5 Tips for Making Models More Likely to Reply to TFP Requests

5 Tips for Making Models More Likely to Reply to TFP Requests

Getting started in photography is expensive. Sometimes frustratingly so. This expense tends to compound a bit if one has to pay professional models to build a portfolio. Fortunately, you don’t. Models also need to build a portfolio, so collaborating with photographers to create images becomes extremely valuable. TFP (time for print, or time for portfolio) has becomes a keystone of the beauty/fashion/glamor world.

It can, however, be very difficult for some photographers to find models willing to work with them. Just as us photographers tend to be picky about which models we work with, many models feel the same about photographers. TFP is not working for free. When a team works under a TFP agreement, the payment is the set of images. The model will want to make sure they are going to be paid with great images that lead to a better portfolio. Thus, it becomes critical that you take steps to help guarantee that the model will be happy with his or her chances to receive great images after the shoot.

1.) Have a Professional Website

Anyone can go buy a camera and pretend to be portrait photographer looking for models. However, it is usually only the serious ones who take the time to ensure that they have professional brand. Great looking websites aren’t difficult to find anymore. Gone are the days where the only way to create a professional looking website was to hire an expensive designer. Services such as Squarespace and The Grid offer very cheap ways to create fantastic websites quickly and cheaply.

2.) Show Relevant Work

The model wants to see examples of your work relevant to the sort of shoot you are requesting. If you are trying to convince a model to shoot with you by sending them a link to your website filled with landscapes, it simply not going to inspire confidence. Make sure that you have some sort of work samples to show the model that you are actually the type of photographer who shoots the sort of images they are looking for.

If your portfolio is completely empty, wrangle some of your friends to do a few baseline shoots before going off in search of models.

3.) Go Where The Models Are

The reality is the majority of serious, aspiring models tend to converge in certain cities. If you are living in a small town in the middle of the grain belt it is going to be very difficult to find models. If you are serious about becoming a photographer who regularly works with models you may have to face the fact the you might have to relocate.

4.) Try, Try, and Try Again

Marketing studies show that the odds of getting someone to agree affirmatively on the first solicitation are only about 2 percent, but by the eighth solicitation your odds go up to about 80 percent. Don’t forget to follow up courteously if your first attempt fails. Never get angry or frustrated if you don’t get many responses, this is natural and expected, especially to begin with.

5.) Don’t Be Creepy

This should probably go without saying but models are going to feel a lot more comfortable working with people they feel comfortable with. For the most part, not being creepy is fairly common sense, but for those who are looking for some specific steps they can take check out “6 Things Beauty Photographers Can Do to Avoid the ‘Creep’ Label.”

Working on a TFP basis can be incredibly rewarding, but finding great models to work with can often be a big challenge for inexperienced photographers. This is why making every effort possible to increase your chance of a response is critical. I would love to hear some of your tips in the comments below.

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32 Comments

When I first started shooting "fashion" I went on model mayhem and nobody would return my messages because I didn't have a portfolio. As soon as I got a portfolio I could get immediate responses to almost anyone in town.

If you do good work and you aren't trying to hook up with these girls, it shouldn't be hard.

Ian Johns's picture

"Wait, you can't do that?"

-Terry Richardson, 1982

That perverted rapey degenerate deserves to be someone's prison bitch. Although he would probably enjoy it anyway...

Ryan Cooper's picture

Yup, for sure. (Though, personally, I find with Model Mayhem getting them to reply gets pretty easy once you have a good portfolio, getting them to show up to the shoot though is a whole different matter ;) )

Chris Adval's picture

Your comment was a bit confusing, but based on the last sentence: "So working for free is our best hope at making our investment pay off!?"

The other option is paying the models you want to work with... if you never barter or a mix of both. I've done a mix of both, some years I strictly focus in certain areas of my skills and portfolio/advertising material and sometimes if I got the cash I'd invest into a professional experienced model to help expand my portfolio into a different direction. Heck if an experienced NYC fashion model was in my area for freelance work or workshop I'd hire her easily and instantly (if I had the funds) cause my area does not have any active fashion models (fashion as in 5'9-6ft female and the typical industry fashion model look). The other option is simply driving to NYC which I can get TFPs with fashion models with no serious issues just the drive is a pain plus needing an assistant to handle gear, worry about being robbed (more than where I'm at), etc.

