Free portfolio shootings/TfP from a photographer perspective
This blog entry is about rules of the game in the Tfp domain, and it is the first part of my deeper tutorials in the photography area, my second blog entry about image composition can be read here.
First I would like to answer the question of what qualifies me to write on the subject of TfP at all.
Since summer 2019 I’ve been working on a career as a photographer in Munich. The first and most important thing for me was creating an engaging portfolio, gaining experience and becoming a better photographer in general.
Before that, I only gained my experience in portrait photography with friends and family. Since I wanted to try out how I feel with strangers, I tried to get TfP models in and around Munich in front of the camera. First, I randomly wrote to strangers on Instagram, which didn’t work. Acquaintances from the industry drew my attention to Facebook groups and there I found what I was looking for.
Since then, I’ve had countless TfP shootings, in Göttingen, Bremen, Munich and while traveling, spontaneous shootings with people I met in hostels or on the street.
I got a lot wrong during these shootings, was unprofessional and overestimated myself. But I was able to take a lot with me, and now I’m doing a lot more “right“. If you are new or inexperienced in the TfP community, you can take away a lot from my experience. Let’s start with the basics.
Brief introduction: What is TfP
TfP comes from the English-speaking world and traditionally means “Time for Prints“. Of course, in the digital age you hardly ever give out prints, but in practice you can simply convert it into “Time for Pictures“.
In TfP there is typically a trade between two people, the model gives the photographer his time and the photographer does not reward it financially, but with photographs (prints or pictures). As a rule, a contract is concluded that determines how many pictures the model is rewarded with and what the recordings may be used for.
At this point you could go into the contents of the contract in more detail, but that’s not what this blog entry should be about. A simple Google search for keywords like “TfP contract template” works wonders.
Preparation is half the battle
The question: “What do you want anyway?” Is generally underestimated. Do some research on what kind of pictures you would like to take. Check out tutorials and read articles on how best to do this type of shoot. What equipment do you need? Do you need a flash, a bright lens, a tripod or even a studio environment?
Choose projects that match your level of knowledge! We all would like to take photos like Brandon Woefel but if we can’t deliver them like that, promise too much, in the end everyone involved is frustrated.
I had to learn painfully from some fine-art role models that you simply need make-up artists, studio lighting or years of experience for some pictures. The only thing that saved me from the catastrophe were understanding models.
If the shoot is to be outdoors, do a spot scouting beforehand and find out when the best time for pictures is; when is the light suitable, when are there few pedestrians in the picture, which story should the pictures tell, and which outfit goes with it? Often there are also local Facebook groups where you can get helpful location tips. Thanks at this point to the Photography Group in Munich.
Finally, you pack all of this into a clear and polite job advertisement including your work samples. It is important to have clear announcements of what you are looking for, for what period of time and links to your profile, website, portfolio, etc. The latter not only for making contact, but also to underpin your serious intentions. Otherwise, of course, follow the common group rules when you submit an application.
How to choose a model
Storytime: My first shoot, after my initial post in a TfP group in Munich and the surrounding area, should take place at seven in the morning after long writing back and forth. The “model” wanted pictures of herself on her horse. I had no experience of taking pictures of people on horses, so I thought, why not? In the morning the riding stables at the English Garden in Munich should still be relatively empty, so I got up at six and set off with my bike and equipment. I waited until 8 for one hour – then I gave up and acknowledged that I was wasting my time – I didn’t get any feedback or excuse from the “model“, just ghosted me afterwards.
Just as there are amateur photographers in TfP, there are also amateur models. Everyone has to start and everyone should have the opportunity to gain experience in front of and behind the camera. And of course every private person has a good right to join such a group in order to be able to take part in a portrait shoot. My favorite model, with whom I have worked several times, had no previous experience at all, but is an absolute natural talent.
