Should the Photographer Pay the Model?

I get many viewer questions, but this is one of the most asked. What if the model wants the photographer to pay for the shoot? Before anyone raises concern, this is a photo shoot to build the model's portfolio, not for an ad campaign. 

In this post and video, there are workarounds to this dilemma and opportunity for both sides to win. When did negotiating becoming such a one-sided situation for photographers? No, we ought to get paid for our work. There are a few ways to receive payment, and we will discuss them here.

The photographer who asked the question mentioned that the model is from Instagram. Models from Instagram can be professional and lovely to do business with, but they are often times self-taught. Agency models negotiate by way of their agency and standard business practices are common.

The model pays the photographer for a photo shoot. What if the model does not want to pay? Is everything lost or is there another solution?

You Can Barter

Payment can come in many forms, and one of the best ways (besides cash) is a proper barter. Gone are the days where an Instagram tag had any value. People tag me all the time; maybe it will result in a couple of followers. I cannot pay my bills with the two new followers. Tagging someone is not a proper form of payment. A barter should be dollar for dollar value. 

Here is how you perform a true barter, because tagging isn't a currency unless the person tagging you is Jennifer Lopez and that builds an immense follower base. Tagging is not a currency anymore and accomplishes nothing for the photographer. 

An endorsement tag will accomplish much for the photographer. Here is an example of an endorsement tag:

Hey everybody, I just took some these beautiful pictures. Here's one of them right here. If anyone is looking for an awesome photographer, easy to deal with, super professional, super talented, I tagged so-and-so in the comments below. Be sure to follow him, check him out, DM him for his rates, and tell him I sent you.

How many times should the model tag the photographer for a photo shoot? That's where the dollar-for-dollar part comes in. Ask for her rate card on posting for brands. Assuming your rate for the photo shoot is $1,800, then you compare it to her market value. Remember, we're in business to thrive, not just survive. 

Assuming her price is $400 per post, then you can ask for four qualified posts about your photography. Or she may want to pay part in cash and part in promoting you. 

Say goodbye to the days of photographers being taken advantage of. We are here to serve our clientele, but no longer here for the abuse. 

model photo shoot

Walid Azami

Here Is Another Option for Getting Paid

There is another option that will not cost the model anything more than four minutes of her time. She can recommend you to a handful of clients in her genre. In this case, the model can reach out to five other models. She raves about the photographer. Below is a sample email:

Hey everybody, I just shot with John Smith. He's so awesome. If you're looking for someone that is the sweetest person, that is understanding, that is professional, that knows how to make you look beautiful, I've CC'd him in this email; please say hi. He's willing to give all my friends a great rate.

Done. 

Photographers, it is our job to turn the industry around. Many do not want to pay, especially those who grew a career out of Instagram. We are the only occupation on the planet that race each other to the bottom. This must stop, because our talents deserve compensation like every other occupation. Models request free photos, because there is probably a history of that happening. 

Assuming the model does not want to pay cash and they do not want to pay with barter or recommendations via email, but still want free photographs, that means they do not respect your time, talent, or contribution. You are worth free images for them, but nothing more than that. Walk away for the sake of not just yourself, but every other photographer. 

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28 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I started my photo career after working as a model for a dozen years. At that time, I read the book, Model by Michael Gross and it set the tone for my model tests and how I conduct business. After twenty four years of shooting, I've only shot free images when I have a personal project or I asked the subject to shoot. Never have I paid a model unless it's for a Client and I got paid to produce images. Your comments are spot on and I encourage others to follow your advice.

Walid Azami's picture

Thanks for taking the time to give your input. I'm going to look into that book that you suggested. Thanks Tony!

thomas Palmer's picture

I pay when I sell the pics, otherwise no (I did a little when I was beggining but regretted)

Walid Azami's picture

Yeah and in this case, THE MODEL REQUESTED the shoot for her portfolio and still asked the photographer to pay for the privilege of shooting her. lol. Oh can we please wash your car and paint your house too?

Ryan Cooper's picture

I feel that the photographer/model business dynamic has shifted quite a bit because there are now two distinctly different types of pro model.

