Why You Shouldn’t Be A TF* Whore

Photo by James Glendinning of SilverLight Esoterica Photography

When I started modeling, I worked with everyone who contacted me, and shot everything I was comfortable with. I even shot some stuff I wasn’t 100% comfortable with. I figured that any time in front of the camera was good–I would learn more–and that I would have a diverse, up-to-date portfolio. When I shot things I wasn’t 100% comfortable with, I figured I needed to learn how to be comfortable so I could open myself up to other (often paid) markets. I went to TF* group shoot events and shot with anyone who’d work with me. I justified it by telling myself it was good networking, another chance to learn, and a good opportunity to update my portfolio in just a few hours.

After a couple years of that, I realized I’d become one of those models that was in nearly everyone’s portfolio, and I had VERY little to show for it. A lot of what I had was the same, and in quite a few cases, the benefit was staggeringly skewed–the photographer had gotten stuff he could use, but I’d gotten more of what I had, stuff I couldn’t use, or no images at all.

You know how I came to that realization? Someone told me.  I was at a M&G and a photographer said to me, “we’ve got to shoot… you’re in every photographer’s portfolio in the Chicagoland area but mine”. I told him to drop me a line and we’d talk, but I realized right there that I’d over-extended myself and very likely hurt myself in terms of getting paid work.  I’d become a “rite of passage” model for the photographers in my area.  That was a bad thing.

That’s when I started charging. At that point, I had been modeling for about 2 1/2 years.  I knew my angles, understood how my body moved, knew how to work with light, and was booking shoots every weekend I had free, months in advance.

That photographer who wanted me in his book so bad? He never actually contacted me to shoot… it was likely more of a polite, conversational gesture on his part. But boy was it a wake up call for me!

I wasted almost 3 years trading way too much. Now sure, at some point within the first year, after I worked with a couple of photographers who delivered crap, or didn’t deliver at all, I became a little more selective, but mostly, I worked trade. I wasn’t confident enough in myself to offer rates, and I was couldn’t find it in me to tell people their work wouldn’t benefit my portfolio. That lack of confidence was the biggest blow though, and that’s what had me working TF* with whoever asked for it. Big mistake.

That doesn’t mean I should have thought I was hot shit, or that everyone I worked with the first 2+ years of modeling didn’t help me out. But I should have been more honest with myself based on the amount of shoot requests that were coming in, and the amount of work I was booking. I should have started trading up early on, instead of staying at the same level (or dipping below it to avoid hurting feelings). My book would have improved faster, and I could have started charging sooner.

When I started charging, I had a few photographers I hadn’t worked with hire me, which was great.  But the photographers I’d worked TF* with who wanted to work with me again, and couldn’t give me portfolio worthy work? Nope… the vast majority of them wouldn’t hire me, no matter how many times they told me how much they loved working with me, how I was the best model they’d worked with, or any of that other unicorn farty stuff.  I was expected to show up at group shoot events and shoot TF* with whoever, and photographers contacted me expecting to jump at every opportunity they offered, drive for hours to shoot, and do whatever was asked of me because, well, that’s what I’d done for nearly 3 years.

By not charging sooner, and not being selective with who I’d worked with those first couple years, I’d really hurt myself in terms of paying work.  If I’d suddenly had to rely on modeling for income, I’d have been fucked unless I started doing serious glamour, nudes, and fetish work.  And that kind of stuff was what I wasn’t comfortable doing, or didn’t want to do for personal reasons.

Now, I know I didn’t have to rely on modeling to pay my bills. However, it would have been nice to be able to get some of the money back I was spending on shoots–maybe even break even here and there. I spent thousands of dollars over the years on shoes, clothes and accessories for shoots… not to mention hiring hair/makeup (because I managed to learn early on how beneficial that was), and driving miles and miles to and from shoots.

It makes me sick knowing how much money I wasted on shoots.  For the first 2+ years, I spent money on shoots that did absolutely nothing for my book.  And I can’t even tell you how frustrating it is knowing I spent a ton of time away from family and friends, and missed quite a bit of stuff for shoots.  “Sorry, I can’t that weekend, I have something going on” wasn’t something I told photographers… it was what I told my husband, my parents, and my friends.

If I could go back and do it again, I would start out being selective with who I worked with. Granted I know a lot more now, and things have changed quite a bit over the past 6+ years, but I certainly just wouldn’t work with someone just for the experience. I’d make sure that what I was getting out of it was going to be worth my time and the money I was going to spend on hair/makeup and wardrobe. I’d evaluate photographers better, and charge sooner. I wouldn’t worry as much about hurting feelings if I said no or offered rates.  And I wouldn’t put my hobby–modeling–before my friends and family.

