Photography Consultant Interview Part I: What She Does

As posted on AfterCapture’s On Photography Blog, September 2008

— by Ethan G. Salwen

“Photographers tend to be lone wolves, often taking on tasks outside their skill sets rather than outsourcing,” says Jain Lemos, a photography and publishing consultant based in Southern California. “Most photographers know that when it comes to promoting and selling their work, they need help. But few hire the right professional.”

As a consultant, Jain Lemos advises individual photographers, photo agencies and other creative professionals involved in all aspects of image making, licensing and publishing. I met Jain a number of years ago while we serving together on the board of American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP). Since then, she has regularly provided me with invaluable insights into the photography and publishing industries, as well as introducing me to a number of people from her impressive network of professional contacts.

Knowing that many AfterCapture readers would appreciate knowing more about the services offered by consultants, reps and agents, I decided to interview Jain on the subject. Two key points struck me during our talk:

  • The services of consultants are much more diverse and valuable than most photographers probably realize—and are equally valuable for editorial, commercial, fine art or wedding photographers.
  • The costs of hiring a consultant are much more reasonable than I had expected.

Following is Part I of my interview with Jain Lemos. Part II will appear in my next post.

Ethan G. Salwen: Tell us a little about your background and how you became so skilled at consulting?

Jain Lemos: I started in the film business as a location scout and production coordinator, aiming to eventually run a movie studio. But in 1988, a long writer’s strike caused me to change course. I became involved in photography publishing with the A Day in the Life books. From there, my work expanded into the pro photo arenas of editing, assigning, repping, licensing, acquiring and book packaging.

I’ve managed studios and teams of photojournalists, negotiated contracts worth millions, figured out digital workflow systems, made the rounds in Manhattan pitching proposals and portfolios for some of the very best in the business. Because my experience is so varied, I’m able to provide clients with the missing knowledge, so to speak.

EGS: What does it mean to be a photographer’s representative? What sort of services do you provide photographers?

JL: Here is my approach: I connect clients to photographers and photographers to clients. I figure out how to best deliver precise solutions to meet everyone’s needs. I help photographers become more prolific—more in sync with leveraging what they can do within their grasp right now—then stretch them to the next professional level.

EGS: And the price range for your services?

JL: I tailor my fees to each situation. For example, I offer lower prices to younger, promising photographers and projects I’m interested in supporting. But to answer the question more directly, my initial consultation rate is $150 to $200/hour with a two-hour minimum. My hourly rate comes down if you engage me for a longer period of time. As an agent or rep, I receive a percentage of deals I negotiate. The amount depends on the nature of the project or assignment. I also take on all manner of individual projects for which I charge flat rates.

EGS: So there is a great deal of flexibility, and your prices are very reasonable. But can a photographer really benefit from a two-hour meeting?

JL: Yes, yes and absolutely. A lot of photographers don’t seek out consultants because they think our prices will be prohibitive and that we can’t help them in a short timeframe. That’s just not true. You’d be amazed how many photographers meet with me just once or twice and say, “I wish I had done this earlier!”

EGS: So, just to get this straight: Sometimes a photographer will meet with you just once for a consultation, while others effectively have you on retainer for ongoing services?

JL: Yes. Photographers are continually in the middle of different projects and at different points in their careers, with shifting goals. So when they contact me, we discuss their current phase, clarify their goals and go from there.

EGS: Can your clients work with you remotely?

JL: Certainly. Sometimes an onsite meeting is critical for agencies, and it’s always nice to meet photographers in person. But some photographer clients don’t have the time (or budgets) to visit Southern California, which is not a problem. I work successfully with clients all over the country using phone, email, web portfolio reviews and video conferencing.

EGS: I recently read about Mary Virginia Swanson’s photography consulting services, and she makes a real emphatic point that she is not an agent and that she “does not make introductions or secure professional relationships for her consulting clients.” Can you explain exactly what the difference is between a consultant and an agent? And where does “representative” fit into this? Are there accepted, clear industry definitions for these terms?

JL: If anyone “officially” defines these terms, I’d be curious to read them. The functions of all three overlap. To my way of thinking, I define these roles in very basic terms. A consultant is primarily an adviser and typically handles promotions. A representative finds new assignment work for their client. An agent interfaces between the client and photographer for either all of a photographer’s images or special sets of existing images, helping to create new publications and products, including stock sales.

EGS: So what’s the best title for you? I started out by calling you a photographer’s consultant, but maybe that’s not right.

JL: I’m a consultant but I also work as a rep and an agent. I know that probably doesn’t answer your question, but unlike Mary Virginia, no matter what you want to call me, I absolutely make introductions and try to secure professional relationships for my clients.

EGS: Do you tend to work with certain kinds of photographers, such as wedding, portrait, editorial or stock photographers?

JL: I’ll help anyone who is serious about advancing their photographic career. Based on my background in photojournalism and licensing, I tend to work more with editorial and stock photographers, yet I am sure I could seriously help a lot of wedding photographers become more efficient. Many who have tried shooting events are extremely overworked and underpaid.

Continue to Part II.