I doubt anyone really knows exactly when TFP started, but I’m certain it’s existed since long before I was born — and that was a long time ago! How the practice began is a classic “the chicken or the egg” question. Was it an aspiring model who approached a photographer to offer her modeling in exchange for free photos or did a photographer approach a model with the offer? Regardless of how it started, it has become a standard practice in the industry. Today when a model & photographer exchange their services to each other without pay for mutual portfolio building, it is known as TFP — Trade for Photos.
The best case scenario is when a skilled photographer pairs up with a stunning model who needs to build or update her/his portfolio. Chances are good they’ll both mutually benefit from the images created by their collaboration. Ideally, the images they create together will lead to paying gigs in the future. It’s a win/win for both parties.
Unfortunately, there are a couple groups who misunderstand how TFP is supposed to work. One of those groups is newbie models. The TFP concept is often completely unknown to them and they don’t understand that it’s a sensible way to gain experience while strengthening their portfolios. The other group is more exploitative — business people who try to get free commercial photography by promising exposure. Cheap and shameless.
Aspiring models can be forgiven for not seeing the bigger picture and value of doing TFP shoots with established photographers. They’ll learn that TFP is their friend and not their enemy. Every major modeling agency worldwide requires their new models to do TFP shoots with agency approved photographers to build their portfolios. No money gets exchanged between the agency, the photographer or the model. It’s all about portfolio building, updating and strengthening. The agency wins, the model wins and the photographer wins with this arrangement.
Now for the bad news. Unfortunately, there are unethical business people who try to hijack the TFP concept in an attempt to get free commercial photography. A common tactic is to boast about how successful their business is or how many followers they have on social media. They ask for free commercial photography in exchange for a “shout out” on Instagram or Facebook. They frame it as “an opportunity”, implying that creating great commercial images for them free of charge will lead to an avalanche of paying clients knocking at the photographer’s (or model’s) door. I wonder if they try that same pitch on the plumber or the auto mechanic? I doubt it.
The traditional TFP arrangement between a model and a photographer represents an equal and fair risk/gain where it’s simply two artists helping each other out. An Amazon seller or other business person who wants free photos to instantly profit from using them is nothing more than pure exploitation. I always tell new photographers and models to avoid those “clients” like the plague!