What is TFP and how can a photographer use it to strategically build up their portfolio?
To read my thoughts on TFP for models check out “Modeling: Trade for Print”.
Photography is expensive. You have your gear, your website, business cards, computers, accessories, travel, and the list goes on. When you’re first getting started you need people to photograph, and not just anyone. You need people who are comfortable in front of the camera and will want to go along with your fun crazy ideas to get creative shots. Most people are camera shy, and paying a model costs a lot of money. Enter Trade for Print.
Kate was one of the first models I ever hired for a shoot. Her rates were very reasonable and our work helped get me into editorial photography. Her images are still some of my favorite.
What is Trade for Print?
Back in the old days, you could ask a model to work in exchange for prints they could use in their modeling book, their printed portfolio. The theory was that if the photographer and model were both on the same “level” their time was equally valuable and they could exchange services since they both need images for their port. Today, the only difference is that instead of prints, models need digital files (although I am currently writing a post on the value of printed modeling and photography books).
For beginning photographers and models alike, trade is crucial. It gives you experience and helps your portfolio. At least it does in theory, but I’ll wait to expound on this ominous note until later in this post. For now, the question is, how do you get trades?
How to get TFP?
First, where are the models? Well, if you think you’re ready for agency models, just give an agency a call. They’ll know you’re new to the whole thing and send you a “fresh face” or newer model who maybe know nothing about modeling and needs experience. See agencies often recruit models right off the beach or mall and then hope they know how to model. So they send them to novice photographers (like me at one point) to see how the girls do. You have to have some decent images in your portfolio, but the agencies aren’t as picky as you’d think. BTW, I don’t think I would hit up Wilhelmina Model’s on your first day, but maybe with a smaller agency. Also, it never hurts to fake it until you make it.
If you’re not quite ready for agency models give Model Mayhem a chance. It’s a social networking site for models and photographers. There are tons of models using that site and their profile will tell you right up front if they accept TFP offers. They are mostly models who are not agency represented who are just hoping to build up their portfolio. Be ready, I would say the vast majority of them are not professional and you will get stood up a lot, unless your port looks amazing. Don’t take it personally, it’s the nature of the beast.
If you’re not creepy about it you can reach out to your IG followers. If people like your photography you can get some good trades. For me Instagram has become a great way of finding models. I try to be as gentlemanly about it and I am prepared for rejection. Be ready with images of the kinds of shoots you want to do. Make sure you have a plan and it includes model safety.
The Limitations of TFP
TFP when you’re first getting started is a great thing. You need to practice the technical skill of photography and how to work with people. It gives you experience to learn all the ins and outs of planning shoots. In all those ways TFP is fantastic, but TFP has limitations. First, the models who will really make your portfolio stand out tend not to shoot with newer photographers. They get their pick of the litter and talented but inexperienced photographers often don’t get a second look. If you stick to TFP you’ll be limited to the same range of images you’ve been shooting. Sure you can make baby steps, but it’s going to be a long and frustrating process. Trust me, I’ve done it.
The Case for Paying Models – It’s Worth it!
I spent a long time avoiding investing paying for models. As long as I could find people to photograph for free, it didn’t make sense to pay for a model. At some point though I knew I wanted to take my photography to the next level. I reached out to a few models to shoot some cool lifestyle and studio concepts. The images were the best I had taken up to a point and I was able to stretch those shoots to makeshift a portfolio light years ahead of what I had.
I’d like to recommend to photographers that TFP has an important role in their journey. When you’re first getting started, you need time to master your craft and you are probably not even ready to photograph agency models anyway. But at a certain point, I think reaching out and investing in someone with experience and truly spectacular will pay off.
These are some of the earliest editorial images I ever took. Without Kate’s stunning looks and posing experience, these shots would not have been as impressive as they are, even if they are a testament to my early photography and a little outdated.
If you plan on moving towards print, editorial and commercial work, you will eventually have to transition to working with professional models. As with any business you’ll have to invest in your brand. Reaching out to quality models in your area for paid shoots builds connections, a quality portfolio, a good reputation. Even with an established portfolio, I regularly hire quality models for various project and I think it helps the portfolio.