Photography Basics-Working With Models!

To all the readers out there and even you photo stalkers (Ken, I am talking to you)…welcome to the Silver Foxx Studio (SFS) blog.  I have revamped the blog section to cover things that inspire me, techniques that might help other photographers on their journey, perspectives I hold as a newcomer to this industry, some behind the scenes, and pretty much anything else that’s on my mind about Silver Foxx Studio  and the photography industry.  I have spent the last two years learning my new craft with a complete “outside perspective” of this industry.  And what I can say is that in my opinion the Photography industry (Photographers, Models, HMUA, Magazines, etc) needs more standardization and a lot more professionalism.  So for my first revamped blog I’m going to offer some crucial advice about the initial stages of photography that I have learned so far, mainly regarding the Trade For Time (TFT) shoots.

TFT Shoots…words have meaning and so I use the term Trade for Time (TFT) Shoots not Trade for Print (TFP) Shoots…mainly because I am not giving prints away since we live in the digital age. But most photographers and models use the term TFP, just know its the same basic intent I just like to be very specific.

So how does a Photographer or a Model build their portfolio  when both want to be compensated for their work? (Because money = time and time is one thing nobody can get back which is the exact reason why photographers get paid…they preserve a moment in time). The goal is to develop a solid portfolio, as well as to learn, experiment, grow, and be taken more serious in the professional world. The higher quality and more rounded the work, the better off each artist is in the long run. People want to see what you’re capable of both as a photographer and as a model; and when you can back up your claim with proof, this will help create more opportunities for all parties involved. So how do we reach that point in our careers? The following will hopefully explain:

A TFT is nothing more than when the photographer and the model agree to trade each others time for experience and skill refinement…and hopefully a badass final product, i.e. the photo(s). Photography is an expensive hobby and/or business so photographers rarely work for free, and models don’t either. Being an amateur photographer, you’ll want to get as many photo sessions as possible under your belt until you feel like you are at a level where you can charge as well as handle just about any shoot in that particular genre.

I currently reside near Springfield Missouri  after retiring from the military  and I’ve done numerous photo sessions: headshots, apparel line, portrait, artistic, and just about anything else you can think of. I am 99.5% self taught, and I started to get the hang of it via trial-and-error lessons, personal equipment-manual readings, and some YouTube.  I finally felt (and this is an opinion) that I became good enough to start charging for my services. As I said before this is truly an EXPENSIVE hobby and/or business! (My current total equipment alone cost me upwards of $30,000), but at a bare minimum I rock a Nikon D5 and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f2.8 ED VR Zoom Lens with Auto Focus which together is almost $9,000).  I personally studied my ass off just staring at photos, and then ran several family members through several different sessions in order to fully understand lighting, camera settings, angles, and how to take the best shots possible in even the most difficult situations (indoor/outdoor, dark/light lighting, urban/rural environments, model/event settings, etc…).


When I use the term “EMBRACE THE SUCK” I mean this.
1. Shoot More! 2. Study More!  3. Debrief More!  Yeah it’s going to suck and so are you, but you have to start somewhere, and review what went wrong and how to ensure that mistake doesn’t happen again.  So the way to make that happen is you make a deal with a model to trade your time for their time. I didn’t shoot DSLR or take photos of anything other than the occasional family outing I wanted to remember until the summer of 2016 and I feel I have made great strides in my capabilities.  I’m at the point where I’ve been front cover published as well as editorially published in a magazine, and award winning (three times in 2018 alone). However, I’m still interested in doing a few TFT shoots every now and then, especially if it will help my resume or portfolio grow.  I only want to show the best of my work, and Models should too!

So if we EMBRACE THE SUCK, where is the SUMMIT?  There is no Summit! Every time you think you conquered a Summit look around and look up, I promise you there is another ridge-line out there higher than where you are currently.  You can always create more, learn more, refine skills, and make practices more efficient…in short you should never stop striving to be better. So I guess the generic term for SUMMIT is just a reference for being known and respected for your work, while having a higher practical understanding of what it is you are accomplishing.  Many photographers can’t seem to get a respected rate these days with the over-saturation of content, the constant copyright infringement from start up businesses and easy access to digital camera equipment…and YES all those cool animal, landscape, or lifestyle images that all you local business owners put your logo on, are in fact a copyright infringement).  And many potential clients are skeptical of respectable rates because everyone knows a hobbyist photographer that rocks out a DSLR but unfortunately they only shoot in automatic mode. It takes a SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT of; SKILL, VALUE, PROFESSIONALISM, PROOF, and NETWORKING to reach the consistent rates a photographer thinks they deserve.

I turn down proposals for TFT collaborations more often than not because most of the time the prospective “model” just wants to take the work, own the rights to it, and run away without giving any credit to me the photographer. Sometimes they aren’t professional, sometimes all they can offer is “exposure” which I can easily get myself as I’m photographer with access to photo-centric Social Media platforms like Instagram , and I am not afraid to walk around and meet new people and discuss what I bring to the table.  But most of the time, what I get are self proclaimed “Models” who haven’t reviewed the concept board or practiced the poses, who don’t know how to pose, and expect complete direction from the photographer.  

