TFP is an acronym for "Trade for Photos" and is a common term used in the fashion industry. It can also mean “Time for Prints”, “Trade for Prints” or “Test for Prints”. This is a setup where the photographer & model (and sometimes hair, makeup, and styling teams as well) agree to trade services and shoot together at no charge. While this obviously seems like a win-win all around, it’s not always that straight forward.
When a photographer hires a model for a particular project, they are the ones that get to call the shots and have full control over the result of the photos, and the model is simply there to help bring their vision to life. Oftentimes, these images aren’t useful in a model’s portfolio because the finished photos may have odd lighting or editing that showcase the skills of the photographer and not necessarily the model. On the flipside of that, when a model hires a photographer for a shoot, they are the ones that get to dictate the overall direction of the shoot, and the images will be showcasing the skills and looks of the model more than the lighting/editing skills of the photographer.
So.... when shooting TFP, is the model or the photographer the “client”?
The answer is- they both are. The photographer is "paying" the model by providing them with finished edited images, and the model is also "paying" the photographer by being a stand-in and allowing them to get creative with their concepts and lighting setups. Half the shoot should be geared toward what the photographer wants and the other half of the shoot should be geared to producing what the model wants/needs for their portfolios. If a hair/makeup artist is involved, getting key beauty shots for them is also important since they are volunteering their time and products to make the shoot a success.
While there are many benefits to TFP shoots, there can also be downfalls. For photographers, sometimes the models don’t put in the effort that is needed to achieve the look they’re going for because since they aren’t getting paid, they don’t take it as seriously. From a model’s standpoint, sometimes the images form TFP shoots aren’t usable for their portfolios, so the shoot can seem like a huge waste of time.
Not all TFP requests are created equally. If a photographer approaches you with a TFP concept, it’s best to weigh the pros & cons to be sure that particular shoot it’s a good fit for you. If you are a really experienced model and the photographer that is requesting TFP is just starting out, it may not be beneficial for you to shoot with them at that given time. The same goes for a very experienced photographer; they will very rarely offer up TFP, and when they do, they will want an experienced model to shoot with.
See below for some pros/cons for models to think about before committing to TFP:
You will most likely get photos you can use for your portfolio for free.
Since you don’t have the stress of getting the perfect shot for a client, the atmosphere on a TFP shoot is often a low-pressure and fun environment.
You get to build a great collaborative relationship with the photographer. (Some of my best model/photographer relationships have begun with a TFP shoot!)
You will meet other creatives on set, so it is a great opportunity for networking.
When shooting TFP, experimentation is usually welcomed, so it’s a great opportunity to step a little out of your comfort zone and try poses you might not go for on a paid shoot.
If you and the photographer work well together, you may get invited to take part in their other projects which might also lead to a paid work.
Some photographers only provide a small number of edited photos, and some also put their watermarks on the photos which limits your usage of them.
Knowledge often comes with experience. If you are a model with little experience, you may need a lot of direction with your poses on set. Photographers doing a TFP shoot may not want to take the extra time needed to direct new models.
If you do a lot of TFP work, sometimes photographers will expect you to always work for free, even on projects they’re getting paid to produce.
Sometimes, photographers will take the images from your TFP shoot and sell them to a commercial client or use them in their own advertisements, thus getting a financial gain off of your volunteered time.
Since there is no client involved pushing for a deadline, getting edited photos back may take more time than usual because the photographer will be prioritizing their paid clients over your free shoot.
Ultimately, the decision to do TFP is up to you, as only you can best decide if it is beneficial to you. One thing is for certain though- when you decide to collaborate with a photographer on a TFP project, make sure you fully understand what it is the photographer is wanting to create. Only commit to it if you are pleased with the proposed idea and feel comfortable with that photographer’s style of images. The model must make it clear before showing up on set what they are willing to do, and photographers must make it clear what they expect from the model as well so there is no confusion on the day of the shoot as to what is expected. If you are on set and find that you are being pressured into things that make you uncomfortable, immediately tell the photographer how you are feeling. If you have voiced your feelings and they still push you, you have every right to leave the set.
Depending on your shoot agreement, the model and/or the photographer may want to limit the usage of photos resulting from the shoot. This is where a TFP agreement comes in handy. Contracts and model releases exist for a reason. It’s an easy way to make sure that everyone is on the same page as how they can use their images. One of the biggest things that needs to be discussed in this era of social media and internet, is the usage parameters. How can you as the model use the images? How can the photographer use the images? Although it’s a collaboration shoot, if there is an offer to use the images for a commercial project, how does this translate financially for the model? Is it a one-time buy-out, or will it be on a commission basis? Or will you even get paid at all? These are all very important things to discuss before committing to a TFP shoot.
Not only is TFP a great way for models and photographers to obtain photos for their portfolios, it is a great way for those new to the business to get invaluable practice and meet people in the industry. As with everything, just make sure you set your expectations and boundaries before committing to a TFP shoot, and make sure it benefits you as much as it does the photographer.