Models Vs. Photographers, Who Pays Whom?

Models and photographers have always had this love-hate relationship. There are a lot of other people in the studio in any modelling shoot, like fashion designer, make-up artist, art director, the tea lady, and assistants too. So why are these two always in the limelight?


This is the expansion from an earlier article that I had promised to address later, as it was digressing further and further away from the general direction of that article back then.

So let’s get back to the topic at hand – Who pays whom for a shoot?

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Typical Commercial Shoot Scenario

In a highly generalised situation, there is always an objective for every shoot. It could be a fashion magazine wanting to fill in the pages with editorial material, thus paying the photographic team (including both photographers and models) to do a shoot. The final product will be the images that is to be used for the editorial page of the fashion magazine. In this case, the magazine’s editorial is the client, and thus pays the fees for all the members of the photographic team.

Using the same example, perhaps the editorial pages is held in reserve for a fashion designer to showcase his works. So in this case, the client is the fashion designer, not the magazine editorial anymore. Thus, the fashion designer pays the photographic team for their work. The magazine is merely the vehicle where the resulting images will be published.

In any case, there will always be a client somewhere in the loop. And it is the client who pays both photographers and the models for their services.

But here we are only discussing the typical scenario, where both photographers and models are professionals, and both earn a living doing what they do best. There are also the not-so-typical scenario to consider.


Not-So-Typical Commercial Shoot Scenario

In a similar manner as the above example, perhaps the models, the photographers, or both are not so well known yet, and either the magazine editorial or the fashion designer (the client) offers to let them model and / or shoot without payment, but in exchange for having their works being published in the magazine.

This phenomenon is known as “tear-sheet” in the modelling industry, whereby the sheet “torn” out of a published magazine is used to show future potential paying clients that they have commercial experience, and have been published before, thus justifying a demand for higher fee.

You see, in a typical commercial situation, the more well known you are, the more sought after you will be, thus driving your asking price up. So new comers in the industry will have to make a name for themselves before they can demand for whatever asking price that they want. And the way they do that is to accept “payment” as an exchange or trade in a non-monetary transaction.

Now we are venturing into the non-commercial modelling or photographic services.


Typical Non-Commercial Shoot Scenario

For a person to break into the modelling industry, he or she needs to have a portfolio to showcase themselves as a model. This is normally a set of images of them showing their capability as a model in a highly typical commercial setting. With luck, a talent scout or a client will like what they see in the portfolio, and engage them for a paid job. The challenge now is to get those set of images to show that they can perform in a typical commercial setting.

This is the same chicken-and-egg situation that many fresh graduates without working experience face when looking for their first job. No working experience, no job offer. But no work offer also means they can’t accumulate working experience too.

Likewise, no modelling experience, no job offer. But no job offer also means no way to accumulate working experience too. So somewhere, somebody has to break the cycle.

The typical way is for the new models to offer to work for “free” with actual clients in exchange for a copy of the resulting images for their own use. This way, clients get to use models for free, and models get to rack up working experience, as well as tear-sheets to prove that they have commercial jobs exposure.

In the same situation, photographers also undergo the same rites of passage too, in which he or she will also need experience and portfolio images to prove his or her experience in commercial shoots. Just replace models with photographers in all of the above situation.


Not-So-Typical, Non-Commercial Shoot Scenario

So far we haven’t stray away from the commercialisation of photo shoots yet. But there also exist another phenomenon, of shooting for “fun”. And here is where the line fades into an obscure, almost non-existent differentiation. Now we are venturing into the world of non-commercial activities, of hobbies.

Models and photographers alike, there are those who simply do what they do just because they like doing it, not because they choose to make a living doing what they like to do. But lump them up together with those who are starting out, and want to eventually earn some money doing what they do, and we have a recipe of misunderstandings and exploitations.

There are some unscrupulous clients who always look to engage relatively unknown models and / or photographers, so that they don’t need to pay them anything after the job is completed. Models and photographers would probably want to take up the job if it is a high-profile one, and actually harbours a hope that subsequent jobs will be paid ones. Unfortunately, once the initial job is completed, the existing models and photographers will be dropped, and they will continue to look for more fresh meat to exploit.

Lump all of these together, and people start to become more wary, and start making unfair demands regardless how experienced (or inexperienced) they are, for any and all job offers that come along their way.


What People Think Model-Photographer Relationship Is

Many of the uninitiated, especially those just starting out in modelling, actually think that photographers hire them to pose for shoots. Of course there are photography hobbyists with deep pockets who would do just that, but for the majority of the job engagements out there, there has to be a paying client somewhere in the equation. They fail to see that just as they are looking to get paid for their modelling services, the photographers are also looking to get paid for their photographic services too.

The reverse is also true, but in real life, it happens less often.

Then there also are some new models who actually pay highly experienced photographers to shoot them, so that they can have professional looking images to be used in their portfolio. Just as there are new photographers who pay highly experienced models to pose for them, so that they, too, can have professional looking images for use in their portfolio.

Studio Training

Non-Commercial, Or Trade Shoot

There is a phenomenon known in the industry by the acronym TFP. Initially it was thought to stand for “Trade For Print”, where models and photographers come to an agreement that neither party will pay the other in monetary terms. Instead, both parties will benefit by getting a set of the finished products, normally to be used as images for both their portfolios.

Some people insist that it stands for “Time For Print”, or “Trade For Pictures”. And by the dawn of the digital age, where most people don’t actually print their images anymore, favouring soft copies stored in optical discs instead. Some creative guy then modified the universally known TFP into TFCD, which they insist that it stands for “Trade For Compact Disc”, indicating soft copies stored in the CD rather than a physically printed photo.

But as far as the industry as a whole is concerned, everybody knows what you mean when you say TFP.

Now TFP as a non-commercial transaction really works, especially when one party is less experienced than the other, and wants to tap into the knowledge and experience of the industry veteran. The less experienced party gains by getting higher quality images for their portfolio, and the more experienced party gets to hone their skills, and maybe try something new that he or she can’t risk doing on commercial jobs.

But the problem will start to show its ugly face when both parties are equally inexperienced. Just imagine, an inexperienced photographer shooting an equally inexperienced model. The resulting images from the shoot will most definitely not live up to the commercial standard, and very likely neither party will be able to tell it apart. Both parties end up wasting their time.


Back To The Question – Models Vs. Photographers, Who Pays Whom?

In a commercial shoot, look for who the client is. There always is a client somewhere in the equation, who commissioned the shoot in the first place. The client is the one who pays everybody in the photographic team.

In a non-commercial shoot, usually it is the less experienced party who “pays” the more experienced party. And more often than not, the payment will not be in monetary form. It is most likely in some form of trade (like TFP)

And one final word – Whatever the arrangement is, always, always, ALWAYS insist on getting a Model Release Form signed.

One Reply to “Models Vs. Photographers, Who Pays Whom?”

  1. Pingback: Why Are Professional Photographers So Expensive? - Solarex Imaging

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