Nevertheless, in my experience there are a few factors that can make your work as a photographer a lot easier when choosing a model and one of those is if your model already has experience. In fact, this means that the model:
- Contacted you directly for your work
- Knows what he/she wants, provides you with moodboards, example pictures and outfit ideas
- Already gathered experience with other photographers and knows what poses work best
- is answering you frequently and is interested in a steady and productive workflow
Same goes for the photographer as well, answer in a friendly manner and regular – show interest.
The first TfP Shooting
↯ No-Go’s ↯
Showing up without a contract. Its not only unprofessional to take pictures of a stranger without any legal base, but can also have negative consequences for both parties if there are no clear guidelines, for what the pictures are allowed to be used and for what not. A contract protects both, the model and the photographer, it’s good advertisment for the photographer, it protects and it creates an atmosphere of trust.
Offering the first shooting in your “home studio” / that’s a bit of a controversial one but hear me out: Most photographers who work on TfP don’t own a studio yet, so their “studio” is mostly their home. Additionally, most photographers are white, male men between 30 and 50 (I’m not joking there are studies) and from my experience, most models are young women in their early 20ties or even younger. So for many models, an invitation for the first shooting to an older, stranger of the opposite sex into his home (or imagine his boat) for a photoshooting, can be a straight ticket for a bad experience and sadly, sometimes it is.
Forgetting your equipment: That’s a very embarrassing one that happens to all photographers down the line: forgetting to charge the camera, no SD-Card inserted, those kinds of things. Simple solution: ALWAYS and I mean always check your bag before heading out.
Pushing the model towards expectations: Pretty straight forward, if a model doesn’t feel comfortable with something during the shooting, then it’s not up for discussion. And to clarify that, it’s not that you can’t ask questions or encourage your model, but know your boundaries. If you go out of a shooting without the pictures you expected, then it’s on you for not communicating beforehand clearly what pictures you want out of this shooting.
A very short input on the issue: If you want to meet a model with other intentions than taking pictures, don’t do it. When a dynamic arises during the shoot that a friendship or even more develops, that’s fine, it happens, happened to me more than once, and it’s great if a professional encounter develops in stuff like a friendship. But you should never expect those things to occur, in the same way you wouldn’t go to a barber shop to get to know the person who cuts your hair better.
Why do you have to underline this topic? Photographers like to choose models that appeal to them physically and visually. The model however doesn’t choose the photographer because of his appearance, but because of his work. And oh boy, many photographers don’t get this.
Does that mean you can’t be attracted to a model and still work with him or her? Nope, you can, but keep that passion and emotion in the creative process, use it, transform it into amazing portraits! But it stays in the pictures and not in your interaction with the person who is only interested in your professional work.
That’s why I’ll make this very clear, TfP is not a place to find a partner or friend. And those models who have already worked several times on a TfP base have usually come into contact with photographers who cannot make this distinction. Don’t be that photographer, be professional.
✔ To-Do’s ✔
Positive reinforcement: In itself absolutely clear, but for many photographers (including myself) a huge hurdle to overcome. I don’t mean by any means, to whack out comments like “oh, yes. That looks really HOT“; for God’s sake please don’t! Instead, give small positive reinforcements: “good“, “very nice“, “hold that expression – perfect“, which helps to build up a dynamic and simply puts you in a good mood.
Show the model the pictures already during the shoot: Yes, most photographers prefer to only show the perfect, edited, straightened, filtered and best of all retouched picture but it can be so relaxing and motivating for a model to participate in the process by getting a little idea of what the pictures will look like beforehand. Therefore, if a picture really stands out during a location, then show it to the model. I usually just hand over the model the whole camera to look through all the portraits taken. It also has a huge benefit, sometimes the model notices stuff that you as a photographer don’t, like wrinkles in the clothing (also everybody is worried about the hair sitting right).
Discuss the contract between or after the shoot: For me, it’s always a good time in the middle of or after the shoot to discuss the contract. On the one hand, you have a good idea of how many pictures worked, and you can promise the model safely – on the other hand, you have the written work behind you and can relax and use the remaining time.
