TFP, Paid & Volunteering Oh My!
Updated: Aug 28
By Rachael Lovette
Photography in the fashion industry is an industry entirely on its own. It requires working with a team towards a common goal—displaying apparel, accessories, and other fashion items in a fun, glamorous, and aspirational way.
From TFP, paid and volunteering there are many projects where you can collaborate with others and bulk up your portfolio. Navigating the landscape of the type of projects to book and what goes into each can be confusing, so let me explain.
What is TFP?
TFP, or “trade for print,” is when a photographer and model trade services. Multiple models, hairstylists, makeup artists, creative directors, and photography assistants can also take part in TFP photoshoots as well. In TFP projects everyone works for free, but receive all the photos unwatermarked to use in their portfolios.
(Note: “time for print,” “test for prints,” or “time for portfolio” depending on the context of the project.)
Benefits of TFP
The advantages of working on a TFP basis go beyond just creating images for your portfolio.
There’s an abundance of available TFP opportunities available right now in the current economic climate
Allows you to think outside the box, tests your comfort zone (in a good way) and really create something new
Try out new photography techniques, poses, styling, and more!
Gives you the chance to “spring clean” your portfolio of outdated or less polished work and really show what you can do now
Low-pressure environment—no one looming over you
Ability to collaborate and network with new models, photographers and other creatives you’ve always wanted to work with, but haven’t had the chance to yet
Pitfalls of TFP
Increase in offers asking to “collaborate” which translates to “do this work for free because I need it and don’t want to/can’t pay”
Increase in non-creatives, family sessions, mini-sessions, weddings, etc. asking for TFP projects
Lack of follow-through by collaborators including:
Taking 4-6 weeks to send photos and sometimes not sending any at all
No credit is given when posted online
No shows, bailing last minute
It’s easy to fall into the trap that you can just keep doing TFP projects until you “make it” or someone hires you. You are never obligated to say “yes” to a TFP project just because you are an acquaintance, friend or former colleague, with someone on the team. If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit and that’s okay. Ask questions about the project and be transparent that you are very selective in taking on TFP projects, but can offer your services at a discount. In my experience I have seen this multiple times to ensure that the “trade” is worth the effort of one or more parties involved.
What is Paid?
This should be pretty obvious, right?
Paid is when someone pays you for your work on a photoshoot, fashion show, or other projects where a model, photographer, and other creatives are needed. This is how you make money getting paid to do what you do.
Benefits of Paid
Easy way to make a few $$$ for a few hours of work
New photos to add to your portfolio
Onsite assistants and creatives spanning all areas to help produce the best images
Potential for future paid work with the same client or team
Higher quality equipment = higher quality images (hopefully)
You can see the client’s reaction to your images
All the equipment you need is provided for you
Pitfalls of Paid
Paid a one-time flat fee for work regardless if the images appear on the cover of a magazine, pops up as an ad or used on a popular website (no paid royalties)
Limited timeframe to work within to capture the client’s ideal vision/aesthetic
High expectations/benchmarks for success
Contract includes a perpetuity clause, meaning whoever paid you can use the image(s) for as long as they want (there is no limit)
Budgets shift and the team can’t pay you your full fee
Harder to find clients in the current economic climate
What is Volunteering?
If you’re new to the industry or are an amateur looking to get your feet wet to see if you have what it takes, volunteering may be for you.
Benefits of Volunteering
Gain experience in the fashion industry
Ability to network with other like-minded people
Images for your portfolio
Can result in an internship or job offer
Lots of “indie” fashion weeks across the U.S. offer volunteer opportunities
Pitfalls of Volunteering
High stress, long hours (sometimes 10+ hrs) with no pay
Requires you to use your own equipment
Requires you to help with setup, tear down and clean up
Have a strict dress code you must follow
Some details are often overlooked such as providing snacks, a safe area to store personal belongings and a private area to change to name a few
Expected to check your attitude and ego at the door and do whatever is asked of you like it's your job with little or no credit.
Understand your worth as well as the worth of others when considering the type of project you will accept. Just like no two creatives are alike, neither are projects. Some creatives are warm and looking for people to network with, while others treat them as just another number (or box to check). My advice is to do your research on the team, event or project before committing to it. Just because you see dollar signs doesn’t mean it’s going to be worth your time or well-being to participate.
Rachael Lovette is an accounts executive specializing in no-BS articles for creatives, an advocate for model safety and a pop culture buff. Check out her Instagram.