"She was super organized and readily available whenever a production question popped up." Echo Hopkins/Photographer Rep at Anderson Hopkins

What does an art buyer do?

It is an art buyer’s job to produce commercial advertising projects while maintaining creative integrity within a budget. They understand all of the project needs and are able to source the appropriate vendors. Personally, I see that my job mission is to create the best value for the end client, including creative integrity. In order to do that an art buyer has to understand production, as well as know which vendors are truly a great fit for the project. An art buyer’s expertise comes in when writing the contract or purchase order for a job. They understand and will include all language surrounding usage and deliverables.

Why do you need an art Buyer/producer for your project? 


From working on many various projects, an art buyer will have experience with many different vendors.  When a client comes to me with a project I can generate a list of whom they should work with much quicker than they could.  I make this list not only from looking at aesthetic, and budget considerations, but also from personalities.  I consider the temperament of my creative and the culture of my client when I make resource lists.


A big part of an art buyer’s job is developing and managing relationships.  These relationships have often been cultivated over years.  The benefit of good relationships is that it can make the working relationship more cohesive because of the ability to be transparent as well as having established trust.  This can make negotiation much smoother as well.


An art buyer is going to know how and when to push back with vendors.  They come with the history of managing budgets so they should know what is feasible and what is not when it comes to production budgets.  I have to listen to photographers when they are justifying costs, but I have to also be aware of when a fee or line item is out of scope.

A good art buyer is going to know what something should cost before they start the negotiation process and push back with their team if the deliverables are unrealistic based on that budget.  If a client approaches a vendor with an insulting budget it can reflect poorly on that client making it less desirable to work with them and it is something a client should be aware of.


An art buyer is going to have a gauge of what the market value is for various types of photography.  They can give realistic costs for projects.  It is good to have insight to costs before a client pitches a project to a client or asks for a budget.  I have stepped into a project where deliverables were promised to an end client and there was not the budget to support it.  The outcome was the agencies absorbing costs as to not upset the client and in the long term setting expectations that cannot be met going forward.  Once a client has paid for something they believe that that is the cost and it makes it hard to get appropriate budget for similar projects in the future.

Managing expectations

While it is an art buyer’s main role to support creative, they need to manage expectations with all partners.  Whether it is amount of deliverables that can be captured on a production, the cost of additional requests, or the turnaround time for a vendor to send back deliverables, an art buyer needs to manage and communicate it all partners.  It is also keeping the external vendors up to date on any project changes or shifts.  Sometimes just letting a producer or photographer know that a client has missed an approval deadline is helpful when keeping a project moving.

An art buyer is also the buffer when it comes to money.  Often times right before or during a production an unforeseen cost comes up.  If the art buyer has a handle on the budget they can approve a cost without having to engage the client knowing it can be worked into budget.  Also, an art buyer will flag their team and or client when additional client requests affecting budget.  An Art buyer is also there to diplomatically flag the client if there are last minute budget issues and offer all options available as well as make them aware of project implications.


My particular area of expertise is commercial photography.  One benefit I bring to the table is knowing when to be concerned about time, budget or any other logistical issues when it comes to a photo shoot.  It takes experience to know when one really needs to flag a situation or let it ride out.  For instance, it always takes a crew some time to get into a groove during a photo shoot.  Initial shots always take longer.   Some photographers work better under pressure.  Knowing they have limited time causes them to shoot and the knowing of when to press them is key.

What makes an art buyer an art producer as well?

An art buyer who is also an art producer would know how to produce a project from beginning to end without an additional producer. An art buyer and a producer are not the same, but their roles can overlap. A producer would have more expertise in things like permitting for locations, booking local crew, and sourcing equipment, whereas an art buyer understands how to navigate agency, corporate, and client worlds. These days more agencies refer to the art buyers as producers and rely on them to do more of the production aspect. 

Is there any benefit for a company or agency to work with an art producer versus an art buyer and forgo using an external producer?

Depending on the project and the workload of the art buyer, it can be cost-effective and time-efficient to have the expertise of an art producer. An example I have is when I was working on a photo library for human resources for a large corporation. The imagery required that I use actual employees as talent and we needed about fifty-five people in three different locations. The corporation had to approve my communications and I had to use certain channels to source these employees. It took about two months to source, communicate with, and schedule employees for this multiple-day shoot. By the time the photo shoot happened, I had developed a rapport with all the talent. It would make sense that I would be the one to greet them at the photo shoot as well as walk them through the process and paperwork. The level of comfort I established made the photo shoot move faster as well as saved time by eliminating a handoff of all information to another producer.