Be positive and self-confident: Quite simply, the more comfortable your model feels, the better the pictures will be, and when do you feel good? When you feel you are in competent hands. Therefore, you might not be a sunshine by nature, or you might still feel insecure behind the camera – but it doesn’t matter: You should put on your photographer persona during the shoot, and it is self-confident, it is professional, positive and motivated: It belongs to the job as much as the poses and expression of the model! And that’s exactly what TfP is there to learn.
Clear, direct communication: While we’re on the subject; don’t talk around the obvious. If the shoot should rather go in an erotic direction then say what you want directly. “Lean a little further and emphasize your neckline a little“, “Give me a cheeky look over the shoulder” is much better than moving around and signalizing the model that you are just insecure. In general, if you are embarrassed by such instructions, it clearly shows that you have not distanced yourself professionally from the situation and that is something that you absolutely have to learn.
It’s about the person, not the picture
As a photographer, when you get better and better, you start to realize how many other great photographers are out there (or not, but you should) and you might notice all kinds of imperfections in your pictures: Here the focus was not perfect, there is unfortunately overexposed and there is the hand of the model is our of frame. We are used to being confronted with the best pictures from photographers all over the world every day and that might make you feel worse about your own work.
Those self-doubts can also affect a shooting – as soon as you arrive at a desired location, you notice that the light is just not perfect; Cloudy softbox weather, you wanted to work with the hard shadows, and you’re getting frustrated.
And that’s not what’s important. The photos, no matter how perfect you want to take them, you won’t find them so great in a year anyway – because you have grown and honed your skills as a photographer… hopefully. And I guarantee you one thing: most of what will annoy you as an advanced photographer will not be noticed at all by the untrained eye.
Much more important is how you make the person in front of the camera feel. Do you give that person the feeling that you are grumpy because you didn’t take THE perfect picture, because you have technical difficulties? Or do you give the person in front of the lens the feeling that they are the center of attention and that you are fully focused on them, getting involved with them. Because in the end you portray a person and not just take a photo of someone.
While we’re at it, it always paid off for me to involve my model in the process of the shoot: “What do you think about this pose?”, “Do you know any good spots we can use as a background in the area?“, and so on. Most of my TfP shootings are heavily influenced by my models and their spontaneous ideas.
Before we round things up, here are some smaller advices that helped me work together with a model on a TfP base:
- If you want to make a preselection and you have an Adobe subscription, you can easily create an online gallery via Lightroom. If your model has an Adobe account, he/she can directly like the pictures he/she wants and they will be tagged directly in the program.
- Your model wants to bring a boyfriend or girlfriend? Good idea! Especially with beginners in the TfP area, familiar faces not only relax the model, but you can also include them as a fantastic help in the shoot. If they are around anyways they can hold that reflector for their darling right?
- The longer it takes to set a shooting date, the less likely it is that it will actually happen. In my experience, a shoot either works really quickly or it takes weeks/months and in the end probably won’t take place at all. That’s why I don’t invest too much time in models that offer me appointments at some point in the distant future or that cannot offer a fixed date, unless of course I reaaaally want to work with them.
- Pinterest is a fantastic platform for sending mood boards and collecting new inspiration for photo shoots. Behance from Adobe isn’t bad either, furthermore it might include more artsy inspirations.
- Promise fewer pictures than you think you could deliver max: If you think 15 pictures turned out incredibly good after the shoot, promise your model 10. Simply because, you often notice in post-production after the shooting, that some pictures may not have turned out well after all, and you rather should send fewer excellent portraits, than many mediocre shots.
- Take a business card with you and give it to the model after the shoot.
- Make it clear to your model exactly how you want to be linked in the pictures! Not to be underestimated, because TfP also means free advertising for you if the model uploads the pictures somewhere. So think about how you want to be mentioned: Is it your Instagram name, your company name, your FB page or do you insist on a watermark?
