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Dealing with Agencies - Part I

Dan Grant, Publisher

(continued from Creative Business)


As a photographer, you typically make contact with an agency for one of four reasons:

  1. You're planning a shoot and want to know who's available
  2. There's a certain model that you've been dying to shoot and want to know her/his availability
  3. The agency has sent you images of a new model to see if you're interested in shooting her/him
  4. You're pissed because they've posted your un-retouched selects, which means that not only are they taking liberties with your work, but anyone who recognizes it is going to think you suck because you forgot to remove all the glaring imperfections.

Scenario 4, obviously, is inexcusable and every agent should know that. Give 'em hell.

Scenarios 1 and 2 would probably be treated the same way, but Scenario 3 is different and changes things for you as the photographer.

In the first two instances you are the one that initiated contact with the intent to shoot. Presumably then you have a concept in mind. Here's the checklist you need when speaking with an agent (things to have planned before you hit send):

  • What's the concept? Maybe you're trying out the new fish-eye lens or giving cinemagraph a try. Is it a makeup test that your girlfriend (the budding artist) pressured you in to? Or are you really going out on a limb and doing a cinemafish test in this season's palette. In any case, be clear about it, and don't be too upset if the agency doesn't have the same vision.

    Ideally you have storyboards or some sort of visual inspiration you can send along. For agents, that's really helpful.

  • Where is it going? Is this just for your book or are you planning to submit it (and if you are going to submit it, where to?) Agencies don't want their models appearing in certain magazines. Any pornographer can start an online mag and call it fashion. Any art student can download a Wordpress template and call for submissions.

    Furthermore, please don't even think of selling the photos or using them for any purpose other than what was originally agreed upon, until you have had a separate discussion with the agency. If you borrowed the clothes or accessories from a friend and your shots are suddenly being used to promote that friend's efforts, you're in trouble if the model didn't sign a release.

  • Who's the team? It only takes one weak link in the chain to ruin a good shoot. Some makeup artists are too heavy-handed. Some stylists have no pulling power. Either one wastes a model's day.

    Then there are those artists that think they know everything and talk garbage to impressionable new faces. By allowing a model to shoot with a certain team, an agent is validating the whole cast to some degree, and that can be harmful if any member of that team is telling a new model what market she should be working in or how much money she should be making. Fact is, there are some very talented artists I wouldn't want models I cared about working with, because even in a city where good stylists are in short supply models need good mentors, and those are even more rare.

  • Studio or location? Indoor or outdoor? I suspect you know why that's important.

  • Are nudity, underwear, lingerie, swimsuits or even fur involved? Yes, even fur! Any of these items needs to be cleared with the agency beforehand.

  • Will there be other models in the shoot? As with artists, there are plenty of models that think they know more than they actually do, and the more shallow the model the louder they seem to talk. A good agent doesn't want an impressionable new face working with someone whose own irresponsible agent has fed them a litany of misinformation.

    Many agencies also don't like their newer models shooting with members of the opposite sex. It can be pretty awkward for the uninitiated.

  • Is there anything special the model should bring? Think wardrobe. Think accessories. Most models even the new ones should know to bring nude undergarments. If you want something special (within reason), put it in the request. Don't expect a girl to show up with blue jeans or a skirt.

  • Is there anything special the model should do? If you want your model to have her base applied before she arrives, now is the time to speak up. Typically agents tell models to come with a clean face (not even concealor), but if time is limited you may want them to have foundation and eyeliner already.

  • Will the model get prints in exchange? They probably should if you initiated contact. The anticipated result is likely something you want for yourself, and you almost definitely have more control in the direction of the shoot. The model is taking a chance on your vision. The least you can do is give the model some high-res images in exchange.

    If, however, we're talking about Scenario 3, where the agency initiated contact to see if you would do a creative, then I don't see why you should be expected to give it away for free. You're the one doing a favour in this case.

    We'll talk more about that in Part II.

    Dan Grant
    Publisher

  • Part II


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