What Is TFP?

by St Marc
October 30, 2006

Many photographers, models, makeup artists, and so forth do shoots on a "TFP" basis.  Some do strictly TFP, some do a mix of TFP and pay shoots.  What should you expect from a photographer who wants to shoot TFP?  What exactly is TFP?

TFP stands for one or more of the following:

Time For Prints
Time For Portfolio
Trade For Prints
Trade For Portfolio

You will also see digital shooters use the phrase "TFCD" or "TFP/CD."  These mean:

Time/Trade for CD
Time/Trade for Prints/CD

Whatever the particular phrase the letters stand for, the basic idea is simple: In a TFP shoot, no money changes hands.  The model doesn't get an hourly or session fee, and the photographer doesn't get an hourly fee, a session fee, or any pay for providing the model with prints and/or digital images (the "CD" part usually the model gets a CD-R with her image selection burned onto it.) All participants are doing the shoot in hopes of getting good quality images for their portfolios, which they can use for self-promotion to get more, and hopefully paying, work.

TFP is usually the domain of amateur photographers and/or beginning models, although many pros will do a TFP shoot with an amateur model (or an amateur photographer) who can't pay their usual rates but whose look or previous work the professional finds intriguing.  That doesn't mean that outstanding work can't be produced at a TFP shoot: many amateur photographers are "amateurs" only in that photography is not how they pay their bills, and have talent and equipment equal to most professional photographers.  Images obtained through TFP sessions are in many a model's portfolio and have earned many a callback from an agency or pro shooter.

What a model should expect from a TFP shoot:

1) A friendly, professional demeanor from the photographer.  Even if the photographer is an amateur, or a beginner, that's no excuse for not treating the model as the valuable contributor to their work that she is.

2) Work that is a reasonable approximation of the photographer's talent and expertise.  TFP is not "second-class" photography and it should be of good quality.

3) A signed release specifying what the model is to receive as her compensation in the form of prints or digital images.  This protects both the photographer and the model by making their rights and obligations clear to each other.

What a model should not expect from a TFP shoot:

1) Any money.  That includes revenue from later sale or license of the photographs in most cases.  Many photographers have a policy of giving the model some percentage of revenue from such sales or licenses, but unless the model is a pro and the photographer is not, this is not something the model usually demands.  It is more in the nature of a pleasant bonus.

That being said, I would like to address a disturbing trend which has developed in the "Internet" modeling world and is starting to cross over into lower-budget print modeling: "Commercial TFP."  This is where a client seeks a model (or a photographer) for advertising or other commercial usage but only wants to pay in "tears" and/or prints as opposed to compensation in money or at least in desirable products and services (it's quite common for models to get paid with a designer dress for walking the runway at Fashion Week, for instance, and while they're harder to spend than cash designer dresses are certainly not something to idly turn down.)

In my opinion, commercial use is not an appropriate venue for TFP because it's bad for models, and photographers, and makeup artists, et cetera, to give other people the means to make money from their work without getting money in return.  Trade for portfolio, fine.  Trade for art, fine.  Trade, or work cheap, for an editorial tear, fine.  But the line should be drawn at trading for commercial advertising use.  It results in an inferior product and diminishes the overall power of models and photographers with relation to commercial clients.

If you're good enough to be in an ad, you're good enough to get paid.  Now if a client has no budget to pay a model for an ad, I can sympathize, and I don't blame somebody for trying to get the best deal they can for themselves.  But I don't have the money for a Lamborghini, and I suspect that this fact will be notably unhelpful if I try to use it as the justification as to why the dealer should give me one for free.  Nor is "experience" or "exposure" a good reason to do commercial work.  You need experience and exposure to get commercial work.  Once you've got good enough to be in commercial work, it's reasonable to require some economic benefit for yourself in exchange for the economic benefit you provide.

2) Unlimited rights to the photographs.  It is the law in most countries that photographs are the property of the photographer.  The model may have the right to have some say in how they are used, but the photographer is the primary rights-holder.  Most TFP releases provide that the model may only use the photographs for self-promotion and may not sell or relicense them.  However, some models, especially models who are already under contract or hope to submit photographs to a specific user, will specify that certain uses (for example, print use of nude shots) are not allowed.

3) Unlimited prints.  Prints, especially portfolio-quality prints, are not cheap.  The photographer should offer a reasonable quantity, perhaps based on the total number of usable images captured.  If the model wants more prints than are agreed upon before the shoot begins, she should expect to pay a reasonable price for them.

Probably the most common complaint about beginning models doing TFP is that they are unreliable and sometimes don't show up for scheduled shoots.  The usual reply to a complaint of this sort is that since the model's not getting paid, she doesn't have a real obligation to the photographer.  This is, bluntly, wrong.  The photographer has committed to the shoot.  If they did not believe that they were going to have a shoot with that model at that time, they could have scheduled something else.  A no-show model represents time and opportunity wasted, and both of those have a very real monetary value.  Models with reputations for dependability get callbacks and referrals: models who don't, don't.  The world of photography is surprisingly close-knit and it doesn't take long at all for word to get around.

It is also important for the model to understand what will be expected of her at a shoot.  This should be agreed to ahead of time and both photographer and model should honor the agreement.  If the photographer specifies "figure studies," expect to be asked to remove your clothes.  (See my article Types of Nude Photography for more information.) If you told the photographer "no nude shots," and they press you to undress, leave.  If the session is going well and you are both comfortable with each other, you may jointly decide to "kick it up a notch" and do a lingerie shot, or an implied nude, or whatever you are both willing to do.  There's no harm in either party asking politely, once, and you shouldn't be offended so long as the inquiry is polite.  If it's not polite, or if the photographer won't drop the subject after you've made your limits clear, you should end the photo session.

TFP and Paid Tests

"TFP" is an Internet-originated term.  In the traditional photographic/modeling industry, it isn't used much.  However, a similar idea known as a "test" is an established part of modeling practice.  A "test" is a shoot where the photographer isn't taking his usual fee from the model, or shooting for a client.  It usually involves an established photographer and a fairly inexperienced model, although not always.  Tests are often "paid."  This means that the photographer (and anybody else involved like a makeup artist or stylist) gets a nominal fee for their time and effort, which isn't really reflective of what they'd normally get for that level of photographic performance.  A photographer with a $2,000 day rate might do a paid "test" for a few hours and only ask for a few hundred dollars if the model wants the right to use the pictures in her portfolio.  (If the model gets no pictures, she obviously is not going to pay anything.)

Some people use the word "test" to mean the same as "TFP."  They aren't the same, however, and while models don't pay anything for TFP work, they often pay some reasonable fee for testing with an experienced and established photographer.  It is not at all unreasonable for a photographer with skill and experience to ask a model to pay some nominal fee for photographs which would otherwise cost her hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and models should be aware that some photographers will expect to be paid something for such work.


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