My Journey to Build an Agency-Worthy Portfolio

Last August, I began contacting photographic agencies to seek representation, and among those I reached out to was Black Star. I wasn’t asked to be a Black Star photographer — but the interaction did change my photography.

Here’s the story.

About a year ago, I asked a photographer friend who had moved to Georgia how his business was surviving the relocation. He said it was going well because he had a photo rep that was helping him get jobs — mostly local sports and celebrity-type gigs.

While those assignments weren’t my cup of tea, I decided to look into representation, too. I had started my photography business four years earlier and thought I might be ready.

Seeking Representation

So I found an old edition of The Photographer’s Market and began sending out e-mails. In all, I contacted a dozen companies; all but one of them responded.

In every case, I was told that I didn’t have the right kind of photographs on my Web site. At that time, my portfolio consisted mainly of weddings and portraits. Not really what agencies are looking for, I learned.

One company did more than swat away my e-mail, however. It was Black Star.

The person I contacted sent me a copy of an e-book, When to Use Assignment Photography, that showcased the kinds of corporate photography the agency sought.

I absorbed it like a sponge. In fact, that e-book has guided my photography like a road map ever since.

I committed to trying to grow my business in the direction of the commercial photographers represented by Black Star. To do that, I would have to do more research, make new contacts, beg, plead, borrow and do all sorts of other things, too.

I set a goal: to build a portfolio worthy of agency representation within a year.

Building a Commercial Photography Portfolio

So what did I do first?

I researched. I researched what other commercial photographers do, what they charge, what equipment they use, how they take their photos and how they make their photos into lasting images. I scoured the Internet; I read books and magazines; I made lots of phone calls.

I called rental houses to supplement the equipment I already owned.

And then I began calling on businesses — looking for work.

By the middle of September I was on site with a heavy industry client, taking photos of an ethanol production facility that was under construction.

I kept going. I shot portraits and an exterior panoramic photo for a local hospital. I shot photos for a local food additives and spice company. I did a number of assignments for a major steel company, including images of employees on the job, one of their production processes, and an exterior photo of the local headquarters.

I also teamed up with an established commercial photographer in my area, which gave me access to other opportunities to build my portfolio.

Am I There Yet?

It’s now nearly 11 months since that first round of agency inquiries. I’m close to getting up the nerve to try again.

Will an agency want to represent me? I don’t know. Success isn’t a destination; it’s a process. So we’ll see where I am and go from there

3 Responses to “My Journey to Build an Agency-Worthy Portfolio”

  1. "Success isn’t a destination; it’s a process." Great quote.

    And it is a process. But the most sucessful photographers keep working on it even after they've achieved a high amount of success.

    Keep on pushing yourself and you'll be in the top echelon.

  2. Thanks Paul!

    I was just talking with a friend the other day about how three years ago I never thought I would have been where I am today and I thought something like where I am was kind of 'the top of the mountain.' (Obviously not like Vincent Laforet top, but you know the destination.) Now that I'm here, I see there's more peaks to be climbed and I'm fueled up and fired up to go climb them.

  3. Great aritcle and great outlook. Know your target and just keep chipping away at it.

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