New models, think about the value of what you’re getting against what you’re investing, before you agree to a TF* shoot.  Don’t just think about the shoot in terms of your portfolio either.  Consider what you’ll be spending on hair and makeup, wardrobe, and gas to get to and from the shoot, and don’t forget to take all of the time you’ll be busy (traveling and shooting) into account.  Will the photos you get truly be worth what you’ll be spending?  If so, it’s a good investment.  If not, charge that photographer, or pass up the shoot altogether.  There’s absolutely no reason you should be shooting trade just to shoot.  You’ve got to be getting something you value out of the shoot.

The same could be said for new photographers.  I know there are quite a few of you out there who are grateful to have models willing to work with you, but if that model’s look isn’t one you want in your portfolio, she insists on bringing her boyfriend, her BFF, her kid and her mom with her, she expects 100 shots edited 2 days after the shoot, or she wants you to drive 3 hours to shoot for an hour with her… take a pass.  If the pictures you’ll be getting aren’t worth the time and money, the shoot has no value to you.  You can try out new things with other models–add it in when you’re shooting other things that will benefit you both, or you can hire an experienced model for a test shoot, just to try out new things (yes, you can do that!).

Bottom line?  Don’t waste your time and money just to shoot.  Seriously evaluate whether or not a shoot will benefit you, looking at the entire package in terms of value to you, before you just jump at the opportunity.  Don’t be afraid to say, “thank you, but I’m not interested in working TF*”.  Professionals won’t have hurt feelings, and those who do get pissy because you’ve bruised their ego… well… you’ve likely dodged a bullet in terms of other drama down the road.

Think before you trade.

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26 Comments to “Why You Shouldn’t Be A TF* Whore”

  1. This is a great lesson! I love this story, thanks for sharing!

  2. Reblogged this on musingsoftheamusingmuse and commented:
    Great post by a Retired Hobbyist Model!

  3. You are an amazing model and you deserve to be able to make money for all your work.

  4. I agree with you on some points a new model should transition from all or mostly TF* to paid work as they gain experience. Maybe where I live is different but models here make that transition in 1-2 shoots they go from cell phone images to “experience model” charging $100/hr and have like 1 photographer in their portfolio. (not to say some local models do have excelent portfolios and ARE experienced).
    The few professional photographers in my area have said they don’t work with models unless there paid clients.
    From my point of view as a photographer (admitadly struggling) a new model should do TF* shoots when starting out if nothing else just for the experience of shooting with a photographer with a secondary bonus of images useable for her portfolio they should do this weather or not they goto a modeling school and should figure about 25-35 solid shoots to when they transition to “experienced model”.(thats not to say they should not be looking for pay opertunities that arise occasionally)

    Even though these are TF* shoots one of the advangages is that it should be a TEAM effort the model should have alot of input into the shoot depending on the skill of the photographer she should be getting diversity in her portfolio she should try different looks and practice different posing. and the photographer should try and make shoots to advance a models portfolio and goals and they should try to offset a models expences fuel or food or possibly wardrobe or makeup. and yes not all shoots will be as useful as others I am on a fixed income and I must go the TF* route until I come into some money or make money from my photography and turn it back into the photography. (for me my camera is a slow shooter and investing in an experienced model would not be effecient enough to get my moneys worth, when I have a full DSLR with agility it is likely i will invest in hiring an experienced model).

    as a model progresses she should shift more and more to paid shoots probably starting with lower rates or partial trades and working upwards and I personally dont try to scout out of area models because my shooting experience does not justify a model traveling just to shoot with me if I could afford to help a model out with at least some travel expenses or if i had a good portfolio (proven talent) then I would consider out of town talent.

    Even when models or photographers do get to an experienced level they should still help other less experienced people out. if models only do TF* work with photographers above their skill level and photographers dont do TF* work below their level than nobody wins everyone is looking to get paid and nobody shoots.

    Lastly models that do TF* work should still be business like and professional and not blow off or flake or be divas it directly effects there reputation as a model especially when it comes to paid shoots. If you can be counted on to be reliable for a TF* shoot why would you be any different for a paid shoot?

    even if I had came into some money I would not want to hire models that did not have some TF* work in their history and I dont mean family or boyfriends.

  5. Thanks… though I’m retired now 🙂

  6. A model needs to be realistic in terms of both knowing when to charge and knowing what to charge, regardless of area (and the “what” varies from area to area as well). Models who overshoot their market by charging too much won’t be successful no matter how great they are.