Sometimes I try to barter/TFP first with a model I need purely based on their looks because the world judges a book by its cover, at least in the area I want to head into, advertising photography, so having more attractive people than less attractive people will increase the interest of the demographics you're seeking to get their attention, which in my case is advertisers (photo editors, creative/ad. agencies, etc.). But If I cannot get a TFP with a specific look I need in my book then yes I'd hire them as a professional experienced model who I know can give me that look and have my shoot go quick and smoothly as much as possible.

This is why you either pay a model or do TFP is simply because you will be always crafting your skills, experimenting, and creatively working on a personal project for your own self or brand (like marketing). If not then you are not the target demographic for this article honestly. I've been shooting TFP since I started 5 years ago, do no regret it at all... because my craft is extremely important to me, granted it won't fill up the bank and pay the bills right away but the craft will get me much further than being a simple photographer down the street hitting a button, sorry if that was very harsh but its my opinion if you do not put serious thought into your craft you're no different than those paparazzi people.

I just re-read your post and am not sure if I understand it correctly. But if you're saying that there is something a little ridiculous about investing in working for free then I'm in total agreement. My own post in this discussion advocates paying models and thinking of it as a business investment in order to solicit commercial work.

At best, my own experience is that TFP is a vicious circle that rarely yields real world commercial results. At worst, it's fantasy role-playing for people that want to hang out with models and are only half-serious about the photography business.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

It is not working for free. It is more like making marketing for free. People confuse different aspects of photography business. There are those who want money from models and there are those who WORK for "exposure"...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

It is a barter and it is a win-win type of a deal. All participants of the shoot are getting new piece in their portfolio and can practice their craft. Of course there will be a time that you will want to have better model/makeup artist/stylist than your portfolio can attract. It is a time when you hire that talent. On the other hand there will be a time when beginning model will need your services to start their portfolio so you will get hired...
It is a perfect example of free market. Demand and supply, or "who needs whom".

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

you lost me here. I guess you don't know meaning of "free market". And it has nothing to do with politics.

Chris Adval's picture

The only bad part if you're in a small town, and you've maxed out all current available models and end up having too many of the same models in the portfolios. You'd have the only option of moving or traveling to other cities and cost more time and traveling. Or if you cant afford the travel too much the other option I did was build up a modeling search (in the region) group which can still cost money to get exposure just for a much bigger picture like building a community of creatives locally working with experienced or new models from and in the modeling search group.

If interested in seeing this in action look up NEPA Modeling Search.

Ryan, you make great points about TFP for people that are interested in pursuing that route.

I've found that TFP is usually a horribly frustrating way to get into commercial photography. The reason is because most of the time clients and models are looking for different kinds of pictures. Models tend to like fun pictures of themselves. Clients like pictures that sell products or ideas. Sometimes, these two interests come together but most of the time they do not.

Let's face it, most models have unsophisticated taste in photography. They like gimmicks and novelty. Meanwhile, commercial clients abhor obvious gimmicks. My experience is that the most successful TFP photographers often are shooting the gimmicks that models like and consequently their portfolios rarely lead to a serious professional career in commercial photography. How many times have we known photographers that are constantly shooting models and very popular with the online community yet never seem to be able to "break" into commercial photography? The reason is because In order to appeal to commercial clients, it's often necessary to shoot pictures that models don't really like. It's very often the case that a photographer's popularity with models is exactly what's making him fail at commercial.

There are always exceptions to every rule. I can think of a few popular TFP guys that went on to commercial. But, most TFP guys just end up shooting lots of TFP and getting a few pathetic side gigs and/or teaching workshops for amateurs. They're always waiting for a "break" that will probably never come.

