For Photographers: 8 Reasons Why That Model Wont Shoot ‘TFP’ With You

It’s another quiet evening, sitting in front of your computer planning your next shoot. You decide to check your email and social media accounts to see if that model you contacted for a TFP shoot has gotten back to you yet. You see she replied to your message, but your excitement quickly dissipates as her response simply states “Sorry, not interested.” Oh well, at least there was an actual reply from this one. You go back to Model Mayhem, Facebook, and/or Instagram looking for a replacement, wondering why its so hard to get these models to shoot with you.

TFP, as we all know, has become a loose definition in the model/photography industry to describe an arrangement where everyone works together on a photo project “for free”. It is generally agreed upon that in doing so, the model, photographer, as well as makeup artist or fashion designer will all receive images from the shoot that they may freely use in their portfolio. TFP, defined as Trade For Print or Time For Pics, can vary widely depending on each arrangement. TFP shoots are extremely common, with photographers and models of all levels of talent and experience lending their time to these arrangements.

But if this is so common, and you are finding yourself being turned down for TFP by models who you KNOW shoot for free with other photographers, you may be feeling a bit frustrated.
Below are 8 probable reasons why that model wont shoot TFP with you.

1. What’s in it for Them?

More specifically, what can they gain from you that they cant gain from someone else? What is different about shooting with you? Say you have a fantastic shoot idea – what makes your work special that they cant get by shooting the same theme with someone else? Determine what the model’s goals are for TFP. Are they focused on getting published? Are they wanting to diversify their portfolio? Are they in it simply for the art? Or do they simply just enjoy shooting for a self esteem boost? You may have all the connections to the most popular magazines, but if a model doesn’t care about that and just wants to make art, she’s not going to care too much about that. Or if you have a great piece of art you want to create and your work is absolutely brilliant, a model who is after ‘tear-sheets’ and trying to raise her social media profile may not care too much.

Solution: Tell them what you are prepared to offer them in return. Typically its copies of the images from the shoot. But perhaps you may offer actual prints. Or a good chance of magazine publication. Or shared copyright. Maybe even give out the camera-raw files (I can already hear you grabbing your pitchforks). Sweeten the deal a bit and go above just offering web-versions of the images, and you may find more success.

2. Wrong Type of Casting

If a model is making a decision to take time out of her schedule to do a photo-shoot with you in exchange for some images, obviously she has a vested interest in the theme as well. And sometimes the model you choose simply doesn’t feel she is the right fit. Maybe you have a great idea for a super-hero cosplay shoot but the model is not really into that world and is more into fashion shoots. Or vice versa.

Solution: If you have your heart set on working with a particular model, have a few different concepts for a shoot in mind that you can present to her. Its hard to tell what a model may or may not be into, as their portfolio doesn’t often tell the whole story of where their interest lie. Approach the model with a few ideas, and go with the one that she is most excited about.

3. You Have a Weak Portfolio

Perhaps you are just starting out and dont have much of a portfolio. Or perhaps although you are a seasoned photographer, you do not have much to showcase in terms of the style you are wanting to shoot with the model. Or, your portfolio appears weak because it is overflowing with everything you’ve ever shot – the good, the bad, and the “what was I thinking”.

Solution: Take out the excess. Strong images, even if not many, are better than dozens of weaker ones. There is a rule in the Illustration and Design world that applies to photography as well – you will be judged on your weakest image in your portfolio. I know this is hard, you may have a special attachment to some images or be biased. Ask another photographer to give you a solid critique on what you should keep in your port and what you should get rid of. In the end, you will get a lot more responses not just from models, but from clients as well. This is sometimes fairly common sense, but we can often forget about this, so its good to go through our ports every now and then to give them a fresh update.

If your portfolio is weak because you are just starting out and don’t have much to show – pay a model to give yourself a start. Contact a model, tell them you are trying to build your portfolio, let them know your ideas, and ask for their modeling rates. Depending on your skill level and how much you practice, you may have to pay a few models to begin with.

