What is TFP and how can models use it to strategically build up their portfolios?
For my thoughts about photographers and TFP check out “Photography: Trade for Print”.
One of my first trade shoots was with the lovely Saskia in San Diego. I was honored and we got this amazing shot which I still love despite being a bit outdated.
Trade for Print, Trade for Digitals, Trade for Downloads, TRADE, TRADE, TRADE. For anyone entering the industry TRADE is the currency for building your business. For models and photographers alike, trade is a crucial blessing as well as a crippling handicap. So how do we navigate this quintessential double-edged sword?
What is trade, exactly?
There’s nothing complicated about it. Trade simply means that a photographer and model (and sometimes HMUA’s and stylists) will do a shoot for free in exchange for the others doing the same. I normally charge $600 for a half-day shoot and a model normally charges $400 for the same, but If we really want to work together then we hit each other up and say “would you shoot a trade?” No one gets paid and we both get great images.
Who’s in charge or has the most say in a project depends on the situation. Sometimes the model is the more prestigious member of the collaboration and sometimes it’s the photographer. So it sort of comes down to skill level and personality.
What do you get from a trade?
Usually a trade results in a handful of edited images. If you want more than that, it’s up to you as the model to ask for it. Photographers usually have a system for trade, but if you know that as a model you bring more to the table than the photographer then you can negotiate for more images, or gas money, or wardrobe.
Just be mindful that the more established a photographer is, the less likely you are to get any extras. When I first got started I was lucky to shoot any decent models and would bend over backwards for anyone who wanted to shoot. Now that I’m much more established, it’s a different story. You’ll have to gauge where a photographer is in his or her career.
At the end of the day, though, you all need to walk away from a TFD with at least few handful of high quality images you can all use for your ports. Negotiating for extras like raw files, proofs, gas money or tons of photos is a good way to sour a potential trade opportunity. Pro tip – get a delivery date for the photos. Trade shoots are on the bottom of a photographer’s to-do list.
Who can you trade with?
In theory, the answer is simple. If the model is on the same level as the photographer, a trade should be possible. In practice, however, there’s a lot more that goes into play.
For example, the more business savvy a photographer is (even if they aren’t that amazing) the less likely they will be to shoot trade because business-wise it’s almost never worth it to shoot trade (some say TFP means Totally Fucked Professionally). On the hand you could run into an amazing photographer who’s just bored and looking to shoot for fun. The simple answer is you don’t know unless you ask. The more you get into trades, the more you’ll get the hang of it all.
Now that I am established I get to work with the likes of Rachelle Kathleen, one of just a handful of model’s I still trade with.
What makes a model more trade worthy?
The list is sort of obvious. If a model is gorgeous and fit she’ll have a much easier time finding trade. But models come in all shapes and sizes and for some photographers shooting models who have a big social media presence is very valuable. If you can triple a photographer’s Instagram following, you’re in a good place. Networking is a powerful, lesser known currency for models. If you know the right people – other models, great photographers, agency reps – anyone the photographer might want to be associated with, that will make you more appealing to photographers so capitalize on it. Finally, a diverse portfolio is very appealing. Usually photogrpahers have a list of ideas they want to shoot. If you can demonstrate that you’re excited to no only shoot that concept but take it to the next level, you’re in! There are a ton of talented photographers trying to get into fashion, lifestyle, swimwear or editorial photography. If they think you’re the ticket, you’re likely to have a good position to get a great trade.
The downside to trade.
If you’re a big-time, hot-shot agency represented model with an epic portfolio and you have the best photographers calling you every day to shoot with you, then there’s not really a down side to trade. Trade is all sunshine and flowers for you. You do it when you want, with the photographers you want, and you can negotiate getting the amount of images you want. For the general population of models trying to get started, however, I don’t think trade is all that great of a lunch strategy.
Lesser quality portfolio.