Another example is working with farmers for agriculture photo shoots. With agriculture, scheduling a production is literally at the mercy of nature. One might need to capture farms at specific times or stages. For instance, one project needed mid-season corn crops, which is about a weeklong window in the middle of summer. Some crops can grow inches in a matter of days, so I had to be in regular contact with farmers to make sure the photo crew was on track to capture at the right time. Farmers are in the business of farming, not having their picture taken, so my crew has to be mindful of letting them continue their work and working around it, getting what we need, but not being invasive. Since I was the one talking to the farmers for months, it would make sense that I would be the one to show up, usually with coffee and donuts.

Where I create efficiency by managing both roles is the handoff of information. Sometimes there are little nuances only captured in my head, like a certain art director functions better with a cinnamon roll in hand.

Why not only have an art producer on a project and eliminate the producer?

Art buyers, art producers, and producers do not often have the luxury of working on one project at a time. Most companies and agencies have art buyers working on multiple projects. Most producers are overlapping projects in order to support themselves and their businesses. It can be beneficial for an art buyer and a producer to be on the same project to capture all the details. While running multiple projects, two sets of eyes on projects are better than one and usually having varying perspectives can help.

What are the most important attributes/characteristics of an art producer?

Art buyers have to be networkers and relationship builders. Art producers need to work with people they can trust. They need to know and understand personalities.

Art producers must be good with negotiation. As an art buyer I am often asked to do jobs that do not have the budget I would recommend. Therefore, sometimes I have to ask for favors, but I have to be careful of how much I ask for from vendors, as it is their livelihood. People want to work, but they must be valued for their work and their expertise. As much as people want more work I have to ensure they will want to work with me and my clients again.

Art producers have to be good with math and knowing the cost and value of things. We need to be able to move numbers around in our heads as project details shift or when a new client asks for something last-minute. Art buyers have to be good with money. They have to be able to talk about money with teams, sometimes their clients and vendors. A hard lesson I have had to learn is to say no or that something can’t be done. Cheap clients not only burn bridges; they jeopardize good work. A good art buyer protects clients and vendors alike. They walk the middle ground.

How influential is the buyer on the final choice for a photographer?            

If an agency or company uses a traditional art buyer, that art buyer can potentially be very influential. When I am approached with a project, I will come up with a think list of people I consider to be good for the project and narrow that down with the art director or creative I am working with. Sometimes I recommend people I have work experience with and sometimes I recommend solely on style. Sometimes I have ruled vendors out of the running based on their estimate or their creative call. Sometimes the creative or client’s preference outweighs my recommendation, but I will always share my recommendation with my team.

How do you consider a photographer or another artist?

Many things go into consideration, but some of the more influential are:

  • Location
  • Budget
  • Previous work
  • Style
  • Personality
  • Passion

When it comes to selecting a photographer it is extremely important to me to see enthusiasm or passion. Not all projects are exciting. Sometimes we just have to get the job done, but I still need a vendor who is going to have enthusiasm for the project. There is value in taking on a project because it is a new client or agency or the photographer has a longstanding relationship with the art director.

What weight does the creative call have on final decision?

The creative call can have a lot of weight. When I hire a photographer, I hire them not just because they can do the job but also for the point of view, which should be unique. A photographer needs to share how they would approach the project and what insight they can bring. Calls can reveal if a photographer will be hard to work with or if they truly want to work with you and they have their head wrapped around the project.

What advice would you give to photographers and reps about creative calls with clients?

Be prepared. On the creative call we need to hear that the photographer and rep understand the job and have a feeling for the end client’s needs and wants and the actual scope of deliverables. A photographer should be prepared to bring their point of view to the table and talk about how previous experiences may apply. They need to be excited and know their audience. We have the tool of the internet that can give insight into not only the client but each person on the phone and what they do. A photographer and rep should know each player, especially if it is the community your business is based in.

Do creatives like to hear directly from the photographer just to say hello without all the hype of the creative call?

It depends on the creative and their workload. A rep or photographer is going to know if they have that type of a rapport with the creative. If a creative just wants to speak directly to a photographer, they will let the art buyer know.

Where do Art buyers frequently find talent?

I am sure it varies art buyer to art buyer. I find myself with less time to just look for artists, but if a portfolio strikes me or I see something online, I will note it. When I am looking for a specific type of photographer or point of view and know additional parameters, I will reach out to reps I have a relationship with or even other art producers for sourcing. For example, I need a product photographer based in San Francisco because that is where the client is located. I am looking for someone who is good with capturing liquids. I am not super familiar with that territory or expertise. I will reach out to reps and other art buyers to see whom they recommend and then research the names I am given.

Do art buyers prefer to work with photographers who have an agent?

It really depends on the rep and the photographer. Some photographers are best left being creative and are better having a rep help them navigate the job needs and manage estimating. Some photographers are just too busy to manage estimating and production. Some photographers have a production mind and are good for art buyers to collaborate with on projects, elevating creative through production.

Some art buyers may have a perception that having a rep makes you more established. It really depends on who and how they represent the photographer. Established reps can get into doors that photographers maybe can’t on their own.