How do photographers get out of the vicious TFP cycle? TFP is thinking inside-of-the-box. Unfortunately, the only way to get out of it is to pay models and finance personal photo shoots designed specifically to attract commercial clients. It costs money to start a business and photography is no exception. Photographers seem to have no problem buying cameras and lights but for some reason they get stingy when it comes to paying for talent. Maybe photographers should start thinking outside-of-the-box when it comes to TFP.

Ryan Cooper's picture

You make some very good points here. I think one of the keys and this is one that Joey Lawrence leveraged a lot was that when he did collaborative shoots he would make a point of shooting those cheesy gimmick shots for the models but also shoot images for him during the shoot that worked better for marketing.

It really is a tough balance, starting a business certainly costs money but a big part of keeping your business viable is a whole different thing. Unfortunately, those shoots you mentioned can be very expensive. Personally, I've spent WAY more on shoots than I have ever on gear.

Its also important to remember that TFP is a great way to learn, even if you are shooting those gimmicky shots you are building a ton of experience at a low cost.

I think it is a balancing act more than anything

Thanks for mentioning Joey Lawrence and the idea of shooting some pictures for the model during a collaboration and some pictures for marketing.

I try to avoid too many personal stories because they might seem anecdotal. But when I was first starting in photography, there was no internet so the only way I could get models consistently was to get in with an agent. The top billing agent in town worked mostly with clothing companies featuring outdoor wear. I tracked down a few models from the agency without going directly through the agent and offered to do TFP with the hopes that if I did a good enough job then I could get my foot-in-the-door with the agent. They agreed to shoot, and I did some pictures for them and some for the agent.

Inevitably, the models hated the shots I took for the agent because they were really conservative and sort of looked like something from an LL Bean catalog. I remember one of the shots that one of the models chose was a cheesy picture of her waving from a bridge...Ugh! Another model chose a blurry picture of her twirling around like a dancer even though it made no sense in contrast with the location and her clothing. Another girl liked a picture of her sitting in a shopping cart in an alleyway with graffiti in the background. And yes, I remember shooting one of the models on railroad tracks for her boyfriend. I hope he liked that cliche!

So anyway, I got my shots for the agent and my meeting with him went very well. In fact, he said I was the best student photographer that had ever come into his agency. But, the problem came when those "bad" photos that I had taken for the models ended up in their portfolios and got circulated around town between the different agencies. The other agents in town got to know me through the pictures that the models had chosen rather than the ones that I had chosen. This was seriously bad news, and there was no way that I could control who the models would show those images to.

The bottom line is that I found it to be a mistake to shoot both for the models and for the agent because then I lost control of the images and ended up having the bad shots represent me (through the model portfolios) to other agencies. It was a horrible mistake on my part and a learning experience.

Yes, my story is personal and anecdotal but I think it illustrates a general problem that all TFP photographers should take into consideration. How many "bad" photos do we want circulating with our names attached to them? How much can our reputation be damaged by having commercial quality work diluted by cheesy images shot solely for model TFP?

Chris Cheek's picture

Easy solution.Don't show or give your bad shots to anyone. :)

Michael Rapp's picture

I shoot TFP like this: I do the Primary editing (wrong exposure, out of focus, blinking, bad taste), before the model sees any of them.
Then, I narrow it down to max 50 images to chose from, with minimal editig in Lightroom, which I deliver to the model via Dropbox. Resolution is maxed at 800 Pixels, so you can't really go and Play with them much.
Then the model gets to choose her 10 pictures, which then get the edit treatement and delivered as HiRes file.

From a technical point of view, I have always edited the same way by never allowing models to choose images that have bad craftsmanship (unless it was done on purpose for effect)

In my previous post, I was referring to "bad" images not in terms of technique but in terms of interpretation. For example, a shot of a model on railroad tracks might be perfectly fine from a technical point of view yet be "bad" when seen by an agent that will immediately be bored with the cliche. The model might love it and want it in her portfolio, meanwhile it might totally offend potential commercial clients.

Jeff McCollough's picture

If a model is working with an agent then the agent will decide what goes in her portfolio or not.

