When you’re very early in your photography career, getting an agent will seem like a mysterious process. Many photographers feel that signing with an agent will offer the key to their fortunes. When they do sign, some photographers will feel they have finally made it.
Of course, everyone wants to be in a situation where they are offered bigger and better jobs, but I would suggest agents should be seen as a by-product of success rather than the key to it.
Do I really need an agent?
Many photographers think they need an agent way before they actually do. You might have experienced an issue with a contract or a disagreement over T&Cs. It’s appealing to think that an agent would sort all of these issues out and you can just take the photos.
However, getting an agent early on in your career when you don’t have the portfolio of large commercial shoots is challenging. Agents are attracted to a track record of winning and shooting large commercial jobs. So, more often than not, in order to attract agents you will have to go and find and land those big jobs yourself.
As your career does grow, however, it can be hard to position yourself as a top-of-your-game photographer when you’re emailing a creative agency 25 times in the hope of getting in to show them your work. You will naturally get to a point where you simply cannot do it all yourself or you are having to make unnecessary compromises.
Before I had an agent I was consistently having to say no to shoots because I had meetings or calls booked in with hard-to-reach clients. This is the point to start looking for agent representation and will probably mean you are at the right place in your career to be attractive to an agent.
What will an agent actually do for me?
Each and every agent will be unique, they will have a different set-up and offer different skills. It’s about finding someone who is the right fit for you. The most important thing however is mutual trust. They are literally going to be representing you in meetings and making first impressions for you.
One of the reasons that you should develop your own really strong individual style is that it’s easier for an agent to represent your work. If your style varies too much, an agent will find it even harder to know where to pitch you. If you develop a very distinct style, your agent will know exactly how to pitch in your portfolio and to whom and there is more likely to be a hole you can fill on their roster.
One of the main bits of advice I could give however is you have to like your potential agent and be completely onboard with their way of doing things. As a photographer we are so used to having massive amounts of control over all aspects of our business. You have to feel comfortable letting go of that tight grip.
When you work alone, it can be really hard to make decisions without having anyone else as a sounding board. Sometimes you just need someone else’s perspective, as well as their years of experience in the industry. When I’m busy I am probably doing five or six calls a day with my agent so the quality of that relationship can’t be downplayed.
An agent has a far broader experience in the context of budgets and can advise accordingly. Many photographers underprice and don’t value their own work as much as they should.
Always find someone that complements your weakest skill. If you hate negotiating on contracts, then you need to find an agent who excels in doing this. If you underprice yourself, find someone who will push you. If you’re not the best at working a room, find someone who is.
How do I find an agent?
When you start looking for an agent, you can find yourself emailing people and simply getting no response. There are a lot of photographers out there, and not many good agents. Personally I was in the rather unique position that my agent approached me but this is not often the case.
Quite a few agents offer a ‘pop-up service’ which means they will represent you for a single job, where you need the extra assistance. I found this to be the best way to learn what it was like to work with an agent and what you don’t like, and also it’s a great way for them to find out more about your work.
Keep in touch with any agents that you have had contact with. It might be worth contacting them again in another year, but in the meantime let them know what you’re working on.
Agents will be actively looking at websites, social media and other online portfolios to spot new and unique talent. You need to figure out how to market yourself, build up a distinctive portfolio and really put yourself out there to get noticed
Overall, my advice is that you are always responsible for your own career – don’t think you can stop pushing yourself, even if you have signed with an agent. You will still need to drive your own marketing and branding.
So, don’t give up if you don’t succeed instantly. Just accept this is not the right time for you. Keep working, keep promoting your work on your website and keep your social media up to date. Keep sending your work out to your contacts. Keep entering awards and competitions over and over again. It takes time.
About the author: Jon Enoch is a London-based award-winning lifestyle and portrait photographer. He recently won the Smithsonian photography prize 2020 and was shortlisted for the Sony World Photo 2020 award for his Hanoi photographs. To see more of Jon’s work, visit www.jonenoch.com or follow him on Instagram at