To guide you through the jungle of options for selling your images through agencies we take a closer look at what you need to consider when trying to sell your images. Steve Fairclough examines the current options for signing with photo agencies to help to ignite your photographic career and talks to a leading industry expert on whether picture agencies are still relevant today.

What you’ll learn

  • Is going down the stock agency route worth it?
  • Best advice for choosing an agency
  • Key considerations when choosing an agency
  • Are picture agencies still relevant?

What you’ll need

  • A concise précis of your career and work
  • A portfolio of between 20 and 30 images
  • Knowledge of agencies who might be interested in your work
  • An understanding of the synergy of social media and agencies

The dynamic of selling images through picture agencies has changed in the digital age, but has it made it things better for photographers or worse? Some would argue that imagery no longer has as great a value placed on it compared to the ‘analogue age’ but many see the use of the internet and social media as ideal ways to sell your imagery around the world after a few the clicks of a computer mouse.

In this guide we examine the factors that affect the state of the agency market at this point in time and talk to industry expert Emma Taylor to find out her thoughts and best advice on choosing picture agencies to represent you.

Emma Taylor is the founder of Creative Advice Network. She mentors and works with photographers, companies and organisations to improve their creative output and market themselves more effectively. She often critiques portfolios, runs workshops and has collaborated on projects with people like The Photographer’s Gallery, Creative Review and Tate Britain. She has been a judge at the Portrait Salon and AOP Awards, as well as a portfolio reviewer for The Sony World Photo Awards. You can discover more on the Creative Advice Network website.

The stock agency route

Many keen amateurs, semi-pro and professional photographers have a proliferation of their images placed with stock agencies. These give a shop window to your work and include the likes of Getty, EyeEm, 500px, Flickr, etc. Online you’re competing against everyone in a global market, but because of the advancements of marketing, often via social media, they have become much more popular. What is key is having a tight body of work to show and sell.

I have a friend who had placed some of her images with Getty and one of them – a shot of her son looking out of a train window with his reflection mirrored in the window – sold for several thousand dollars to one client, simply because it was exactly the sort of image they were looking for. That’s proof that stock agencies can work if you have the right blend of images placed with them.

Agencies can also be a conduit to you getting more work. If your style and type of image has caught the eyes of potential clients you could find that simply by having your images in an agency ‘shop window’ can lead to you picking up clients for future commissions.

When quizzed on her best advice for choosing an agency to represent you, Emma Taylor replies: “Make sure you don’t feed all of your portfolio work in to stock. I’ve seen photographer’s undermine their ‘commissionability’ by filling their stock library with the same or similar work to that of their portfolio. Never give your clients a reason not to commission you for original content!”

Key considerations

It seems obvious to say so, but you must know your markets before deciding to sell your images through specific agencies. For example, if you are a mad keen motorsports photographer there will be a number of smaller motorsports agencies that can sell your images but you might also consider with a larger agency, such as Getty or Action Images, that might be selling in to major publications who want timely shots of specific events or races.

When choosing a picture agency to represent your work, there are several key considerations to bear in mind. Emma Taylor advises: “I think it’s crucial to find somewhere that will feed you ideas and trends. You want an agency that keeps in contact and is actively future forecasting visual trends. This way you can make sure you are tuning your entries in to where the money is!”

This advice gets to the heart of emphasizing the fact that there’s no point chasing shadows and shooting a load of pictures that nobody wants to buy. You must get a handle on the type of images that are selling or, better still, the types of images that are likely to sell in the future.

There’s little point in placing a lot of landscape images of a famous area with an agency as it’s likely they will already have an abundance of similar images. They will probably tell you so. But just think outside of the box and consider the kind of pictures that haven’t been shot yet – it could be extreme mountain bikers on the top of mountains, for example – but might be much more viable for selling through an agency.

Are photo agencies still relevant?

Many photographers have, unsurprisingly, gone down the social media route to showcase their work. Regularly updated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds can drive a photographic business but these avenues shouldn’t be seen as the ‘be all and end all’ for selling your images. Why not team those up with the best agency or agencies for your work?

When asked if picture agencies are still relevant in today’s proliferating image market Emma Taylor replies: “I think they have kept their relevance, they’ve stayed in their creative lane. There’s an argument to be had that the next recession may peak their relevance to a more reaching client base. In uncertain times stock is often seen as a budget busting option for photography commissioners.”

The truth is that, in a changing media landscape, images may not be as highly valued as they have been in the past. Due to economies of scale many publications do not have as big a budget as they previously did, so the natural tendency will be to try to source stock images for little, if any, money. To avoid this devaluation of your images you need to have your images with the right agency for you.

Another option is a company like Alamy, which is essentially a hub of picture agencies, thus potentially opening up a much wider market for images than if you had placed your images with a single agency.

Do your homework

All of the above should, hopefully, have given you a better idea of what to consider if you’re thinking of placing some of your photographs with an agency or a number of agencies. Agencies are constantly dreaming up fresh ideas to market images so it’s important to work out which one suits your style of photography and which one you believe will effectively market your images, even if it’s a relatively small number of stock images.

The key thing to remember is that the choice is up to you. Consider which images best represent your body of work and which agency is most likely to work best for you and your style of work.

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Becoming a pro photographer: which agency should you choose?
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Becoming a pro photographer: which agency should you choose?
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We examine the current options for signing with photo agencies to help to ignite your photographic career and talks to a leading industry expert on whether picture agencies are still relevant today.
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Camera Jabber
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