Working for Free

To anyone out there who knows about the photography industry there is a big misconception regarding the whole terminology of TFP.  For those of you not familiar with this term it simply means “Trade For Pics”.

In this industry, especially since social media sites have come along, people have started regarding TFP with working for free.  If you think so, you are dead wrong.  No argument, no need to battle me on this, you are completely wrong on every level.  Working for free and setting up a TFP shoot are two completely different things!

Working for free.  This is when you take on a job for a friend, lets say, shooting their wedding for free.  This is work, sure you may be able to use some of the images to build a portfolio and start shooting weddings for money, but honestly, you need way more than one wedding to start booking clients on a regular basis.  So in fact, you are working for free.  I could come up with other examples but I’m not going to waste my time.

TFP (TF for short) shoots.  These are the sessions when you find a model or someone who you want to have in your portfolio.  There are times when you have a creative idea and want to shoot it so you can show it to potential clients.  You can either hire a model or you can set up a TF shoot where the model also gets copies of the images for their portfolio.  They don’t have to hire a photographer and you don’t have to hire a model yet you both get the images you want.  It is an equal trade of services regardless of what the other would normally charge for their time and service.

TF shoots have been going on for decades!  This is not a new thing!  So why would a working photographer shoot TF if they have clients already?  Honestly, I think it is the working photographers who should be shooting it more!

I shoot a lot of TF sessions.  Not like every week, but I do at least once a month if possible and more if I have time.  Why would I do this?  Simple, I shoot ideas I have with models who are up to try my ideas.  If they want something I have already done, they have to pay me.  Also, I can show the work I shoot with TF sessions.  I put them in my portfolio, show them to my potential clients and then they book me.  Not all of my paying clients want their images plastered all over the internet.  So I need to shoot with models so I have something to show.

Think of photography as a business for a minute.  Better yet, think of it as a retail store.  You have stuff to sell right?  Well what if you could only tell your customers that you are selling pretty pictures?  Your images are your inventory.  If you don’t have inventory you cannot sell what you have to offer!  And if you have better products to offer you are more likely to sell them for a better price.

There are a ton of internet photographers out there who claim they never shoot TF and every model pays them.  Honestly, most of them are lying.  I know several of the top photographers in LA and, of the ones I know, they shoot TF even when they claim not to.  I’ve even dropped models off at their studio for a TF session!

So my point…. Shooting TF is not working for free.  It is working for yourself and working towards a better portfolio and creating work that people want to see and want to hire you for.  I shot three lookbooks last year based off of work that was in my portfolio which happened to be from TF shoots.  I know this because my clients told me it was those specific images that they loved and wanted that same look for their product!  So those images that I did for “free” (as some would say) made me thousands of dollars.  So was it worth it?  I say yes it was.  And for the record, I will keep shooting TF sessions as long as I have creative ideas in my head and I have access to great models who are up for working with me!

Anneliese by The Average Jim