So much for my hints and advices in the TfP area. I hope this article has helped you. It may well be that I will continue to update this entry in the course of time, depending on what will open up to me on the topic. If you found this information helpful or would like to add something, please leave me a comment.
Addendum & input from colleagues
After having received feedback, criticism and constructive input on the topic in several groups, I would like to enrich this entry with the additions of my colleagues:
Marvin Wagnr (photographer from Munich) draws attention to the fact that the model decides what his good side is:
“Show the model pictures during the shooting because they are usually the biggest critic themselves and take their criticism seriously, no matter how beautiful a mole/half of the face may be, if the model does not like it, it will not be photographed”
“It’s not a dating site, but my philosophy is “fall in love with your model for the moment, regardless of gender, and learn to appreciate the visual aspect you have chosen” may sound strange, but it helped me with my mindset”
Mike Kreiten (also a photographer from Munich) recommends a meeting before the shoot:
“I would recommend meeting and discussing first. If you start to mess with the camera for the first time, it takes some time before you “settle in”. You can also see whether it works with the reliability on both sides and how the other ticks. You can then take this into account in advance of jointly decided ideas. There are beautiful posers and beautiful posers. There are models that deliver and models that you have to guide to achieve success. If both of you have no plan, save your time”.
Opinions about a companion differed from photographer to photographer, there have been stories of reports of sexual harassment from models, but also concerns that a companion could distract and take away the dynamism of the shoot from photographers. Sören Buurmann (photographer from Hanover) recommends that the models obtain references from other models about the photographer:
“I recommend that insecure models simply get a reference from the models that have already worked with me. I also don’t particularly like companions because I also try to get close emotional contact with the models, which is difficult when the friend is sitting with me. Which means the model cannot talk about herself as she would if he wasn’t there, for example. “
“I have been modeling for 7 years and only had a handful of companions with me, because then I cannot find myself and am distracted. You can find out more about the photographer beforehand.
Ultimately, it’s all risk. No matter whether you sign a TfP contract or not, you wait forever for the pictures or something else is done with them or whether you take an accompanying person with you or not. That is research and a matter of feeling and everyone has to know for himself, as long as one does not approach the matter blindly & naively.“
Addendum on the subject of the TfP contract
The to-do of the TfP contract also polarized a bit, so here is a small addendum on the subject:
First of all: You might add on the matter that, I have portraited people who I met spontaneously in hostels without a contract. Also, the article is written from my perspective, and not someone who purely pursues photography as a hobby and why should hobby photographers bring contracts with them?
And you may even be an incredibly trustworthy, honest and reliable person and that is why you don’t need a TfP contract and there have never been any complaints about not having one. But I don’t care, I’ll stick to the fact that no TfP contract is a no-go and here’s why:
In my opinion, the contract is primarily intended to protect the model. Ultimately, the model is photographed and not the photographer. After the shoot, I go home with the other person’s pictures and that person has no prospect or guarantee what I’m going to do with the pictures without a contract, the model wont know;
- When the pictures will be done and delivered,
- how many pictures there are,
- what they are used for,
- and what happens to the data,
- whether money is made with the pictures,
- or whether you have something to say in terms of editing,
all of that and even more, is simply not clarified without a contract.
And that would be very important to me if I would decide to meet with a person I actually don’t know and who’s going to take a bunch of pictures of me. In my opinion, a verbal agreement is absolutely not enough. Apart from that, there is also a social demographic difference:
Most of the models are in their early or under 20 years of age, are studying or work part-time jobs. Hobby photographers are often permanently employed, 30+ and have a solid life (exceptions confirm the rule). That being said, in case of a conflict, the life experience and financial background, helps a photographer in most cases to deal with a possible legal dispute much more easily.
In summary, I would like to say that in the TfP you are not at eye level with each other – a contract shows solidarity and creates clear relationships.