Business Trends: Working With A Photo Rep

Looking for new and different ways to bring in more business, photographers often ask me about working with a rep. As an art/photo rep for almost 25 years, I can appreciate the balance the relationship can bring to a business. Having a rep means someone else is doing the selling while you concentrate on creating the images. Having a rep means that they will build your business in three ways: by finding new clients in a specified area of work, negotiating the best pricing and terms with these clients, and keeping those clients coming back for more.

A rep is not for everyone though; it will depend on the type of photography you want to promote. Photo reps are most often found selling assignment photography services to the commercial photography markets (such as ad agencies and graphic design firms). Because an ad agency or a design firm has many different kinds of clients and photography needs, they are predisposed to work with a rep with a variety of photographers to match those needs. Also, you will find most reps in the major metropolitan areas where they have a large pool of these commercial photo clients. Though most photographers can do any kind of assignment, to avoid conflict with their other photographers, a rep will contract with each photographer and sell them as a "specialist." For example, a rep might have a people photographer, a food photographer, a product photographer, and so on.

Specialized Markets
If you are looking for more ways to expand your business, reps are not only found in commercial assignment photography. There are actually four different types of representatives or "agents" that a photographer can contract with to find new clients, projects, commissions, and assignments. They are:
· Art/photo reps
· Fine art reps
· Galleries
· Stock photo agencies

Art/photo reps own their own businesses and usually represent a group of non-competing commercial illustrators and photographers to bring them assignment work. The sales are based on usage of the assignment images. This is the relationship most commonly understood when using the term "rep." Fine art reps have a business structure very similar to the art/photo rep but their clients are in the corporate fine art market for print sales. Galleries function as reps and also work with fine art photography but they usually have a retail space where they sell prints to collectors and consumers. If a stock photo agency is not selling their own images (shot by staff photographers), then they are still true "agents" and sell the reuse out of a photographer's existing library of images.

Planning Together
The photographer and the rep need to plan together for the rep to find the photographer potential new clients. Strong direction given to the rep is an important key to a successful relationship. The relationship between any rep and the photographer is that of an independent contractor and not an employee and employer, and reps are usually paid on a commission basis. For example, the art/photo rep usually gets paid 25-30 percent commission of the photography/usage fees for commercial assignment work (not the total of the invoice including expenses).

Turf Considerations
Commission is paid on all of the jobs coming in from the rep's territory. For each photographer they represent, reps usually work a geographic territory looking for a specific kind of photography work. A city, a region, a country, or regions of the world such as North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim define a geographic territory. Some reps use the different commercial photography markets to define their territory and then sell in the world market for these areas. For example, the rep and photographer could agree that the rep will work all assignment projects but that the stock requests go to the photographer and are not included in the rep's commissions. There are different ways to define a "territory" for the rep/photographer relationship and it is important in the contractual relationship.

House Accounts
Photographers often maintain their own clients as "house" accounts and these are not subject to the rep's commission. However, many photographers find it is more efficient to have the rep work with all of their clients after a time and give all or part of their house accounts to the rep. Normally, the photographer's general business and office management are not part of a photo rep's sales responsibilities. Combining business management, studio management, and marketing responsibilities would be the job description of someone working exclusively for one photographer, often called an "in-house" rep.

An "If You're Ready" Check List
Here is a check list to review to determine if you are ready to look for a rep. You're ready for a rep if...
1. You are too busy with photography assignments, building new portfolios, and self-assignments to make the personal contacts to find new clients and keep the ones you have.

2. You have enough repeat business from a stable client base of "house accounts" that allows you to spend the money on the additional promotional materials reps require.

3. You have a strong style, direction, or specialty that a rep can sell to a targeted prospective client base.

4. You consider yourself first as a business then as a photographer. Reps like to work with photographers who appreciate the "for profit" aspect of the business.

5. You are open to new ways and new ideas to promote your business and need a rep's time, energy, and expertise to help you.

6. You have a portfolio ready to go out the door and it represents the kind of work that you want to do more of. Working on commission, reps can't stand around waiting for you to develop portfolios and promo pieces for the work you want.

7. You have a marketing budget for self-promotion of 10 percent of projected gross sales. You will need to provide a rep with all the promotion materials for the new marketing plan to support your
joint goals.

8. You know that you will not spend less time or money on your marketing by having a rep. It is just that you will not be doing the same things. For example, instead of calling the clients yourself, you will be creating new portfolio pieces for the rep to call the clients!

To find out information on reps, most of the creative source books (such as list the names and contact information of the different types of photography reps. You can also check with SPAR, the Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives, at In addition, Writer's Digest Books ( publishes their annual Photographer's Market book and it lists stock photo agencies, galleries, art/photo reps, and fine art reps and the information on how to contact them.