The first type is the more traditional type. These models generally are looking to build a career being paid by advertisers to be the face of commercial shoots, usually to sell a product or service. These models tend to be agency represented and their "customer" is the aforementioned advertisers. Doing test shoots with them involves creating images that are largely promotional for both model and photographer and are effectively used to expand respective clientele. The model uses the images from the test shoot in their portfolio which the agency then uses to sell the model's services. The photographer benefits as the clients of the model as well as her agents will see the work and potentially look to hire the photographer to create a similar quality of work as part of a commercial shoot. This dynamic is positive and healthy. Both model and photographer work together in order to expand their opportunities.

The second type is the new "social media/IG model". These models build a career around creating a gargantuan following of fans on social media which allows them to earn money through product placement and donations (such as Patreon). These models generally are not agency represented. Their "customer" is their audience. Doing test shoots with them provides the model with a continuous stream of content for them to push to social media which directly earns them money. (aka for a social media model, a free test shoot is actually a money earner). They do not connect with advertisers in a way that the photographer's work would be exposed and do not have an agent who would see the work. Instead, any exposure the photographer gets would be through credit on the social media post to an audience who likely doesn't care about photography and would most likely never be a potential customer for the photographer. This dynamic is pretty one-sided as the model is able to use the photographer's work to directly earn income and expand their brand while the photographer does not. (short of just expanding their own portfolio quality)

Regardless, back on topic. In both of these situations, the photographer provides more than or equal to the value that the model provides. Thus it makes no sense for the photographer to also pay a model's rate in addition to providing more value. It is akin to the Huck Finn convincing kids to pay him for the opportunity to paint Finn's fence. (This compounds once you figure in the fact that an individual shoot tends to cost the photographer more, to begin with. The photographer likely will invest more time in the shoot and bears the burden of wear and tear on the equipment)

At the end of the day, my motto for working with models was always: "We are both working and bringing value to the shoot. Either we both get paid or neither of us does. We are not each other's customers. We collaborate to reach a shared customer base. If models and photographers try to build careers out of being paid by each other a circular bubble is created that only leads to shared bankruptcy. It would be like if football players wanted to be paid by coaches and coaches wanted to be paid by football players. Without the introduction of a real customer (the league and its audience) neither would be in business for very long."

Walid Azami's picture

love this line "the photographer provides more than or equal to the value that the model provides"

Dan Howell's picture

Value is individual and case by case. Any attempt to homogenize it is destined for failure. And it is fleeting. A beginning but hot model has a finite need for images before they are in demand for paying clients. Conversely there are models with a strong desire but limited potential for paying work. Your breakdown into two model types misses the mark.

As there are different levels of photographer quality, so too are there different levels in model quality. Additionally, there are different levels of need in both a photographer's and model's portfolios in regards to one particular genre of shot. It is fairly easy to conceive a situation where a photographer desires a genre or concept for a shoot that is unappealing to one or more models even if they are at a high level of quality or experience.

Young women models get slammed with numerous requests for swim, lingerie or body modeling when in reality only a few are needed for a portfolio. There is arguably a higher need in a model portfolio for head/beauty shots which might be less appealing for a great number of photographers to shoot.

It would be nice to think that each model and photographer pools would find their equilibrium but seasonal demand, location and other logistics will inevitably get in the way. I have found that there is no one way to advise photographers about this issue other than 'How much do you want to shoot with this model on this concept at this time?'

Personally, I have created non-assignment shoots were the production expenses were higher than a typical model fee. It doesn't make sense for me to limit myself to only models who will work for free when a fee would only be a fraction of the total expense. In the end I might choose a model who will test with me based on my portfolio, past experience and the concept at hand. If there is an intersection between my casting requirements and the pool of free models, great. I find it more important to shoot the best model I can find for a concept.

On the other hand, if a model just wants a headshot with a highly specific wardrobe or is a type outside the core of what I am promoting then I am completely comfortable in describing my rate structure. This paradigm transcends a fixed value.

Evan Kane's picture

That is really well said Ryan ^_^

Arun Hegden's picture

Best line I read so far, which is my motto as well:
At the end of the day, my motto for working with models was always: "We are both working and bringing value to the shoot. Either we both get paid or neither of us does. "

Kirk Darling's picture

Ryan, it occurs suddenly to this old guy that a lot of young photographers might not even know about the Type 1 you described--they may only know about the Type 2 "IG model"-- and thus might not even be aware of what a working relationship that provides value to the photographer ought to be.

