Return on Investment From TFP Shoots

Return on Investment From TFP Shoots

If you work with people, whether it be kids, families, seniors, adults, or professional models, male or female, then you have almost certainly shot a TFP (trade for print) shoot before. While the definition of TFP is flexible these days, as most commonly we mean "trade time for digital images" rather than physical prints, these kinds of shoots have and will continue to be an industry staple. The most important aspect of these shoots is the one thing that often gets forgotten: getting a return on your investment of time.

I'm not going to spend too much time defining a TFP shoot and going over what the purpose is. Also, if you're the type of photographer who will tell me that you literally never do a TFP shoot or haven't for decades, then chances are this article isn't for you anyway. For everyone else out there though, TFP shoots are an important part of your photography journey and there is a right and wrong way to go about them. When done correctly, the occasional TFP shoot can be both fun and rewarding, for both your creativity and for your business.

The first thing you need to address when asked about a TFP shoot is to be cognizant about the manner in which you, as the photographer, view the shoot. You are choosing to invest your time, which is worth money. Always try to remember that a TFP shoot is an investment, not a "free shoot." As with any investment, you want to see a positive return for your business.

This is achieved by having clearly defined expectations ahead of time. Most importantly, make sure that you have a business conversation with your model. Let them know that in exchange for the work you're putting into the shoot, you would like them to put a bit of work towards your business. Keep it simple and make it clear you're not trying to turn them into a salesman. Rather, as they go about their day-to-day lives if they encounter someone they feel would be a great client, they have your business card and be a positive word-of-mouth on your behalf.

In order to ensure that your TFP candidates are out there as a positive force rather than a negative one, you need to deliver on everything that you say you will. Your reputation speaks volumes about you. Provide a safe, fun, engaging environment in which you can create the images that you and your model are trying to create. If you promise three images, you need to deliver three images (less is more folks, no one wants 20-plus images even if they think they do). It goes back to the life lesson, don't make promises that you can't keep. Delivering on what you say you will coupled with being a good human being goes a long way to building a positive reputation and spreading positive word-of-mouth.

A few last things to remember regarding TFP shoots: do not be a creep. I wish that it didn't have to be said, but the unfortunate truth is there are a lot of unprofessional photographers out there shooting TFP with ulterior motives. Do not be one of these people. If you can't hold yourself accountable and act like the professional you're trying to be, you deserve your negative reputation and hopefully, you get publicly called out on your behavior. 

A trade shoot can be both creatively rewarding and can also be an investment in your business. As long as candid conversations about your business expectations take place beforehand there is no reason to shy away from the occasional TFP shoot. Every market is going to be a bit different and as with all things, context is king. Use your head and be a responsible adult, an investment is not a free shoot. Leave a comment about your thoughts on TFP, do you remember to have business conversations? If you have a business success story that stems from a trade shoot, let's hear all about it.

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9 Comments
Rex Jones's picture

Dude, this was an awesome read. Some excellent points and definitely brought to light some things that I want to start incorporating in my own work!

Evan Kane's picture

Thanks man, I appreciate that! :)

stir photos's picture

Interesting article, some things I never thought of when doing TFP, cool. I should be having more business conversations and I should be considering TFP in terms of a ROI.

I don't have any particular thoughts on TFP much more than I don't have anything against it, this is to say at my level I'm most certainly not above it, nor do I think it's above many established photographers' rules, but I also kind of understand how some photographers could have a reluctance to ever even consider it.

The closest story is that I recently shot an old friend I use to shoot a lot for swimwear and glamour. She's "retired" from modeling, but she asked if I'd shoot her for the website her company maintains. Yes, I did it for free, but she's a friend and she helped me a lot when I was first starting, so that's that. After the shoot, she asked if we could take a few shots with her and her dogs; "sure", so we did a few and that was that. Two things happened, I got requests from people wanting to know my rates for similar pet and owner type shots, and her boss is interested in getting me to both re-shoot her team's individual pictures, as well as, their group shot. So, although not true TFP by definition, it's close.

Evan Kane's picture

Thanks for commenting David, great story btw, that's really awesome that things worked out like that!

I don't think anyone ever reached a point where they are above or too good for a tfp shoot here and there, they are a useful tool for creative and marketing so long as candid conversations take place beforehand about both parties expectations (the business aspect).

Kenneth Jordan's picture

Perfect timing for me. Thank you! I'm a beginner and only doing tfp to build my portfolio. I should say doing "only" tfp. Great advice.

Jeremy Martin's picture

Very well put Evan. I've never really figured out how to make TFP shoots work for me. Typically, the TFP shoots I've done arent really images i want to put in my portfolio (first problem). But i also never thought about having the conversation regarding expectations of the client. Even though I may not necessarily want to use the images, it can still be an opportunity to let others know that I'm out there if i had established those expectations. Usually, i just walk away from the shoot frustrated because I've just shot something (that feels like) for no reason.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Good piece, and though it's a few months old I figure I'd take the chance to ask my question here on the heels of a TFP session last month.

Long story short, the model and myself hit a home run with it- both he and I were satisfied with what took place. He's a good guy (college aged, ambitious, head on his shoulders, he's going places in life one way or another. He's a go-getter... which leads to this).

So we did the shoot, wrapped up a number of looks. He sported some clothes by designer friends / acquaintences. We cross-promoted on social media- this was a win-win, and we agreed this will work out going forward to have more sessions.

I get a text yesterday from him... the designer of his leather jacket that we used for a b/w shot loved it, and now wants permission to use it. My model passed this query along to me, telling me the designer will promote us both if he could use the image. I told the model to have the designer hold off until we spoke directly to each other.

My inexperience here leads me to questions... what do I do, how to handle? I obviously want to work with the designer and have a mutually beneficial relationship- doors can open wide with this one. So... should I discuss compensation (and if so, how much should I look for?). As the TFP handshake was with the model, I didn't anticipate a third party wanting to use the images.

I want to play ball all around with these gents- I personally like the model and how he carries himself, aside from wanting to foster a potential long-term working relationship. I have no idea on the designer yet, but I want to plant seeds and grow something here.

All and any advice would be greatly appreciated. This is why I come here ;)

Evan Kane's picture

Hi Vincent, thanks for the comment. Obviously you've gotta do whatever you feel is right here. It sounds like you had a positive experience from a TFP situation, which is exactly what you want.

When it comes to designers and such using your work, the answer is going to be subjective and I certainly can't tell you what the right call is. All I can say is that exposure doesn't pay the bills.

Let that sink in. Exposure IS NOT AN ACCEPTED CURRENCY. You can't pay your bills with exposure or promotion.

There is nothing wrong with approaching the designer in a professional manner with an offer of compensation for your image usage (whatever that may be is something you will need to decide for yourself).

Christopher Hall's picture

Great article. I'm currently working on a project to incorporate TFP into my work so very helpful.