    TF* can be helpful to help a model learn what it’s like to be in front of the camera. But a model shouldn’t just work TF* to get that experience. First and foremost, the images need to be worthwhile to her portfolio–and that’s especially true for new models. Past that, what a model learns needs to be worthwhile as well. A new photographer, who doesn’t know what he’s doing, isn’t going to teach a new model much of anything. In fact, I have taken to recommending that a new model is better off paying a knowledgeable, experienced, skilled (in a particular genre) photographer for an initial portfolio. She’ll get great images and learn things that will actually help her. Of course, that means she has to be capable of deciphering what makes a photographer knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled. Not many new models can do that, and I’d wager that some new models just don’t care enough to bother taking the time to research that (or find and ask an experienced model in their area).

    It may sound like that leaves new photographers with hiring models who know what they’re doing and that’s it… but there will always be models willing to work TF* with new photographers, and experienced photographers willing to work TF* with new models. Why? Because some models are OK doing TF*, and in terms of photographers, it’s more about a model’s look than her experience. Case in point, my second shoot ever was a paid shoot. The photographer liked my look, and preferred that I wasn’t experienced because he didn’t want someone who would fall into poses (which now, I totally understand). He wanted natural movements and expressions, not posed stuff. And so he paid me. I’d been on OMP for a matter of days when he contacted me. And no, it wasn’t a nude shoot for some GWC just looking to get his rocks off. I shot with him a second time a year later.

    While the “help out the little guy” attitude is nice in theory, in reality, whoever’s taking the time to help the lesser skilled individual ends up with the short end of the deal. Sure sure, you might feel good after it, but if you want to feel good, go do charity work. There will always be new models and new photographers willing to trade, or even (dare I say it) experienced models looking to add different types of work to their portfolio (a nude model making the transition to clothed work, for example). In the case of the latter, it’s quite often that the photographer that can provide them with portfolio-worthy work isn’t someone they’ve worked with before, because usually good photographers “specialize” in specific types of work, instead of just shooting everything.

    EVERYONE should act professional, regardless of where they stand in terms of the camera. And, frankly, any human being can be a flake or a diva. I know people who are flaky as hell and others who think the world revolves around them, and the vast majority of those people have never been in front of any camera other than their parents. Being involved in the modeling industry has little to do with someone’s attitude.

    And, for the record, I (and most professional models I know) never disclose prior working agreements. That is business between the photographer/MUA I worked with, and no one else. While I have been forthcoming that most of my work as a model was on a TF* basis, I certainly would not tell you which photographers hired me, which I paid, and which I worked TF* with. I expect the same of those I worked with in terms of our agreements. It is simply a respectful way to do business, IMO.

  7. Models should aware of which photographers doing TF* work can benefit their portfolios and which can’t. That means, however, that some of them need to be able to recognize quality work. There are some photographers it is well worth the time doing trade with.

    I’ve always been grateful to the models who DID do trade work with me, as I think it helped me become a better photographer, too. I’ve never expected trade work from models and the ones who did, I only hope it benefited their portfolios as much as it benefited my own. You know?

  8. In no way do I think TF is bad. It lets models and photographers practice and have fun, but is there to much of a good thing? Absolutely! I think as a model or photographer the TF work can hurt you when you are trying to become established. It’s important to find the comfy balance of paid and TF work so people don’t take advantage of each others time and business.

    Ronders

  9. models should also realize that a pretty package does not mean great work, I have heard of questionable photographers with nice clothes, smile, gear, even a studio. when there are many very good photographers wearing Tshirts with entry level camera’s working out of a closet or spair room.

    I love the image you added Rachel TFP? thats great lol.

  10. I agree with you on the first point, and I wasn’t saying not to do trade at all. Trade can be excellent, but it has to be a valuable trade for both parties. Otherwise, it isn’t really a trade.

    Totally understand the second point. And I agree on that as well. There were tons of photographers that worked TF* with me when I didn’t expect it, and I was grateful. Often, I recommended them to other models, without disclosing that we worked TF* (MY way of paying it forward, as the other commenter suggested doing).

  11. You have correctly identified a large problem. As a photographer I’ve made a decent living shooting weddings, portraits and the like yet for some reason I never reached a level that satisfied me. After much thought I completely emptied my website of all my past and current work, mostly weddings, some model shots and a lot of portraits. I replaced all of it with only work I liked….personal views of things I shot yet never displayed. I’m of the age where seeking work was no longer the driving force and replaced it with what I call the “exclusivity factor”.

