Behind the scenes image of RIAD photographer Bil Zelman shooting former NPR host Madeleine Brand for the launch of her new show on KCRW Los Angeles.
Behind the scenes image of RIAD photographer Bil Zelman shooting former NPR host Madeleine Brand for the launch of her new show on KCRW Los Angeles.

Insight from Sherry Riad of RIAD Represents on the changing photo industry, what clients and agents are looking for, and the photographer as problem solver

With long experience in the photo business, at Corbis and Radical Media, Sherry Riad is now running her own agency at a time of constant, unsettling change in the photo-business. Riad struck out on her own a few years back setting up RIAD Represents, so what better person to ask about the future of commercial photography than someone on the frontline selling the skills of the pro-photographer.

How did you get started as a photographer agent? What made you realize it was time to start your own agency?

Sherry Riad: I studied Art History at NYU and daydreamed of being a curator at the MoMA, or an art restorer at the Cloisters, or owning my own art gallery in Chelsea. Then a friend introduced me to the idea of becoming a commercial agent and I decided to give it a go!

I worked as a photography agent for 8 years at both Corbis and Radical Media. But, as the daughter of an entrepreneur, I always had that entrepreneurial itch. I was determined to have my own business by the time I was 30, so just 5 days shy of my 31st birthday I launched RIAD on November 1, 2011 – I know, such a technicality.

©2014 Troy House. All Rights Reserved.
©2014 Troy House. All Rights Reserved.

Can you give us some insight into your thought process behind the “Personal” self-directed projects?

Sherry Riad: Personal was my first printed promotional magazine.  The piece showcased one self-directed project from each photographer on my roster.  I conducted interviews with the photographers about their respective works and used snippets from our conversations in these online vignettes.

Whenever I am out showing portfolios, people always ask me “what are they like?”  And I definitely feel there is a strong parallel between each photographer’s work and personality that is evident and implicit in their imagery. So, what better way to get to know them than through exploring what piques their interest.

Tell me something that might surprise me about repping?

Sherry Riad: It’s not just about repping, its a partnership, like a marriage, so I guess that makes me a polygamist! Both parties have to be vested. As an agent it’s a lot more than sales, you have to have a discerning eye and know your audience.   I am not a natural born sales woman, I couldn’t sell ice to Eskimos, but I could sell them fabulous hooded parkas!

As an agent, do you find the current economic climate a tough road to navigate for creative photography?

Sherry Riad: There are definitely projects out there. The market has evolved tremendously; there is less structure to assets and more of a need for quality content.  The content generally needs to fit across several media platforms, and have enough variety to transcend digital as well as print.

Technology is expanding and advertising has to expand with it. Photographers need to be well versed and have an understanding of where these images may end up and keep this in mind when composing their images.

New trends are constantly emerging and it’s important for me to stay abreast and give feedback to the photographers so we can grow and adapt in this ever-changing market.

©2014 Michele Asselin. All Rights Reserved.
©2014 Michele Asselin. All Rights Reserved.

I’m sure a lot of good work comes across your desk, how do you decide what makes the cut for RIAD?

Sherry Riad: I look for photographers who understand their own vision and are able to identify and articulate their process. I have to be passionate about a photographer’s work and personally vested in order to be able to sell them and they should be too. They need to market themselves and understand the value and importance of self-promotion and they need to do a lot of personal work.

©2014 Bil Zelman. All Rights Reserved.
©2014 Bil Zelman. All Rights Reserved.

For aspiring commercial photographers out there what are the essential skills to have? What things should they be working on?

Sherry Riad: Always be grounded and be graceful under pressure. The business is about relationships and synergy.

Photographers should be team players and problem solvers, they must be able to walk onto their set knowing exactly what they need to do to get the shot.

©2014 Thierry Des Fontaines. All Rights Reserved.
©2014 Thierry Des Fontaines. All Rights Reserved.

Photographers need to know what distinguishes them. There are at least three photographers bidding on virtually every project, nowadays even sometimes four and five.  They need to be able to sell their vision and ask the right questions and engage with the team.

What do the Art Buyers and Creative Directors you work with on daily basis want to see these days? Stills, video or both?

Sherry Riad: I would say a little of both. I think it’s important for photographers to understand how to shoot motion, as it’s two very different approaches. As a photographer you have to take one amazing image that will resonate with the viewer, a single frame to capture all the magic and convey the story.  For video/motion work you have to think in frames and develop a cohesive story as well as continuous look and feel.


This is just the beginning for RIAD Represents. Where are you taking the agency? How do you see repping evolving?

Sherry Riad: Yes definitely.  We are in year three and we’ve got some interesting things lined up. I think growth is so important and I never want to stop growing and evolving both personally and professionally.

What photograph took your breath away this week?

Sherry Riad: I only get to pick one??  Hmmm….This shot that one of my photographers, Troy House sent me this week from a trip out in Marrakesh definitely took my breath away.

Photographer Troy House, RIAD Represents
Photographer Troy House, RIAD Represents

Click to find out more about Sherry Riad’s group of photographers


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