I shoot TFP from time to time. It won’t be every week, and maybe not even every month, but I do it. When I have a personal project to work on, or just want to update my portfolio, I’ll start looking around for models to cast.
A shocking amount of time, what I get as a response is that a particular model “does not do TFP”. Or rather, I don’t have to get that response - I’ll see it in their profiles and skip on to the next one.
Even for a professional, this is the wrong response. I understand that when you make a living from modelling, giving up some time to work for free can seem like a lot to ask. The same is true of make up artists and stylists, and - gasp! - photographers.
Yes, that’s right. A photographer has expenses, too. Perhaps more than anyone else in the room if they are providing props, lights, electricity, covering travel, and spending time editing and submitting to publications afterwards. So why is it that a photographer like me would be willing to do TFP, when models aren’t?
Here’s the truth. ALL models should shoot TFP. Not every shoot, and not every month. But they should be open to it. Here, I’m going to explain why.
1. To expand their portfolios
The number one reason why you will do work for free is to get something out of it for your portfolio. Think of it like work experience, or an internship. You take on this opportunity and do the work so that you can put a line on your CV and demonstrate new skills. This makes you more employable in the future and also gives you the experience to put to use in paid situations.
TFP modelling is the same. You get an updated portfolio that looks great. More photographers and casting directors will want to work with you in the future. And when someone asks you to repeat a similar shoot, you will know exactly what to do.
2. To work with people outside of their range
When you are paid to shoot, there are always going to be people who are paid more or are more in demand. An inexperienced photographer may pay a model to shoot even when they have only got a limited portfolio. An experienced photographer is only likely to pay a very experienced model, at least for their own project shoots.
If you want to work on something creative with someone who is really good at what they do, then you may not be able to expect them to pay you. However, if you are around the same level and would like to work together, you can do it without any money having to change hands. if you like, you can imagine that they pay you, and you pay them, because you are both worth the same. This means that you both end up back at 0 where you started. In this sense, a TFP shoot can actually be very valuable.
Before you tell someone that you only work for pay, consider what they are giving you. Add up the fees charged by each member of the creative team. If it comes to more than your normal rate, then you are certainly getting a huge benefit from the shoot when they work with you for free.
3. To always have updated tears and portfolio shots
When you get paid to model, you don’t always get a copy of the images afterwards. It’s certainly not guaranteed that you will be able to use them in your portfolio, or on social media.
On the other hand, when you shoot TFP, you are always given copies of the images - or should be. This means that you can keep your portfolio fresh and up to date. Having only old photos in your portfolio may deter casting directors. How do they know if you still look the same? Why does it look like you haven’t worked for a while?
Avoid this problem with regularly updated shots from TFP shoots.
4. For exposure
TFP shots can often gain you plenty of exposure, so this makes them a great investment of your time. Often, TFP shoots are put forward for publication, which means tear sheets and your name in a magazine.
If the photographer, designer, or another member of the team is a big name, it also opens you up to their network. Remember that being seen and meeting other professionals is a huge part of building a career in modelling.
5. To work with people they like
If there is a particular photographer or make up artist that you admire, then it might be your dream to work with them. It may also be that you have become friends with someone in the industry. If you had the chance to work with them, would you insist on charging them?
TFP work can bring opportunities to experience something really amazing, unlike the work you normally get paid for. It can also be the chance to hang out with someone that you have fun with, and get some great images at the end too.
Don’t forget that people browse portfolios before making contact in many cases. You may have been considered by someone you would love to work with, only for them to cast someone else because your profile or message states that you only work for pay. Do you really want to miss out because of that?
6. To open themselves up to new opportunities
One thing that happens when you work for free is that you meet new people, and have new experiences. All of this can lead to further opportunities down the line.
Although I don’t shoot TFP as much as some, it has always been a foundation of my work. I shoot TFP when I see a gap in my portfolio, want to experiment with a lighting technique, or have a new concept to explore. But when it comes to paid work, casting is very important. I need to cut down on any margin of error and make sure that I have a strong team in place. So what do I do?
I look back at the models I have shot with previously.
This means that a strong TFP shoot, where we get on well and the images look great, could lead to more paid work in the future. In fact, I can state with honesty that every model I have ever paid or invited to be paid by a client was someone I had worked with on a TFP basis previously. Every single one.
If you come across a model who refuses to shoot TFP in the future, assess the situation. If they are much more experienced than you, or they already have similar work in their portfolio, it may well be justified for them to turn you down. If not, do them a favour. Share this post with them. With any luck, they might realise the benefits of working TFP in the future.
You can also share this handy infographic by hovering your mouse over it.