Working for free or for a fee?

It seems like there is a lot of discussion and controversy about when to shoot TFP, when to ask money, and when to pay a fee to the others. Here’s an overview of what most of the people I met feel when it comes to this subject.

The short explanation

You are at a “higher” level than the person asking the collaboration:
You ask for a fee

You are at the same level as the person asking the collaboration and both parties agree:
You work on a TFP base

You are at a “lower” level than the person asking the collaboration
You organise a shoot where the photos will be used for commercial purposes:
You pay the fee


The long explanation

When can you ask for a fee?
When you have a large portfolio, a lot of experience, and definitely know what you are doing. If you just got out of beauty school, or if you just started modelling, it’s not really acceptable to immediately ask for a fee, no matter how good you think you are. Build a portfolio first so people can see your work.
Know what you are worth and try to estimate what your place is in “the scene”. Who do you look up to? Who is more of an amateur? You need to develop a very good eye for this. Ask honest opinions to other people and listen carefully to them.
When someone sends you a message, check their portfolio. Who have they worked with? Will their work be beneficial for your portfolio?
If you can’t see the pictures you will make together fit in your portfolio, definitely ask for a fee. Start at a low price, and as you gain more experience, make your prices higher.
When you are shooting for a fee, the one who pays you is your client. Respect their wishes! You probably won’t use the photos for your portfolio, so be open to their ideas and suggestions.

When can you do TFP work?
Find a team of like-minded people who are at about the same level as you are. Same experience, mutual contacts, maybe a similar style of portfolio. (Even though working with totally different styles can be really interesting!)
Communicate very well with each other what you want to do and how you are going to do it. Everyone is investing their time, so make it worth their while.
I am very picky when it comes to TFP and mostly stick with people I’ve already worked with and know I can trust. When I just started out, I did a lot of TFP shoots that took all day and weren’t really worth my while. This is something you learn along the way.
The key in TFP work is communication and trust, much like a relationship! It has to be beneficial for all parties.

When should you pay a team member or crew?
Who do you admire? Who do you look up to and dream of working together with? BOOK THEM. We are all artists, and talented people deserve a compensation for what they do. We have spent so much time and effort in mastering our skills. People who book us pay for our materials, travel expenses, and make it possible for us to do our job.
When you contact someone and they give you their rates, take a moment to think about it. If you think it’s too much, politely decline, but never haggle. This is extremely disrespectful towards the artist. Professional photography is a luxury, and you get what you pay for.
When you are booked to do a shoot for a client (for example a magazine or store), assemble your team and pay them accordingly.  NEVER do a commercial job on a TFP base. If a profit is to be made with the photos, every member of the team should get a compensation.
Let’s say you are starting a clothing line, but you’ve spent quite some money on all the materials and your brand new website. You still need pictures of your pretty clothes, but let’s not spend too much money on that. Maybe some beginning models will want to do it for free!
Stop right there. That’s not how it works. You will put the photos on a commercial website to sell clothes. This is just an example, but I see so many TFP model calls on social media for commercial jobs, it’s insane. Never let people take advantage of you!

I hope this clears some things up! If you have some stories to share about this subject, please let me know in the comments! Always curious to hear other people’s experiences.

3 Replies to “Working for free or for a fee?”

  1. Thank you for your article. I hope that people will take notice. I would like to add that there are some special cases where you can considrr TFP. Sometimes someone has a small portfolio (so is possibly is just starting) but the images show great skill of talent. Or when someone is a beginner but has a concept that is super cool only it is unrelated to your normal work. In both cases, when it is non-commercial, I would concider TFP, because it is fun. I know that some of the top people in the business still once in a while do TFP work. Never think you are to good to work on non-commercial but super-creative projects for free as long as you learn new things.

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