The internet has sold photographers the lie that there is a profession to be had photographing models, "model photography." After reading the comments section in a recent article, I thought I would try to shed some light on the matter.
There was a recent article on Fstoppers about what TFP (Time for Print) is doing for and against the industry. The article set about looking at the pros and cons of it all. What was as fascinating though, were the comments and the online discussion about why models should be paying photographers. This is where I want to pick things up.
Time for Print
Time for print is an age old tradition where you get a bunch of like-minded people together to collaborate. If you are some big hot shot, you can probably get some big names in on the gig. If you are a local camera club attendee, you are probably not going to have the greatest pool of people to chose from. The benefits for time for print are that with little expense for a shoot you can all come away with something new. The down side is that you will always be working with people at the same level as yourself. The chances of me getting Karlie Kloss to sit for me, are slim to nil. Yet if I do want to improve my fashion photography (I am not a fashion photographer I should add, just an example) I need to be working with people who are the next level up. My personal belief is this: If you need to test a concept, shoot TFP, if you need something for your portfolio, don't.
Why Do Models Always Ask You For Money?
Time for some hard truths. In the comments I saw people complaining that the model always wants paying when the photographer is bringing all this gear along to the shoot at great expense. I can promise you that models are not interested in that, they want to see if you have work that will add to their portfolio and pull them up to the next level. Whether that comes in the form of being signed to their first agent or moving on to a bigger agent. If they are asking for money, it is because what you offer isn't worth them giving up their time. The hard truth is that most of them have a friend with an iPhone who is better than a lot of people who owning $5,000 of pro gear. People's time is of great value. I wont go for a coffee with someone who wants a chat if it means losing time to see my family, so why would they spend half a day getting bad photographs taken of them for free?
It's Time to Pay the Model
I often do test shoots. As a food photographer we have had to hire in hand models, models, stylists, home economists, prop stylists, and assistants. When it is a really important shot then we have to suffer the costs. If I were shooting fashion and I wanted to up my game, then I would have to pay an agency for a good model in order to create the work of the standard I need. At this point you need to dig deep and pay your team. When you are the worst person on set (and we all are at some point) we pay to have those around us elevate us to the next level.
When the Model Pays You
Once you are established, and established to a point where everyone in the industry knows who you are, you can then charge for test shoots. However, these are slightly more reduced fees than editorial work and usually only to cover the costs of shooting and retouching. Compared to a $20,000 shoot for a fashion brand, we would be talking under $1000 and the work you would be producing in this shoot should be of vogue quality, although obviously lacking in production.
The Profession of Model Photography
I have no idea where this myth comes from, but there is no profession of model photography, unless you are photographing model trains for a living. There is lifestyle, fashion, editorial work in various genres, ecommerce, and a host of other occasions when a professional model is required. However, there is no business model where a photographer makes a living from photographing models who are paying them. Where does one suppose the models income is coming from to keep paying you?
Sadly, these seems to be a growing hostility online from male photographers toward female models who wont work for free. I noticed this about a year ago and from others who I have spoken to in the industry, they have been feeling it on both sides. A lot seems to come from the misconception that there is a business in here and that models should be paying photographers to be able to afford the gear they want to use to photograph models. In any other walk of life this would be laughed out instantly, but photography as a profession already has a chip on its shoulder about being under valued and ripped off, so to be attacking another profession in a such a way for the exact same reasons is just daft. It is the same as photographers who pirate software and tutorials, but then get on their high horse about image theft and underpayment.
Models and photographers are both hired and paid by the same people. If you want to be a portrait or fashion photographer then you need to be looking to ad agencies and photographic agencies for your paycheck, not toward the models.
So we are now in a situation where photographers feel that they should be paid, models also feel that they should be paid, but both seem to be looking to one another to float their industries. From the outside, as a food photographer it would be like me trying to get food stylists to pay for for shoots, it just isn't a viable option. There is clearly a need for things to move on and I think the best way to do so is to be clear as to what you are trying to achieve from a shoot. Are you testing a concept to later perfect? Great, TFP. Do you need some new work for your portfolio? You need to hire in someone who is the level above where you are atm.
Now the above is all well and good, but the problem seems to get a little out of hand when a photographer is told that a model would only work with them for money. You just need to suck it up and realize that it is not worth them giving up their free time to shoot with you. Either you are not as good as you think you are or they just don't need more work in their portfolio atm.