We managed to steal a few moments from Lisa Pritchard’s busy schedule to discuss her career as a photographer agent and her agency’s Futures programme – a competition which runs every 2 years and offers 5 commercial photographers the opportunity to gain an agent and build their portfolios and begin their careers. She goes on to discuss changes in the industry and offers some sage advice for photographers who are looking to build up their careers.
You got started by representing photojournalists, but how did that begin? What drew you to the agency side of photography?
My very first job after University was actually at a photolibrary called Image Bank, now part of Getty, and that was my first introduction to the industry. A few years later I came across an ad on the AOP website for an agent at The Independent Photographers Group (IPG). It was a lucky break really as I then found myself being thrown into the deep end, learning about what an agent does and representing incredible photographers - photojournalists and celebrity portrait photographers such as Tom Stoddart, Zed Nelson and Harry Borden. I was drawn to the agency side of things at the time as I figured it would be more interesting than just quoting usage fees for stock photography and I was ready for a new challenge.
Being an agent was never something I set out to do as a career when I was younger – I had no idea what a photographer’s agent did really until I become one. It wasn’t on the list of suggested careers when I was at school!
Why did you start your own agency – was it something you had always considered or was there a need you noticed wasn’t being met?
Not really, again one thing seemed to naturally lead to another. I was head hunted after working at IPG to set up my own division within a Press and PR photography agency representing their photographers. I ended up sourcing a lot of different photographers in the end myself that were more suitable for commercial commissions. As I felt I was doing everything myself – the estimates and production, the marketing and creative management of the photographers, finding the photographers to represent and utilising all my contacts in the agencies – eventually I thought I might as well just break away and start my own agency, so that’s what I did!
I was more aware that brands and agencies commissioned ‘real people and real moments’ type of photography so it made sense to build on what I knew and this helped set me apart as a lot of agents only tended to focus on the top 20 advertising agencies with photographers who ticked the boxes – specialising in food, cars, portrait etc.
You developed LPA Futures in 2007 and it has become a recognised opportunity for new photographers to develop and gain recognition – can you tell us more about what the competition is.
Thank you! Yes, I’m so pleased that it really has become a recognised competition that discovers rising stars and ‘puts them on the map’ so to speak. I’m very proud to say, we’ve discovered lots of extraordinarily good talent through the initiative over the years, many of whom are very well known, successful photographers themselves now. Alumni include Laura Pannack, Olly Burn, Joel Redman, Lulu Ash, John Tonks, Oliver Haupt, Toby Coulson, Martin Usborne and Tim Atkins to name but a few. It’s great to see them all still winning awards and gaining industry accolades, and of course continuing to shoot so many inspiring personal projects and high-profile commissions.
To give you the key facts, LPA Futures is a competition we run every 2 years to find a group of 5 photographers who demonstrate the potential to be successful commercial photographers. Entrants are asked to submit a portfolio of 20 images. A panel of industry experts are chosen to be the judges, including myself, usually a photographer from my main roster plus well-known figures from the worlds of advertising, design and photography. The main prize is an agent- LPA! The small group of selected photographers basically win representation by us for the 2 year period plus some other great prizes to kick start their careers; this year there is studio hire, exhibition prints, free legal advice, vouchers towards a bespoke portfolio case and insurance, large discounts on portfolio prints and insurance plus of course the prize kindly donated by yourselves at Direct Digital– vouchers towards a training course and lighting hire and discounts on lighting, camera and background hire. So that’s actually around £20K worth of prizes in total, thanks to our wonderful competition Partners!
During the course of the 2 years we work closely with the 5 photographers to help them develop their portfolios and generally support them with all the trickier things agents can help with - quoting and bidding for jobs, usage fees, contracts etc. We promote their work to the industry and give them a platform to be recognised, we also advise them on their own marketing and other aspects of the business and their careers. And last, but not least, we usually gain them some nice commissions from agencies and brands!
How did you come up with the idea?
To be honest I can’t remember why or how I came up with Futures (as it’s now often referred to). My husband and a guy that used to work for me when I first set up claim it was their idea, but I’m not so sure! It’s not an original idea having a competition judged by a panel of industry players to find new talent and showcase the winners. What is different, I guess, is that it’s a structured ongoing programme. Obviously winning an agent is quite unique and all the prizes are particularly geared toward kick-starting emerging photographers’ careers; the launch party and exhibition is always a much anticipated and well attended evening. I hadn’t really considered the future of Futures when I set it up or that it could be such a successful long term and well-known fixture in the industry calendar 12 years later!
What kind of trends have you noticed over your career in photography?
When I first started, more set-up, highly produced, sometimes gimmicky and often heavily retouched photography was more popular; that’s definitely fallen out of favour now. Then more natural, spontaneous imagery seemed to become the thing (and seems to have remained so). Clients suddenly started saying they wanted ‘real’ looking models which made for a few interesting castings at first. As it turned out, they actually wanted people that did look like models, just not skinny fashion models, more of an engaging, believable look, like your best-looking friends whose lives you wanted to lead! Often now when they say real, they mean real. Authentic, lifestyle imagery is very popular now, yet seemingly surprisingly difficult to get right without looking like you are jumping on the ‘lifestyle’ bandwagon.
