot for, in terms of style and con­tent. Then we’ll iden­tify which agen­cies hold those ac­counts and make a plan to pur­sue that work.

What would you say is the main ben­e­fit of hav­ing an agent?

Of­ten pho­tog­ra­phers are great cre­atively, but they may not be that great from a busi­ness stand­point. So, they may not ne­go­ti­ate very well, or they might not be that or­ga­nized when it comes to im­ple­ment­ing a mar­ket­ing sched­ule, or keep­ing in touch with prospects — all of that ‘nuts and bolts’ type of work that’s ac­tu­ally cru­cial for busi­ness growth. There are a lot of re­ally amaz­ing pho­tog­ra­phers out there who aren’t that suc­cess­ful busi­ness-wise, sim­ply be­cause they’re not busi­ness peo­ple. So, one of the main ben­e­fits of hav­ing an agent is work­ing with a busi­ness-savvy per­son who can deal with that side of things.

What at­tributes or qual­i­ties are you look­ing for when se­lect­ing pho­tog­ra­phers for IDC?

My first con­sid­er­a­tion would be whether I have a po­ten­tial style or genre gap in my cur­rent ros­ter. Usu­ally, this hap­pens if some­one has left the agency or I can see some­thing trend­ing in the mar­ket: per­haps a new style that’s com­ing to the fore. I get ap­proached all the time by lots of pho­tog­ra­phers from New Zealand as well as over­seas, so I’m kind of aware of who’s out there and what the mar­ket is look­ing for. So, pri­mar­ily, it’s based on what gaps I might have or if some­one presents their port­fo­lio to me and I see some­thing re­ally spe­cial or defin­ing about their work.

At what stage in their ca­reer should a pho­tog­ra­pher start look­ing for an agent?

Once they’ve had a sig­nif­i­cant amount of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence. I think as­sist­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is cru­cial. I’ve been ap­proached by pho­tog­ra­phers who have as­sisted for maybe four or five years, and I’ve had some that have maybe as­sisted one per­son once and de­cided they’re now ready to be a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher. Based on my ex­pe­ri­ence over the past 16 years, pho­tog­ra­phers

who have as­sisted for a rea­son­able amount of time are just screeds above those who haven’t. Once they’ve gone out on their own, it shows that they’re ready, they’re driven, and they’re fo­cused. They know how to un­der­stand a brief, en­hance an idea, and work with cre­atives and clients — and that’s re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant.

What should pho­tog­ra­phers do to in­crease their chances of gain­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion with an agency like IDC?

The best way to get on my radar is to make con­tact that isn’t via email. Face-to-face is good — and, if we meet, ob­vi­ously bring your work. When I have time, I’m al­ways open to look­ing at new work and meet­ing peo­ple at all dif­fer­ent stages of their ca­reers. By hav­ing a chat and view­ing your port­fo­lio, it gives me an idea of your level of ex­pe­ri­ence and fo­cus. Once you walk out the door … it doesn’t sound very nice, but it’s hard to re­mem­ber ev­ery­one, so you need to be per­sis­tent — but not an­noy­ingly per­sis­tent. Be clever: send through up­dated work or just ask the ques­tion “What’s the gap you’re look­ing to fill, and does my work fit?”

Be­ing able to work in a part­ner­ship is also vi­tal — un­der­stand­ing that, once you have an agent, you don’t just put your feet up and re­lax. You need to keep work­ing just as hard with an agent as you do when you don’t have an agent.

Fi­nally, what should pho­tog­ra­phers be do­ing to bet­ter pre­pare for the fu­ture?

Stay cur­rent and, at the same time, stay fresh. Keep your work evolv­ing. Don’t go stale — keep shoot­ing per­sonal work. And stay on top of those re­la­tion­ships with clients. Be proac­tive, not re­ac­tive.

If you’re re­ally pas­sion­ate about what you’re do­ing, you’ll keep mov­ing for­ward.

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