Chris Adval's picture

I finally got the chance to read the contents fully and I do got additional tips but its honestly too much to add here in a comment. I actually write my own blog since I started my journey in model photography since late 2010, and have written about finding and working with models ever since. Not sure I'm allowed to share a blog post here but here's one more relevant for those who cannot relocate and move into a more major market there are some tips here - http://www.main.chrisadval.com/2015/07/how-to-find-models-in-weak-market...

Dana Goldstein's picture

Ryan, I'm surprised you didn't mention the option of teaming with a makeup / hair artist and then approaching models. They have two portfolios to look at, you can create a more well-rounded concept for the shoot, and especially for male photographers, having a female MUA there adds a bit of reassurance to a young model (most of whom have experienced at least one photographer coming on to them when they should have been working). In addition, this expands your contacts and contributes to more finished-looking images. Same goes for a stylist or aspiring designer as well.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I actually originally did in the first draft of the article but then remembered it was in the linked article about avoiding the "creep" label so figured it was redundant. :)

Dana Goldstein's picture

Ok but unfortunately you can't actually expect everyone to follow links. ;)

Paulo Macedo's picture

At first i've read "How to make models reply to FTP requests", and i was like, why the hell do models need FTP for, share files? Hahaha
Yeah, the last one, not being creepy, what if i'm not creepy but i look creepy? LOL

Fabien Theissen's picture

You just made my day :D

Ryan Cooper's picture

Looking creepy and acting creepy are two different things.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Don't worry. Creepy relates to behavior not looks.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Good thing i look good and have nice behaviour. Hahaahah

Christian Böcker's picture

This is a very interesting article for me.
I started shooting my female friends to have some content on my website. Right now, I am at this point, building up my portfolio further with TFP. Therefor, I need to think about certain ideas and concepts, I want to do and approach the models. Without knowing about Ryans article, I did all these points (website, relevant work, etc.).
Additionally, I will quit my actual job at the end of this year. Next year, I want to start a business as photographer (Portrait/Beauty/Fashion and Weddings). My work now is mainly outdoor portrait stuff. Next to learn is beauty and studio work.
From communities like Fstoppers, SLR Lounge, etc. we learn a lot about the technical side of photography. But where can we learn about the business side?
What can I do to make a safe step beyond TFP and towards paying clients?
A further comment mentioned, you have to take money to set up a shoot (Fashion, for example) you want to show to potential clients and just knock on their doors?
How did you do this step?

Daris Fox's picture

I rarely TfP with models these days, unless they are exceptional or have a unique skill that can give me unusual images. I'd rather pay the model and retain the usage of the images without any headaches or pressure for getting images out.

TfP has become too prevalent as a shortcut to 'folios especially when you start out when really you should be paying the model as you've no guarantee you can produce the goods. The other problem with TfP it creates a false premise of it's not 'work' and you end up weeding out all the flakes.

Michael Rapp's picture

Some more tips:
- describe in DETAIL what kind of Images you want to make, and why you absolutely have to have HER on the set (yes, insert flattery here. Very few girls react badly when you tell them they are unique and look great)
- Don't use copy and taste. Make each one as personal like you are asking her out for her prom. night.
You don't have to be wordy, a couple of lines ought to be enough.
- make sure to mention that company of hers is always welcome (who doesn't need an additional VAL on the set) and that shooting with a contract goes without saying.
- avoid creepiness at all costs.
- be polite, even after you've been turned down. Rumors of grouches spread fast on the web. Or, like the chinese proverb goes:
"If you don't know how to smile, don't open a shop"
- remember, this is like your first job interview. With no resume under your belt, it's tough going uphill. Do expect a turnout Ratio of 1 - 2%. And that's replies, only. Be patient, the better your portfolio gets, the better the response ratio gets.
- always keep in mind the balance of tournout: who profits from the shoot? Check her portfolio, too. Can your Images measure up and feel at home among hers? If so, you both stand a chance to profit from a TFP shoot. If not, be prepared that some money needs to change hands in order to reestablish the balance.

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