The first rule of thumb as a collaborator (or in life) is, and this is my opinion, is to always respect each other and everything around you.  The old adage of “If you scratch my back, I will scratch yours” is great, but I prefer to give the first favor, so I don’t owe one later, and if I feel like my goals are leading me down a different path, I can walk away knowing I have held up my end of the deal. So in the case of you scratch my back I scratch yours with a TFT, I’m doing much more work as an artist (photographer) by developing the concept board, setting up, typically directing, using my equipment, tearing down, post-processing, etc…versus the artist (model) whose main objective is to look good in front of camera.  I as a photographer, am doing a significant amount of work, so the least the collaborator could do for the photographer is to post the image right away and credit them as this helps promote them (just like the photographer promotes the model) and keep positive vibes.

So after several fails with TFT shoots, here’s how I think it should work (again… my opinion):

1) You both agree with a contract that your time of “work” is equal to each others, that’s why it’s a trade. However, the photographer usually has to work more because not only do we snap the photos, we direct the subject, we edit the photos, we convert and send them to you, etc…Obviously this takes far more time than a model showing up looking good and going home that day to continue rocking those great looks, but by verbally agreeing or using a contract, it’s stated that all work, regardless of the amount, is equal.

2) Through the contract, both parties agree to the terms of the photo usage. This means if the photographer decides any of the photos are worth post-processing, they are for the model’s personal use ONLY!  That means the model will not sell these photos, or having them published without the photographers permission. Whatever both parties agree upon, that is what needs to happen. In my contracts for TFT shoots when I am trying a new technique, I now include…


“This photo session is a Trade For Time (TFT) Shoot. By signing this agreement The Model is fully aware that this is training and/or skill refinement session for both the Model and the Photographer as a way to improve within their industry. The Model, also understands by working with the Photographer that its imperative to be judicious with image selection; and the Photographer will only select images that represent both the Model and the Photographer in what the Photographer deems as a best representation of both parties work.”

3) The whole point of this shoot is to help each other out by adding value to each other’s lives.  I try to be super objective about my work as well as other photographers work especially when I compare final images.  I firmly believe that is how you improve and help other photographers improve.  I have a few thoughts before I agree to work with a model.


First is regardless of portfolio do they have the look I want AND availability I am looking for.  That is priority number one for me and the biggest deciding factor. Then I review model’s portfolio, and if you are a model that has several photos from a couple of photographers that does equal or better work than me, I see two things right away Photographer Loyalty (which I like) and Standards for quality work (which boosts my ego if you are willing to work with me).  However, the flip side of being objective I have to wonder why you are coming to me. Because either my photography game is drastically improving (which I hope is the case)…


…OR you can’t get a TFT session with any of the photographers you were using before.  In which case this shows a serious lack of loyalty, because you are looking for someone else to use with no intention of ever being a client to me or pushing potential clients to me.   


On the other hand, if your portfolio is full of amateur photographers, with poor lighting, significantly over or under exposed images, but you remark about how great each one of their photos are, I quickly assess your lack of standards and level of professionalism.  I am not looking for “Photog Chasers” looking for quick free photos under the guise of you being a “Model”. You all know what I am talking about. The “Model” who runs to every photographer, looking to “build their portfolio”, but does not study modeling or posing (I will discuss the topic of Why Most Modeling Schools Are A Scam in a future post).  For all of the photographer’s hard work, we’d love for you to share our website links with your thousands of online followers so we can grow our businesses.


4) I typically block off 3 hours for a session, the Model and the Photographer should shoot until you’re both satisfied.  I’ve had a few unsatisfied TFT models…it happens (mostly because I refuse to decrease waist sizes and increase bust and butt sizes…sorry ladies you have to earn that).  If its a standard shoot where there is no trick photography or special effects makeup, these shoots typically go smoothly, because its straight forward and doesn’t require hours of post-processing.  But regardless of the type of session I will always show you the photos during the actual shoot to make sure you’re satisfied with what we captured. And for those special effects and trick photography sessions I add the caveat of what I will try to do in post processing (that doesn’t mean it’s always going to work, which is why I use the term “try”).  But in either case we don’t move on until we think I’ve captured the essence of who you are within the confines of what the session is about, because you are an amazing person and deserve this!

5) Models…follow the directions of the photographer for wardrobe, shooting location, time, and for fucks sake…practice the poses if you don’t take direction well or aren’t secure in your posing abilities…make them become muscle memory, but get there and be prepared. I can’t stress this enough!!!! I can only speak to how I operate, but as the photographer I confirm the shoot, and I send out a Concept Board, its sort of like a Pintrest board but it explains the whole logistics of the shoot; Hair Style, Makeup, Wardrobe, Location w/ Address, Poses, and I also put a photo of the model in the Concept Board so the Hair and Makeup Artist(s) (HMUA) know what your hair and facial structure looks like so they are equally prepared.  I also add an itinerary of what is required of the model and what to do in order to make the shoot be as smooth as possible.


For example: Please bring a variety of accessories and UNWRINKLED clothes.


