When I first started natural light portrait photography, one of the biggest road blocks in my mind was how I was going to build my portfolio.
I asked friends and family to pose for me, but I wanted to start working with more seasoned models who were comfortable posing in front of the camera.
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TFP portrait shoots to build your portfolio
I came across the term “TFP” in some of the photography groups on Facebook, and I knew I had found the answer. Let’s discuss what exactly are TFP shoots and how these collaborations can be beneficial to helping beginners build a portfolio.
TFP Portrait Shoots
Depending on who you ask, TFP shoots can stand for 2 different things. It can mean “Trade for Prints” or it can mean “Trade for Photos”. Both pretty much mean the same thing, and refer to a type of shoot where a photographer and model agree to work together but no money is exchanged for services. Each trades time and skills in order to complete a collaboration and share the images as a final result.
The specifics around the shoot can range, but one specific detail always remains constant between the photographer and model.
Each agrees that the portrait shoot that is strictly a trade shoot. The model does not get paid for her time, and the photographer does not get paid for his time during or after the shoot.
Before the shoot starts, the photographer and model agree to a certain amount of retouched photos to be delivered to the model within a timeframe after the shoot is completed.
Photographers will also add in some of the JPGs from the shoot, but not all do this. Both photographer and model in this agreement can utilize the photos for marketing and building portfolios.
Trade services for collaborations
I remember when I was just starting out, I wanted to work with models that specialized in more fashion style portrait shoots. Not having a large budget to pay models, I knew it was still important to build my portfolio.
I had no problem reaching out to models and asking them if they do TFP shoots online. Instagram and Facebook were my main source of models looking to collaborate. There are also many Facebook groups that specifically deal with bringing together models, photographers, stylists, and make-up artists to do TFP shoots.
I connected with one of the largest groups and put learned to put out simple model calls. These model calls consisted of a theme and general time and date and I would have models reach out to me to schedule times for a collaboration shoot if they liked the concepts.
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My model calls started pretty simple when I first began but soon enough got more detailed. I started creating mood boards to help bring my ideas together and help my models figure out what concepts I had in mind.
I would put together 2-3 mood boards for a single shoot. These would display a certain style, color or emotion that I wanted to convey with my next collaboration. If your interested in how I create my mood boards check out this article here.
Why you should do TFP shoots as a beginner
Building your portfolio is one of the most important steps in getting started in portrait photography. Being able to show a professional portfolio can help you find clients, and lets people get a glimpse into your style of work.
When you can build your portfolio for free (minus the time spent on a shoot and editing), this is a great way to practice and get more comfortable working with other industry professionals.
TFP shoots are also a way to meet new people and build your network. Don’t underestimate the power of networking, especially in the photography community. The photographer and model community is built on relationships and recommendations so make sure you always put your best foot forward.
Get started with TFP portrait shoots
90% of all the people I have come across in the photography/modeling industry know what TFP stands for. I knew it was something that was instilled into the industry, and I was glad because it gave me the opportunity to grow.
If you’re ready to start working on a TFP basis, your first step as a photographer is to decide how many final retouched photos you are willing to edit and hand over to a model.
I started with this general guideline. I edit 8-10 photos per 1 hour of shooting. These photos were the best of the session, and fully edited to the best of my abilities. If you’re interested in my photography workflow from start to finish, check out this detailed article here.
I always tried to keep my shoots to a single hour, and occasionally they ran over with the permission of the model and any assistants I had with me. I always put the general time as well in the details I send to the models via email.
Who does TFP shoots?
To be honest, I have worked with models, stylists, makeup artists and even other photographers. I usually scheduled a shoot 2 weeks in advance if possible, and all details are emailed to everyone involved so that it gives plenty of time for questions to be answered.
I know beginner and seasoned photographers that still do TFP shoots in order to stay creative and get away from client work.
Keep in mind, that since no money is being offered for work, some people tend to back out easier than when it’s a paid shoot. It will happen more than once, but keep in mind that sometimes life happens.
I know many models who also started with TFP shoots and eventually moved to paid shoots only. This is pretty common once a model gets more experience and wants to charge for her time.
The same goes for many other creative professionals. TFP shoots are a stepping stone to learning and collaborating with other people. Once you feel you have enough experience, then move to paid shoots.
Everyone will do this at different times so don’t feel like you need to be following a specific timeline.
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Is Trade For Photos (TFP) portrait shoots right for you
I’ve built great working relationships with models all over the Dallas Fort Worth and surrounding areas because of TFP shoots. The networking alone was a huge advantage and I always recommend portrait photographers give it a try.
In the end, it’s up to you and the time you are willing to give to a collaboration. I know many photographers who only do paid shoots with models and clients and I there is nothing wrong with this.
If you’re starting out and want to show your skills, then maybe this is a great way for you to start. Also there is less pressure since no money is changing hands. Just you and your subject learning as you go.
Don’t be scared to reach out to models and to see if they’re interested in a TFP shoot or collaboration. Keep in mind many people are looking for a particular look for their portfolio so you may get some “no” answers along the way.
Keep practicing and trying to reach another level with your photography, and you will find that many more people will be coming directly to you for these type of shoots.
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