In general, reps have to wear a lot of hats and they should be consistent and firm. Art buyers and reps alike constantly have to be in negotiation and need to know how and when to compromise and when to stand their ground. I have avoided photographers when I have found their reps to be difficult to work with.

What advice would you give to a photographer who is competing against an incumbent or the creative choice?

Have confidence. A photographer has been asked for an estimate for a reason. It is a tough spot to be in, but a photographer should keep in mind that they are being asked to estimate because someone wants to work with them. They should consider it a compliment. I know there is a perception that art buyers triple bid for the sake of triple bidding. Sometimes clients or account managers request it. I can only speak for myself, but I only bid with people whom I see as viable for the job.

Estimating is a dance, and even if you don’t get the job, it teaches the art buyer things about a photographer. A photographer should always put their best foot forward because they don’t know what else it could lead to.

Are art buyers sometimes asking for an estimate because an agency is pitching an idea to a client?

Yes, sometimes art buyers are doing an estimate for an exercise. I never do this. If a client wants to know how much something would cost, I do not ever ask a vendor to do an estimate for me. I won’t ask ever ask a vendor to do what I consider unnecessary work. If I am asked to do estimating for client to pitch or win work, I will do the estimate on my own and give them a range. If I am unsure about the cost of something, I will ask a vendor whom I have relationship with to give me cost insight.

How often is the final decision based on budget versus creative choice?

Unfortunately budget is usually the guiding factor. If I know a budget and it is tight, I will let photographers know what it is before they start estimating and leave it up to them if they want to estimate at all. If they don’t feel they can do it for that dollar amount, then I won’t have them go through the process of estimating. I do not find it offensive or off-putting if a vendor says no. It is up to them to determine what is viable for their business.

Why would some art buyers be vague about a budget?

I don’t really know why anyone would be. It makes the estimating process longer for both parties. If they are vague, it may be for a pitch or that is just how they work. An art buyer may want to see if a photographer would come in range before sharing a number. They may not have an idea of a photographer’s rates and would not want to either insult them or give away an entire budget if this is unnecessary.

Should A treatment be provided on all projects even if not requested by the agency?

Yes, unless it is a repeat client and the creative is the same. It is best practice and it shows enthusiasm for the job. Plus, if competitors don’t do it, it is a way for a photographer to stand apart from others.

Once all estimates and A treatment is submitted, is there anything more the agent/photographer can do to better their chances?

I think it is important to continue to show enthusiasm and that you are available for communication, but beyond that, nothing that I know of. There are a lot of factors that can go into selection, and the most difficult part is waiting to hear if you got the job.

Is it necessary to limit promotional material to the art buyer or is it okay to include creative directors in a mailing?

I would advise to send to as many people as you can reach. Sometimes things make it to creative that don’t make it to me and they introduce me to new artists or work. The challenge is making your promotion stand out from others.

How can a photographer make their work most appealing to art producers?

One of the hardest things for a photographer to do is to show a range of skill but also show a consistent style and point of view. A strong point of view is more appealing than a wide range. For instance, a photographer has to be very careful about showing product and lifestyle and making the portfolio still feel cohesive. A photographer is getting hired for point of view, so without that message coming through, a portfolio won’t hold up. I think it is important to show something new, interesting, inspiring, but I will be the first to admit, that is not an easy thing to do. A photographer has to connect with their viewer, but it is still art and still subjective. 

What is the best way to approach new art buyers with new work?

Know your audience. Find out about your art buyer and the type of clients they have and what they work on. Do a little detective work so that it is easy to start up a relevant conversation in person or in email. I like it when it feels like a rep is paying attention to my career as well. Photography is as much about relationships as it is good work.

How do you maintain a relationship with an art buyer?

Try to personally reach out to an art producer now and then. Let them know what you are up to. We all understand the efficiency of mass marketing, but when you are excited about something, take the time to share your enthusiasm and personalize it. You have to remember that art producers are being bombarded with promotions all the time and sometimes they just feel like a number.

I had a rep estimate with me in 2008, but she was not awarded the job. The first time I was able to hire one of her photographers was in 2016. I loved her roster, but it took eight years for us to land a job together. In those eight years she followed my career and I made a point to see her whenever in New York and often we talked about our passion of travel and not work.

The amount of times that an estimate has come in accurate the first time can be counted on one hand. I once received an estimate from a rep that was completely appropriate and I didn’t feel like I had to question one thing or didn’t feel like any fees were being buried. I spent about an hour reading and rereading the estimate until I brought it to another art buyer who asked what revision it was. She too was taken aback when I said the first. I have worked with that rep and photographer multiple times not just because the caliber of work but because of the efficiency they provided. They made my job easier because of the efficiency they provided. They made my job easier


More questions? Reach out here.