My Beginnings of TF Collaboration and How I Used a Modeling Website to Better My Quality

My Beginnings of TF Collaboration and How I Used a Modeling Website to Better My Quality

Everyone has a different feeling on collaboration. I feel that it's a very good thing for a new photographer, but I also feel it can be greatly misused or misrepresented. I used a model/photographer finding website to gain skills and experience via collaboration, and I feel it was a shortcut to what would otherwise have been years of work.

Working for Free

When I transitioned from working for a full-time studio to running my own business, I knew that I wanted to produce quality, but I had lacked some basic knowledge that would be necessary to produce the level of work I wanted to produce. This is where shooting for free I feel was paramount. Many people subscribe to the “fake it 'til you make it” philosophy, but I do not. I feel that's doing a disservice to anyone who hires you to create images for them. As a professional, I feel there is and should be a certain expected standard. Others have argued about that with me claiming the old standby “photography is art, and art is subjective,” and while that's true, I still think there needs to be a basic standard for a pro. When I see blue people from terrible white balance, or a very unflattering pose for a heavy subject, it speaks to me about the experience level of the photographer. This is where shooting for free (usually models, or girls who want to be models) really can help. 

By a TF (trade-for) arrangement, you are taking pictures and the model is getting pictures. You can do an infinite amount of this until you feel that your quality is where it should be. What I used to do when shooting a certain type of photo, be it outdoor, city, or whatever it may be, before the session I would gather inspiration photos from anywhere I could that had the look I was after. After the shoot, I would go back and take my pictures and literally compare them side by side to see what was different, make notes, and try to do better next time. When you do this, you should certainly be able to see that there's a difference and you need to make changes. Imagine how long it would take to learn the same amount from doing only work from customers.

I rarely shoot collaborations now. If I do then it's something really special that I really feel will make a signature piece for my gallery and website. But what I can say is that the shooting for free, given the number of free sessions I did versus the average number of clients per year that are served, I'd say I shaved 10 years of gaining experience off had I only done that same practice on actual clients. It made a huge difference, and it was worth it.

Model Mayhem

I also rarely use Model Mayhem anymore, but it was a big part of how I got started as I used it to find models to work with. I would seek out models that didn't have first class images in their portfolio, as they would be more likely to want TF work so obtain the best pics they possibly can. I always had excellent luck with models that were friendly and things went well. It goes without saying, but I'll say anyway that it's very important to behave in a professional manner with them, and respect. One flirt and your reputation can be shot before it ever gets started. 

I was able to find enough models from this site alone to build a portfolio and then continue growing with each session. I still do that to this day, I always go back and ask myself how could I have made it better. Then each time I would get a better picture that was similar to something I had, I'd remove the old and add the new. Over time I found that I finally liked what I was producing.

I feel it's very important to put only your best work on your portfolio. We all have images that may be salable but aren't our best. Leave those out. 

Using Model Mayhem 

Using Model Mayhem can be greatly enhanced especially with one of the paid tiers; mine has been $6 per month. When you do that, it enables more images in portfolio and some other features such as how many messages you can send in a day to non-friends. But the real power is in the ability to use BBCode. Just like any forum, you can use BBCode to include links (useful for your website) or embed pictures right into the message which is helpful for collaborating on outfits, style suggestions, etc.

The way I have made this efficient is to have some preset messages and replies ready to go and saved in a Google Doc, much like I mentioned before which was in regard to social posting. This way, when I am traveling and want to find a model to shoot in the city where I am, I can easily on my phone write to one and have a preset message ready to go, saving me from the effort of trying to type something professional on the little phone screen. Having the signature image (I use a screenshot of my website gallery) and a link to website in the message really helps you stand out in a platform like this where 99 percent of all users just type plain text replies and makes you look more professional. I have found it's all in the details for impressions and how you present yourself, especially to a new model you have not worked with before.

I will admit that I don't use the site much anymore since I don't really do collaboration work often, however it was instrumental in getting to where I am today and I do recommend it for growing your skills and giving yourself the chance to work with different people and produce different looks.

As with any website, obviously put your best work in your Model Mayhem gallery. Don't put everything you shoot there. Less is more. A few really good images speaks to someone who doesn't know you as “this person takes great images every time” versus a gallery of 100 images with a few great ones speaks “this person takes a great image once in awhile.” Big difference in how you are seen.

The Before and After

Here's a few images from when I had first started working with models. I am mortified to post these, but I believe it's important to go back and see where you were so you can realize how far you've come.

One of my earlier photos that I thought I was great at the time. I look back now and go “eww.” I knew nothing. It's important to gauge where you are and where you have been.

More early work.

Whew, that hurt to share publicly.

Here's a few samples of recent work, all of which I believe would have been much different had I not used the modeling site to get a lot of learning basics out of the way.

Most recent work.

Recent fall session.

A re-do on an image I had done before, shot with a new model and new skills to improve on my first one.

