Interview with a Photographer’s Rep: Andrea Stern of SternRep
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Based in Los Angeles, SternRep is an international boutique agency representing a group of passionate and talented commercial photographers in the product, food, automotive, and lifestyle industries among others. We spoke with Founder Andrea Stern about how she got into the business of commercial representation, what she looks for in photographers, where she sees the industry going, and more.
1. How did you first become involved in photography?
Photography has always been my passion. At one point my dream job was to be a pro baseball photographer. When I first began, I was shooting the stills for commercials and movie sets and then took the leap and went to Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. That is where I learned that I really enjoyed the business aspect of this industry more than the actual shooting.
2. Who were some of your first photography inspirations?
Annie Lebovitz’ work influenced me the most, and I always held onto that inspiration knowing someday I would be involved in that world. In 1991 (I was 26), I went to Israel for six months to “find myself.” On my wall, I posted an image ripped out of the NY Times of Annie on top of an NYC building photographing someone. I’d look at that torn out scenario every morning knowing it was helping me to find my way. I guess it was kind of like my personal vision board.
3. You have a very boutique agency and a small roster of photographers you rep. Can you elaborate a bit on your vision for SternRep?
My business sense always focuses on doing what we are best at. I enjoy people and create sincere relationships. I built this foundation to offer the variety that my clients would be looking for as my business strategy.
It’s always been quality over quantity. I want photographers who stand out to me. They need to know who they are and have an aesthetic that stands apart from the rest.
With that said, I sometimes temp-rep for photographers who need some part-time help, not everyone needs a full-time rep, and this is a great way to get the help only when you need it.
4. There seem to be misconceptions about what it means to work with a rep. What do you find your relationships to be like with photographers?
Each photographer is different, so I need to understand how each of them works. They are individuals, and I’m not a cookie-cutter corporate rep. Each person needs something different to do their best. My job is to help them to be their best.
Whether you are repped or not, getting work is going to be about having a strong, cohesive, unique body of work to show to clients. It’s also about continuing to test, get out there and meet people, keep learning and growing as an artist and honing in on what is uniquely yours. Ultimately, if you have the right portfolio, you will get hired.
5. What do you look for when considering a photographer for your roster?
Can I make them money? Do I love their work? Can I trust them? Will they let me be the rep? Are they marketable?
6. What do you think it takes to run a successful photography business these days?
Stay up on the business. Educate yourself so you can have an objective eye when looking at your own work. Figure out your style of marketing. Test. Stay HOT. Create a buzz. Stay engaged on social media. Get to know your clients. Know your market. Use the resources that are there for you. Be creative. If you need help with something, ask for it.
7. You must get a lot of inquiries from photographers, is that something you welcome? What's the most effective way for a photographer to get their work in front of you?
I enjoy seeing what’s out there. Sending me a short email with a link to their website is the best way to get in front of me. There can be a lot of ambiguity in this industry, and I do my best to give back, so if a photographer sends me a question via email (which they do often), I answer it. That was the inspiration behind @asksternrep, an Instagram account that shares pertinent industry tips and wisdom. It’s a free and open forum where photographers can submit their questions to me and my team, and we answer them once a week.
8. How do you think the business of photography has changed in the last five years?
Social media has really changed the market. Now a photographer has to be a part of the whole marketing process and help to get their branding noticed. There is a bigger range of lifestyle work, and a lot of client-direct companies do not use ad agencies. The world of CGI takes a lot of car and product jobs. Bloggers + “influencers” are getting work that only professional photographers used to get. At one point it was only A-level shooters that were getting work, but now it seems that anyone can be a photographer... so there are less jobs available. It’s really been a kick in the ass for photographers, and it means that everyone has to step up their game.
9. Are there any current trends in photography that you find interesting or, on the flip side, that you don’t appreciate?
Because of social media, it’s easier for beginners or less experienced photographers to get work. Also, so many clients are doing in-house work and “influencers” are getting hired based on their social media following. This is all very new, and everyone in my position is in a state of flux. But I do see openings for new photographers in a way I did not before.
10. What direction do you see the industry heading in the future?
More video, more CGI, more money in social media advertising. But truthfully, my hope is that more work comes through ad agencies as they help educate the client in ways that we cannot.
The challenge is that in client-direct work, clients often do not know about usage, production value, copyright, the cost + time of location scouting, casting, etc. These costs are ALWAYS taken into account with agency work, and specific people are assigned to manage each role. Often with client-direct work, the photographer ends up with a huge load of work and the budget is smaller. The photographer must scout the location(s), find models, at times face the reality of maybe not be paid properly for usage, etc. It really comes down to budget and education. Working with agencies is much easier because we are supported in all the aspects of our business. It’s fair.
It’s not that influencers are low-balling, they simply may not know what they could or should be asking for as payment for their work, perhaps because of not having worked with an agency before. If a big client-direct company comes to an influencer and says "hey we’d love to repost your images, we are going to own them, but you are going to get exposure to millions of people," a lot of photographers/influencers are going to be tempted by this because it IS exciting. AND it COULD bring future work via this exposure. But the honest truth is that the photographer SHOULD be getting paid whenever their images are used for a company’s advertising. I think influencers can get a bad reputation for low-balling when in truth maybe no one has taught them about all their options and how the business works.