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Trade work (or TFP shoots) is probably the topmost contentious subject in the photography world, paired with the everlasting pricing debate. However, there are several big reasons to consider TFP shoots, just as there are some valid reasons to laugh at the suggestion!
Every artistic profession requires a level of ‘paying your dues’ so to speak. As is the catch-22, “you need a job to get experience, but you need the experience to get a job.” We are a bit luckier in the artistic profession as art is a more collaborative effort that can involve the trading of services. In photography, this is known as TFP, or “trade for print.”
Here is our guide to TFP shoots, when to use them, and when to avoid the inquiry.
A TFP shoot is a photo shoot that is not compensated monetarily, but instead, as a trade of services. Everyone donates their time – models, stylists, and photographers – and all parties are welcome to use the resulting images for their own purposes or self-gain.
It’s just a fancy way of saying that the team will work for free but receive images they need for xyz reason with permission to use them.
The key to TFP shoots is that all parties receive an equal benefit within the collaboration. Most often, that means that the photographer can use the images to advertise their photography services. Stylists can add them to their portfolio and can advertise. The model can also use the images in their pursuit of more modeling work.
As a general statement, TFP shoots are good for portfolio-building, education, bringing a personal collaboration to fruition, and genuine exposure and resume addition and for increasing credibility.
Explaining how to do TFP shoots is a bit of a delicate matter. So to begin, here are the Pros of doing TFP shoots:
If you lack a solid portfolio, or a portfolio at all, TFP photo sessions are an excellent way to build that book very fast.
Portfolios are of the utmost importance in this industry, and ensuring you have a solid body of work should be one of your top concerns if photography is to become your profession.
You will likely find yourself doing several TFP shoots when starting out for this very reason.
The educational aspect of TFP shoots goes hand-in-hand with portfolio-building. TFP shoots are a great way to learn, try something new, and experiment with your craft.
You don’t want to go into a client session unprepared, nor should a paying client be your guinea pig.
As for bringing a personal collaboration to fruition, art is for yourself as much as it is for others. If you have an idea, and that idea jives with another person, a collaboration is a great way to keep yourself creatively motivated and inspired. These tend to be TFP shoots by nature.
Exposure has become such a deeply hated word in the artistic world. This is due entirely to abuse and misuse in the art world. I am in full agreement and stand firm with paying everyone their worth. Unfortunately, the world isn’t idealistic. There is a fine balance between encouraging the end of improper practices and looking out for yourself and your needs.
Looking at it from the perspective of marketing, branding, and other fundamental business concepts, there are certain TFP shoots that you should do for exposure. These shoots tend to involve a certain level of prestige, in which your participation really will put your work in front of a broader audience.
Also, partaking in higher caliber sessions will build a trustworthy reputation and your credibility in a highly competitive industry.
Now that we’ve covered the pros, here are the cons for TFP shoots:
There does come a bit of an issue if you get known around town as the TFP photographer who offers some exceptional work for no pay. You’ll get offers left and right, and all will end with “collaboration,” which translates to “do this work for free because I need it and don’t want to pay for it.”
If you give in to these pressures, you’re effectively devaluing your own work’s worth.
There has to be a limit to when you’ve well surpassed the need for TFP shoots. I stopped doing TFP many years ago when my resume far surpassed its need and have not looked back since. That is because photography is a career for me, not a hobby.
The public has taken hold of the TFP phrase recently, and decided they are entitled to them too.
TFP has, and should always be, a term for those within the industry looking for a mutually beneficial work opportunity.
Your neighbor begging online for a TFP family session for their nephews is not TFP – that’s “work for free.”
Your sister’s friend’s wedding inquiry should not be “TFP” – that is their wedding day! Not a styled shoot!
The public should not get TFP shoots – plain and simple. This goes back to the previous point of “devaluing work.”
The key to keeping a happy medium for your own artistic pursuits and endeavors is to know when to say no. That’s really all there is. If you want to embark on TFP shoots for your own reasons, go ahead and organize one! However, if you aren’t looking to pursue TFP, say no.
Understand your worth when someone approaches you, and determine what course of action is the best one to take.
My general rules are:
“If someone approaches me unsolicited, I will send over a rate sheet.”
“If someone responds to a solicited TFP casting, then that’s a different story.”
Despite no money exchanging hands, general business principles still apply.
Here are some quick tips for successful TFP shoots:
At the end of the day, how you run your business or your artistic craft is at your own discretion.
With that said, I did want to mention for the aspiring photographers out there: Just because a photo session is a trade shoot, doesn’t mean that your professionalism should fly out the window. You do need to treat this session like a job, which means being punctual, being on your best behavior, and delivering upon your end of the bargain.
Have you participated in any TFP shoots? What was your experience? Share with us in the comments.