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21 Comments

Tam Nguyen's picture

Holy fuck dude that first photo looks like shit! Though I bet mine even looks shittier if I dig up some of the photos in my early days. Hell, they still look like this now. Yours have improved drastically!

olivier borgognon's picture

That must be one of the most blunt and honest answer I have read in a while. LOL. I agree with you and it's with huge humility that we appreciate the massive effort it can take to post an old photo we took.

Great article and interesting view on it all, and wow. great improvement and work from bill.

Bill Larkin's picture

lol it sure does look like shit, I almost couldn't bring myself to share but that was the point, we must work to improve over time, and I think it's really important to measure every once in awhile and make sure you are on the right path!

Oliver Saillard's picture

Yeah, the diffierence is quite impressive. How many years have gone between the first pics and the recent one ?

Bill Larkin's picture

Thanks, and that's a great question, I am not sure I know at least 5, possibly more. I'd have to try and find dates.

Deleted Account's picture

As the saying goes, "we all had to start somewhere." Most of us don't just decide to pick up a camera and create the perfect image the first time. It takes a long time of practice and perseverance. Kudos to you for sharing. Heck, I cringe if I go back to old images and debate on deleting them all because they are so bad. then I come here and see all the great artists on here and realize how far I still have to go. If I delete the old ones, then I'd have to delete the current because they do not even come close to a lot of you. :)

Dave Coates's picture

I am still walking a similar path. Having only taken up photography seriously a couple years ago, I still do may TF sessions and Group shoots. I think the most rewarding and difficult thing is looking back at some shots, you can how bad they are, but also how they could have been better. Its a reminder that you're learning and getting better.

Vincent Alongi's picture

This is good stuff. I've registered at Model Mayhem and need to really fill out a good profile there. Without a doubt, building up the basic experience of model shooting to get some portrait work in will be key... let alone honing the quality of work and building a style.

I'm very vanilla in my approach, it's going to be extremely helpful to get ideas on creative works. I'm opening my eyes to the whole environmental portrait stream... I think that tells a nice story if it's done right.

Leif Egil Hegdal's picture

Thank you for giving insight into your path !

Douglas Turney's picture

Bill, can you provide any insight into how to filter the models on MM? For instance when I look on MM it is obvious that some of the "models" have no experience. I get it that we all have to start somewhere but just like there are creepy photographers some of the models are....scary. On the other hand, obviously the most experienced models aren't usually looking for TF work. Any pointers beyond looking at the model's portfolio? Any questions you typically ask the potential model to get a better idea of their talents? After all it is a collaboration between the model and the photographer that produces the best photos.

Musing Eye's picture

There is the "Verified Credit" system they've put in relatively recently (year ago?) so you can at least see where they've done work with other photographers in the system. Other than that I think it's just a matter of having that conversation with them.

Bill Larkin's picture

Actually, yes I can. In my area, there's a lot of amateur photographers and few high end pro's, so therefore there's many girls on MM that don't have great photos. Those are actually the ones I targeted, if they had excellent work already, they are less likely to want to work with someone TF. I just looked for girls that i could tell were pretty, but needed good pictures, that way it worked out great.

Nohemi Capetillo's picture

Wow, just wow! That took a lot of courage to post and it's great to see how far you've come. Practice, practice. practice and never stop learning is what I tell myself. Thank you for posting this!

Bill Larkin's picture

thanks, I feel it's always great to look back at where we came from to get a little good feeling about where we are now. Help keep us motivated to keep growing. In a super oversaturated industry now, I think it's more important than ever before to continue to grow and be as high end as possible to help set-apart from the growing sea of photographers.

Henry Louey's picture

Modelmayhem is the Myspace of the modelling world.

Like the OP i haven't done a collaboration off modelmayhem in over 3 years. 99% of my new collaborations come from IG and FB now

Musing Eye's picture

So far I've found that the non-response rate on IG is higher than MM, but I see myself using IG more. The bottom line though is that MM is purpose built for photographers and models, allowing you to search in ways that IG just doesn't. If you've built up some patterns on how to use IG to find the right model for the right shoot, I'd love to hear about your approach!

Musing Eye's picture

I really appreciate this post. I know most of FS content is aimed more towards the professional than the hobbyist like myself, but this is good. Right now I'm using MM (and more recently IG) for finding models and the cost is a limiter (though my time is moreso). I should probably look for more TF opportunities to get more time and experimentation behind the camera.

Bill Larkin's picture

yes, I absolutely recommend growing skills this way, it will make your customers' work that much better.

David Evans's picture

I'm still doing this. Not a "pro" yet. Rented a camera the other day and only found out after the shoot that it was set to jpgs and not raw. That's how you learn and no one can be pissed off because it's free.

stir photos's picture

Great improvement, absolutely! Some good advice in there, as well. I don't subscribe to the "fake it until you make it" idea either... I think it makes those folks look silly.

I'll say this though, I had shit luck with Model Mayhem and used FB in my earliest days trying to source models and more recently IG. I never gave up on MM though, and kept trying to see if it would yield any results, but ultimately didn't so I just closed my account.

Kudos to digging up those old skeletons in the closet haha. I really appreciate the words of wisdom and truly impressed by your progression. Cheers!