Portraits of her: Best tips for trade for portfolio shoots (TFP) with models

I started working with local agency models around 5 years ago for portrait shoots and I continue to collaborate with new and seasoned models pretty often.

I’ve had great shoots and some not so great shoots. There is no secret formula to these test shoots, but there are some best practices I highly recommend when taking on these TFP sessions.

Best tips for TFP model test shoots
Model test shoot with Juliana

Trade for Photos (TFP) Shoots and Collaborations

Before diving into this list, keep in mind there are many different styles and experience levels of models in the industry.

Personality types will also play a big factor in working with specific models so keep an open mind.

After reading this list, the best thing to do is to keep a running list of the models you connect well with and keep building your portfolio.

1. Schedule your shoot in advance

Models and photographers normally schedule 2-3 weeks out when it comes to photo shoots. This helps both collaborators hash out all the details and collect extra items for the shoot if needed.

Rarely do models shoot on the fly unless they have same day cancellations and they’re ready to shoot with no photographer available.

If you find yourself in this situation, make sure you have simple ideas or concepts and a location that is easily accessible and ready at a moments notice.

I don’t recommend taking these on all the time, but if you already have a working relationship with the model, there is a higher chance the shoot will be successful due to previous experience.

Example moodboard image
Example Moodboard for Test Shoot

2. Decide on a theme and stick to your concepts

This tip may seem basic, but I hear stories all the time of photographers setting a theme for a shoot, only to change it onsite, and asking the model to do a concept she is not comfortable with.

This is a perfect way to end a shoot early and forget about your chances of rescheduling for another time.

It’s very important that both parties agree on a theme or concept prior to a shoot, and that the photographer sticks to this theme onsite.

Yes, collaboration will still occur, but realize you need to stay within limits of the concept.

If you need help with moodboards, make sure to check this out here.

3. Build a team, not just a session

When you reach out, be ready for a model to ask if you have a make-up artist (MUA) or stylist for your shoot.

A model wants to look her best, and when you have a team behind you ready to support the shoot, it makes her feel more confident in your concepts.

Not all concepts need a team, but it’s good to have one available for more intricate themes.

Portraits of her
Model test shoot with Adrian

4. Recommend a chaperone or friend

This is a key tip for working with new models. I always recommend they bring a friend or chaperone to the shoot.

This can go for photographers as well. Many will decide for themselves if they need one, but I always make the option clear up front. No exceptions.

This is good practice and helps models feel comfortable and safer when working with new photographers. This should be a standard in the industry, but everyone works differently.

5. Onsite communication is key

Before you start your shoot, make sure to set expectations for better results. If there are specific poses or looks you would like to try, make sure to communicate this up front with the model.

During the shoot, things will come up. I like to show the model some of the photos from behind the camera so she can make adjustments if necessary.

Shooting tethered is a great idea for indoor shoots so the team can have instant feedback and review images.

I transfer my photos via WiFi to my phone when the model is changing and I have them ready to preview before the next set. It tends to work really well when onsite and lets the models see their progress from the session.

6. Follow up and give updates

Once the collaboration is finished, make sure to follow-up with the model with final images and any requests you have.

I always request the model tag/credit me on social media for more exposure. I make it clear that no filters or effects are to be put onto the images when posting.

Make it clear when the final photos will be delivered and try to stick to this schedule. If something comes up, then make sure to communicate this to your models and other team members.

7. Have a contract or model release form ready

I know many photographers who will not shoot without a contract in place. For example, this can be a release form that is signed by the model and photographer so both parties can share the photos online.

Many contracts have different stipulations, so make sure to send them over to the model asap before the shoot. Give them time to review and ask any questions as needed.

experience working with models on test shoots
Model test shoot with Kelsey

My experiences working with Models on test shoots

Having the opportunity to meet and work with models has been a great experience. I’ve built 90% of my portrait portfolio with models from the Dallas metroplex and around the surrounding areas.

I learned more and more during each session, and built long-term partnerships with models, MUAs, and stylists.

Each experience is different so learn to be flexible as a photographer and get to know your subject.

Model test shoot portrait
Model test shoot with Yeritzah

How to meet models for TFP shoots

If you’re interested in working with models, make sure to check out my TFP shoot article here. I breakdown how to find models and setup test shoots.

There is no secret formula. Instagram is my main source of meeting and messaging models for simple test shoot ideas.

You may have to reach out directly to agencies for other style and more experienced models.

The best thing you can do is start your portfolio with friend and family. Once you have a diverse portfolio to show your style, then reach out to potential models on social media.

Quick list of best tips for TFP shoots

  1. Schedule your shoot in advance
  2. Decide on a theme or concept and stick to it
  3. Build a team, not just a session
  4. Recommend a chaperone or friend
  5. Onsite communication is key
  6. Follow up and give updates
  7. Have a contract or model release form ready


If you stick to your concepts, and schedule shoots ahead of time, then you are increasing your chances of having better test shoots.

Portrait shoots with experienced models can make for great portfolio images, especially when you have a team ready and willing to collaborate on your concepts and ideas.

Do your best to be as flexible as possible while creating the best results that you can do. best of luck and happy shooting!

*Affiliate Disclaimer - I am a proud partner of the various affiliate programs including the Amazon.com Affiliate Program. When you click on my links and make a purchase I make a commision which goes to helping me support this blog. Thanks!

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