Yes, TFP gives you experience and images to get rolling, but if that experience and those images are from mediocre photographers then are you investing your time and effort into developing a mediocre portfolio? Scheduling trade shoots typically means you’re shooting with photographers who aren’t used to shooting with tons of models or working with agencies so while you’re getting experience, its probably not the right kind. And your professional image – your actual selling point will be mediocre at best.
Just to be clear… I don’t mean that photographers who shoot trade are mediocre (I shoot trade!). I only mean that if you are only trading with photographer on your level, how will your port improve? What I mean is that to step up your game, sometimes it takes paying for someone out of your league. It’s the exact same thing for photographers. If a photographer wants to make a big step in their photography business, they may need to consider paying for a model who would otherwise be out of their league? I think this is a healthy investment.
It’s the unnecessarily longer path.
Relying on trades with hit-and-miss photographers is a long process with a ton of lesser quality stops along the way. It could take years to negotiate enough TFP to build a solid book. By contrast, you could probably dedicate a single month to doing it correctly and have a book done right off the bat!
Hobby vs. profession.
I’ve been working with models for over a decade and any photographer who has the same experience can tell you the exact same thing I’m about to tell you. The models who make it, make it not on looks alone, but because modeling is their job. The few models that make a career of it are the ones who at 14 years of age starting thinking like a business owner. They are organized, driven, intelligent, professional, and strategic. Call any agency and ask them if this is true.
One of the biggest problems with trade is that it keeps potential models in the hobby version of modeling. Somewhere out there is a business looking for someone to help them sell shirts, hats, make-up, phones and all kinds of other things. They have a multi-million dollar a year business and they are looking for professional models.
If modeling is your business and not your hobby, then you’ll have to treat it that same way. You have to go out and get the gigs your self, network, negotiate and at some point, you’ll have to invest in the most important aspects of your trade. So what are the alternatives to TFP?
Alternatives to trade.
There are two major alternatives to TFP, workshops and hiring photographers directly.
Workshops appeal to a lot of potential models because they are fun, adventurous and comfortable. You get a good photographer, a specific amount of images and maybe even an agency rep is present. Workshops often also include a class and really helpful lectures. Did I mention that workshops are fun… they are. A lot of fun.
The downside to workshops is the price tag (sometimes in the thousands) is often multiple times what the best photographers in your area would charge you for a full-day of shooting. For the price of a single workshop you can probably hire all of your favorite photographers for full day shoots.
The other issue is that you only get a short shoot, in some cases less than an hour. So rather than getting a selection drawn from a full day of shooting, you’re building your portfolio off a 40 minute performance.
Honestly, think models should just hire good photographers when getting started. Listen, I totally get that being photographer I have a lot to gain by saying “just hire a photographer”, but if you’re a newer model, hiring a photographer for a half day just makes so much more sense. You pay way less, get way more from the best and in a shorter time with more relevant experience… how is that not better?
I guarantee if you were to call all the best photographers you can find you could build a dream portfolio in a single month for the cost of a single workshop.
Here’s what I say…
Now if you’re in it for fun and modeling is a passion or hobby, then trade if your friend and there’s not need to rush or invest in the perfect professional portfolio. But if you want to model for a career the best way to launch a modeling career is to hire 1-3 of your favorite photographers for half-day or full-day shoots where you get various looks from someone you’re actually excited to work with and learn from. You will have a photographer all to yourself to ask questions and get guidance. You can take those three shoots and have a professional portfolio at a fraction of the cost of a workshop in a fraction of the amount of time it would take to build a mediocre portfolio by trades. Now that you have a solid portfolio from professionals you will have leverage to request trades from really good photographers and even market yourself to newer photographers willing to pay to shoot with a pro model. Less time, less money, and you’re a pro!
Every now and then I’ll find a “go-to” model. Someone I have a professional creative relationship with a successful history who can pull off some cool concepts.
I’d love to hear from models and photographers, please leave me a note or comment letting me know your thoughts or questions!