4. Your Communication Skills

When contacting a model, be mindful of how you are presenting yourself. It doesn’t matter if she’s only been modeling for 2 months and you’ve been shooting for 200 years and invented the Darkroom, treat the communication as if you were applying for a job. obviously be polite and be respectful. Don’t brag and don’t talk down to them. If its your first time contacting them don’t bombard them with details and information. What is the merit of shooting with you? Let your work speak for itself.

Solution: Think how you would compose an email when sending in a resume for a job – Quick, polite, and to the point. Simply say who you are, what you do, why you are contacting them, and a link to your work. Thank them for their time and that you hope to hear from them.

Now the second part to this point is equally important – If the model replies and turns you down, simply thank her for her time and sign off. That’s it. Don’t go off on a rant, don’t tell her how she is “missing out”, or how models like her are a “dime a dozen” (yes these are all ridiculous things photographers have responded to models with). Even if you are met with no reply and only the “message seen” notification – just respectfully and politely move on.

5. She Missed Your Message

Hey it happens. Or she saw it, meant to reply, but got distracted. I’ve found I do the same thing – sometimes I check my fb messages first thing in the morning as a way of forcing myself awake, but later I realize I was actually still half asleep and barely remember seeing the messages until I check again later on.

Solution: Me personally, If I don’t hear back after 4 or 5 days, typically I may send 1 (ONE) follow up message. Just a “Hey, just wanted to check in in case you may have missed my message,” etc…. Especially if they use their email / fb messages for networking. Keep in mind, attractive women on social media get bombarded at times with messages from random men, creepers, promoters, photographers, and everything in between. Its very possible your message got buried in the mess. If they still don’t reply after your second try, then simply move on. They are either not interested at the time, or simply unable to keep on top of their own networking avenues.

6. Your Online Behavior is Less Than Desirable.

Now lets say you have a stellar portfolio. You are well known on social media and already connected with the Model on Facebook. You contact the Model and are more than polite and professional. But still, no reply. Weird, right?

Although you are courteous in your emails and messages, how do you behave on social media in general? Do you often get into heated, politically-charged arguments with people? Do you find yourself in a lot of online drama? Are you overall negative when it comes to your comments on people’s statuses or in the types of images / videos you share?

Solution: This one is entirely up to you. Everyone has the freedom to say whatever they want on their own social media so I’m not going to to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do in this regard. Just keep in mind that as much as you have the right to say and post what you want, other people will be forming an opinion of you based on this. Whether you like it or not, this becomes your social media ‘brand’. Think of someone you vaguely know on Facebook. If you had one second to describe them in 2 or 3 words, what would you say? For some people you may describe them as “Trump Supporter”, or “Cosplay Fanatic”, “Bar-Star”, “Tattooed Animal-Rights Activist”, “Drama Queen”…. Think about what your own social media brand is, and how it may be influencing the way people respond to you.

7. You’re Not Organized.

I often see this in casting calls. A photographer will ask for a TFP model, but in the posting will also mention they are needing a makeup artist, and then will need a designer to hopefully lend one of their dresses, and what time would work for everyone, oh and by the way does anyone know of a cool location to shoot?

Solution: Its ok to not have all the pieces early on. But think of how this makes you sound. Get the pieces together for your shoot one at a time. Once you do this, you will have a better response from a model. When you contact her you will be able to say what type of shoot, where, who else is on it, and an idea of times. You will come across as way more organized and way easier to work with.

8. Wrong Personality Match

This applies more to the Hobbyist Models. Some Models approach modeling as another facet to their lifestyle – they like to shoot as a way to socialize, and simply gravitate towards photographers that fit in to their own age and social demographic. They’ll do photo-shoots but stick to their cliques – whether its the cosplay crowd, beach and bar-stars, or the “alternative” scene.

Solution: Focus on models who are more focused on the end result rather than the process. Just like any other working relationship or friendship, some people just dont click. And that’s ok.