Collaborating with a photo agent

Aaron K talks to IDC founder and photo agent Michele Richards about the benefits of having an agent and how to prepare for future work
Image credit: Mark Carter — represented by IDC

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.

The Photographer's Mail: 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.