There’s been a fair few trends with themes I’ve noticed over the years, some reflective of zeitgeists in society and popular culture, some just quirky subject matter that seems to go in strange waves of popularity: shopping trolleys, car parks, trees with pink blossom by pavement, Cadillacs in Cuba, neon signs (any sign!), red haired people with rodents, boxing, surfing, people working out in car parks (car parks again!), camper vans and bobble hats, lens flare and sun flare. I’m seeing quite a lot of snapped Instagram style shots at the moment and definitely a prevalence of cultural diversity and minority groups in big brand advertising. I guess this is representational of changes in society generally and absolutely right, but sometimes difficult to portray as not crow barred in and just ticking the boxes!
Has the recent push for video content changed the way you manage your photographers or productions?
Not particulary, no. I don’t think it’s as pervasive and omnipresent as people imagine. Yes, of course digital content is a great opportunity to show moving images as well as stills, using the same production elements, but a lot of clients are still getting their head round the fact that this usually calls for additional budget and additional time in the shoot schedule. As agents we need to find the line between protecting our photographers against this, whilst also trying to offer a fantastic service overall, better than the others bidding. Many photographers don’t also shoot video, and some have fully embraced it, this is their preference. Video can be a great additional arm to add to your artillery and an extra service to offer clients, but it is quite a different discipline. If you can do both, it can only be a good thing. Occasionally photographers do win jobs as they can shoot stills and moving image and so are perceived as giving extra value. Even if they can’t do it themselves, it’s easily possible (if you know the right people!) to gather an expert crew around them so it can be achieved with them directing.
What tips would you give to photographers and photographers assistants who are starting out or are unsigned and looking for an agent?
Unless you win Futures (and even if you do win Futures), I would say develop your career yourself first and then get an agent when you think you need one. Establish a strong, yet commercial style, but it has to be your own unique vision. Learn as much about the industry as you can, work out who commissions, what and why they commission. Be confident your work will be suitable for their needs. Check out who your competitors are and why the successful ones are successful. But always remain true to yourself, it’s really obvious who are the ones that jump on the bandwagon - I can’t tell you how many sun flare lifestyle shots I saw at one stage!!
Not wishing to sound like a business text book, but you are running a business (which I expand on in my books – ‘Setting up a Successful Photographers Business’ and ‘Running a Successful Photographers Business’- available on Amazon and all good book shops- plug, plug!). You need to know the ins and outs of developing a product for your chosen market and delivering an all-around good, professional service. The way you answer an email about a brief or how you come across and contribute to a meeting are just as important as the pictures you take – and agents will be looking for this as well as clients.
You also certainly need to be mindful of finding the right match when you do feel you are ready for an agent. I hear from so many photographers who want an agent because they don’t want to do their own marketing or want more jobs, this approach won’t win any favours with most agents.
What agents can do is (usually!) give the client a quality assured stamp of approval, (people need confidence and familiarity when ‘buying’ services), probably fast-track getting you noticed, and make sure we bid for and deal with each job in a professional manner, costed and scheduled appropriately, with contracts fairly negotiated. Most of us are there pretty much 24/7 to answer client enquiries and to give advice, and the good ones have a great address book of contacts. As I say though, just having the contacts sometimes doesn’t matter a jot, if the photographer can’t offer the whole package and deliver the goods!
It is a really competitive, unpredictable industry, and two heads are often better than one. But most jobs are won ultimately as a client wants to work with a particular photographer based on recommendation and their work, not because who their agent is at the end of the day.
How did you choose to partner with Direct Digital? Why do you think it’s a good fit?
Direct Digital has always been so supportive of the Futures initiative and have now been our partner for many years. They always offer a superb and reliable service and products to professional photographers at reasonable prices with expertise on tap. They’ve got a solid reputation in the industry and have a real interest in helping emerging talent – so, a perfect match!!
Onwards and upwards for Futures! We are really looking forward to working with these particular 5 new winners of LPA Futures 2019/21 and playing a part in their successful careers. We just want to carry on supplying top talent to the industry really with a friendly, professional service and working on exciting shoots and campaigns for all of the photographers we represent (which now includes an unprecedented 4 photographers from the last Futures roster!). Our LPA Production arm and Pop Up Agent is also going from strength to strength at the moment with a lot of interesting projects in the pipeline, so we can work with photographers on a job by job basis even if we don’t represent them.
On a more personal level, I’ve just finished writing the 2nd edition of my first book ‘Setting Up a Successful photography Business’ (published by Bloomsbury and a best seller in the UK about the business side of things). It’s got a few updates and a whole new set of contributors and is out early next year. I’m hoping to write a third book to make it a trilogy! I’ve also got quite a few talks lined up about what agents do, how to get one and how to be a successful photographer- so watch this space!