    I still receive requests for weddings and things I’ve been doing my entire career and have turned them all down. No longer do I market for weddings and the like, showing only views of my own choosing. I became less customer driven and more personally driven. In effect, I became very exclusive and less available. Some might think I stepped too far into the deep end.

    The results were startling. No longer was I in competition with other photographers. I shot what I liked and if it brought me customers, great, if it didn’t I still had great satisfaction displaying my vision rather than “my work”. Suddenly as if I woke up more people are viewing my website, asking “if” I am available and was I am “willing” to take assignments. I took a new path. One that takes me from a “working” photographer to one of an artist. I am for want of a better word, exclusive!

    The end result. My work now hangs on walls I had not considered and has raised my standing in the local community as a “photographic artist” rather than a “working photographer” who must constantly market among so many others doing the same thing.

  12. Thank you for this and I am glad that I came across it. Bring a photographer and pretty much in the same position as you seemed to be. I started about 5 years ago and it seems that I am at the same point that you were. I would shoot with whomever wanted to shoot …… and I had many of the same reasons that you had. “I need the practice”, Or ” I am just learning and am not good enough”. Now I find myself in the situation that I have spent a shit load of money and time developing and there are so many times that I no that I am shooting something that I will not be able to use myself and that they are going to get a quality that they otherwise would have to pay a good of money for. Their 3 or 4 hour investment is nothing compaired to the time that I spend to get the shoot together and the process shots that I am willing to put out as my work, let alone I will go to them also (Drive time).

    That is not to say that there aren’t models that I am very willing to pay as I know that we are going to get quality work that can benifit both of us either. But I really liked the way that you put into perspective the aspect of “is this going to benifit me or is it going to benifit them?”

    You can look at the work that I do at – MM # 264626 if you want.

    Scott – Magicc Imagery

  13. Excellent, and a very interesting take on things! Definitely something some photographers should do–step back and look at their work like that.

    I wonder if I had done the same thing, if my path down modeling would have been different. I suppose if I really wanted to, I could try it out–revamp all the portfolios and put in only the work I love, instead of what I think would sell me best as a model. But I’m still so burnt out from the bullshit, and am quite enjoying the time I have to concentrate on other things, that perhaps that’s something for another day…

  14. I was hoping I was agreeing with you in my commentary. I can also understand being burned out. I don’t recall the last photograph I have taken that wasn’t with my cel phone trying to capture a three year old who won’t stand still. Sometimes I think I want to get back into it. Maybe I will some day. I have some amazingly photogenic friends who also model part time and they want to get together for just a fun group shoot that isn’t about making money or doing anything other than spending the day together with a bunch of cameras and being goofballs. I think I may attend if I’m in town. May be just what I need.

  15. Great article, it’s important to gain something if investing time and resources, and also that would mean less “Meanie pants photographer never gave me images” crap if people traded selectively.

  16. Now THAT sounds like a fun shoot. Heck, I’d do something like that haha. Nothing wrong with picking up a personal project here and there 😉

  17. Thanks for stopping by Scott! I’m on MM too (178099) but it’s blocked at work, and I’m rarely on my computer at home. But shoot me a friend request 🙂

    And yea… I think a lot of folks get to this point, and THEN realize they’ve passed it. Part of the reason I wrote this was to help prevent it from happening to new models and photographers.

  18. Which is why it’s important for models to check references.

    Thanks. It was actually inspired by a discussion on the MM forums, where I was called a whore for saying I had traded for things other than photos (like shoes/wardrobe, food, etc… it was the “etc” that led someone to believe I was allowing photographers to stick their penises in me in exchange for modeling, which has NEVER EVER been the case). James and I got a good laugh out of the accusation, and the photo was born. We shot it months later, when I was visiting FL for work.

  19. I think its perfectly fine to work useful trades makeup and wardrobe can get expensive and a model getting a pair of shoes or a dress as part or whole of a shooting session seems good for everyone.
    some hot shit famous photographer might get offered sex(or ask) for shoots, male or female just like many people of similar status. (like rockstars)

  20. Very good article. I do like the phrase “unicorn farty stuff”. Funny yet very applicable.

  21. Thanks. I coined “unicorn farts” when I was talking about comments that are always positive, yet never helpful. “I love this” and crap. Nothing wrong with saying you like something, but maybe post why… that’s then helpful 🙂

  22. Great post. A very valuable (and costly!) lesson that most of us freelancers learn the hard way.

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