And the article is spot on that the worth of a "tag" is pretty much nothing unless it's going to attract the attention of a photographer's real intended market (which shouldn't be models, 'cuz models are broke too).

Mr Hogwallop's picture

"Without the introduction of a real customer (the league and its audience) neither would be in business for very long."

That is the best takeaway in this thread.

My response- ‘What a coincidence- my photography fee is exactly the same as your modeling one!’

Walid Azami's picture

hahaha exactly. I understand if the photographer approached the model. In that case, they can negotiate payment to the model or even everyone works for the sake of the photographer. However, when the model approaches the photographer for new pictures and she wanted to get paid for it blows my mind. Thanks for input.

This really is needlessly complicated.

It doesn't matter if you are the photographer or the model. Do you want to work with a model? Are they asking you to pay her rate? Then pay that rate. Or negotiate. Or don't work with that model. Do you want to work with a photographer? Are they asking for payment? Then make that payment. Or negotiate. Or don't work with that photographer. This isn't about "respect" for you as a photographer. You earn respect: and you don't earn respect by treating models as some sort of "alien species." Its about knowing how to run a business.

There is no need to "turn this industry around." Models asking for payment isn't some huge problem affecting the industry and if this is a huge problem for your particular business then there is something fundamentally wrong with your business model. We are not the only industry "that race each other to the bottom." Yes, models ask for free photos. But lets not pretend that photographers don't ask for free photos as well, because photographers ask for free photos all the damn time. Yes we deserve to get paid. But models deserve to get paid as well and they are working every bit as hard as I do to pay their rent, to pay their bills.

Jeff McCollough's picture

And yet I get paid to shoot model portfolios and make quite a bit doing it. I think that photographers are at fault for letting models get free photos all the time or paying models all the time. In turn models tell their model friends that so and so shoots for free or pays all the time for shoots.

Of course if you search out a model and want to shoot with her she will probably give you her rates especially if you are new or are not that good.

Why should. a (female) model ever want to be paid??? After all they are mere sexual objects to be photographed and admired.... We photographers should always get highly compensated to use our state of the art equipment and our extremely valuable time to basically make them look good, for God’s sake!!!

Walid Azami's picture

That's what you think of them?

I was just making an ironic statement to underscore the stupidity of the article’s tittle.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Model (client) approaches photographer (vendor) with a project (photoshoot of model as the product). Client wants vendor to pay for the opportunity to shoot the exclusive product, in return client/model will shout out praise to the vendor X amounts of shouts and likes, using her SM and IG popularity aka creditline or exposure. Hmmmm.

Like Dan mentioned there are different levels of photographers and models.
If you are are C level photog and the A level model offers this project (because A level photogs said take a hike) it may help your SM standing (FWIW) and get some paid or unpaid work. If you are both an A level there should be no money exchanged as both are bringing equal value, as long as both get something out of the project.

I miss the days when models learned how to be a model from an agency and photographers learned how to be a photographer from assisting, not from the WWW.

If the model is famous and you are not, it could benefit you .Other than that, No!

Claire Whitehead's picture

Would love to hear form someone who had done both modelling and photography.
I know some models will move into photography, like how actors move into directing.

It seemed obvious to me.
If photographer hires model to be in photos the photographer will own - photographer pay model.

If model hired photographer to create pictures they will own, model pays photographer.

Nico Socha's picture

If I would get a request for a shoot from a model or sort of a model (like many IG "models"), I have the following options:

1. She fits to my portfolio, so both sides pay expenses on their own.
2. She doesn't fit into my portfolio, I would charge her for the photography and for the retouching.

I never was in the situation that a model writes me and ask to shoot and to pay her, that's ridiculous. If I would get the request, I would not spend any time to explain to her why its weird to ask for money.

There is only one case where I would pay the model If it is a commercial job and a client is paying for everything.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. Most "photographers" don't get that.

Jan Kruize's picture

Just do what feels good for you, or don’t do it.

Tom Weis's picture

Ah the hedonistic answer. :-)

Any two (or more) consenting adults can enter into any business arrangement that they both (all) find agreeable and it's no business of any third party. If I pay the model and we're both satisfied, we did it right. If we barter and we're both satisfied, we did it right. If she gets images in exchange for her time and posing and we're both satisfied, we did it right. If we both had fun and no one got any additional compensation and we're both satisfied, we did it right. The only person who's wrong is the one who says "but you can't do that!"