Also make sure you have our meeting location mapped out the day before (unless it’s a rushed shoot), because you have access to Google Maps  just as much as I do, and I hate being called or text while setting up for the shoot asking me to send you the address that was in the Concept Board (If I get these, expect to receive a Lat/Long Coordinate for you to plug into Google).  Also this is Springfield so there are always traffic accidents and back roads you may not be familiar with so please keep me updated with your ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) or if whether you’re running late, so we can both utilize our time together.  Just be prepared, bring your positive self, and most importantly let’s have a good time!

6) Models, please do not rush the photographer for the final product whether it be minutes, hours, days or even weeks later! (This is a TFT, nobody is getting paid, we BOTH still need to pay the bills, and that will take the focus away from our TFT shoot).  I will get to the shots when I can; there are a number of other paying clients I’m constantly working with; as well as seeking out more potential clients which will always take priority over TFT sessions. This is why I LOVE referrals, if I don’t have to go out and find more clients, I have more free time to create and work TFT sessions (Plus I personally provide a 10% referral payment to any client or model that sends, SFS, clients).  More importantly though, quality takes time, I like to equate the work I put into each image like this.


If you as the Model can accomplish what I produce on your own, then you don’t need me.  But I know for a fact that as the photographer I can accomplish my work just using me as the model for most shoots…reference the couple of professional selfies I have taken (shown here).  


So you’ll get them when you get them.  And they will look amazing! And if I deem that none of the images work even after post processing, I will conduct a thorough debrief looking at where things went wrong, and if the root cause is because of me or the decisions I made, I will offer up another practice session to try it again (after all that’s how we get better), along with a photo shoot of the models choosing at no charge, as a thank you.


7) Be kind, if you truly are happy with the shots, leave a positive review on YelpFacebookGoogle, or the Official Website so that we may share to the world how happy you are!  That’s the point of a TFT, right? Let’s promote each other so we can both look like rockstars!


Overall I have been really fortunate with my TFTs.  That’s not to say I couldn’t probably tell you a few horror stories and drama filled sessions, but I rather highlight the models who were really professional and explain what they did and why I will continue to work with them again in the future.  These are just three cases where Models showed great work ethics.


First, is Kelsi K.  I met her about a year ago, and she is EXTREMELY busy.  She is a mother of two, and has spent the last year that I have known her working full time for a local Hospital as well as getting her masters degree and Occupational Therapy.  She was very upfront about all of this and so I was willing to work around her schedule a bit since mine tends to be more flexible. There was one shoot we did for a client (I know its not TFT), and she had a family emergency that came up and she knew she wasn’t going to make it on time.  Instead of leaving me hanging, she called before the session, explained what was going on, and we worked out a resolution. Life happens, and I understand that, and her respect for me and my time was greatly appreciated. When she did arrive, she didn’t get down on herself or make excuses, she just quickly apologized for the inconvenience, thanked me for my patience, got changed into the clients apparel, and went right into modeling.  She didn’t let an earlier issue affect her mood or the images, and we produced quality photos that the client raved about.

Second, is Sydney H.  I reached out to Sydney a while back, and we did our first TFT session which was just some headshots.  She needed ZERO direction, was extremely professional and polite, and just all around happy. Not to mention PUNCTUAL.  This goes a long way when working with me. The second time I worked with her was at 1984 Arcade in downtown Springfield.  I hadn’t ever done a shoot like that before, and we discussed several shots before hand. The day of we took a ton of shots, tried several poses, different arcade backgrounds (heavily neon colored), as well as lighting techniques (most of the shots were natural or arcade lights only but the overall environment was rather dark).  In the end I only used 3 or 4 photos from that session. Where some models would have been upset with the lack of images, Sydney was beyond grateful for the images she did receive, because of the quality not the quantity. That is the sign of a professional model. Since that shoot, one of my favorite photos came from this TFT session (she is sitting on the pinball machine), and was recently put into a local gallery show, and exhibited in 3D.  I will bend over backwards to help network models I work with, and show their work beyond just Instagram or Facebook. I want to see the models who are professional succeed and achieve their Modeling Goals. Which is one of the reasons I ask each SFS Model to list Near, Short, and Long Term goals, so we can work together to build a portfolio to help get them there.


And because I know this blog is already long enough, the last Model, who was actually a client, is Victoria H.  Only 17 years old, I met with her and her mom to discuss her first photo session with SFS. Victoria, showed up for her session, on time, ready to go, and practiced all the poses we discussed in the concept board.  Because of Victoria’s age, I expressed to her and her mom how important it is, for her as a model to set the tone early for the type of portfolio she develops. Because when she turns 18 there will be plenty of photographers who will try to persuade her into certain genres and probably do nothing to get her towards her Modeling goals.  Victoria wanted to do a Pinup themed shoot, and so we developed an age appropriate and tastefully classy pinup shoot that she could be proud to display. I know there is a lot of pressure for young women, to keep up with Social Media standards, and Victoria could have been bummed that she wasn’t getting what she may have wanted. But instead, she really listened to what her mom and I explained.  She internalized that feedback and came in with positive and eager vibes, in order to achieve the look within the boundaries we all set. When it came to her horror shoot, she listened to all the safety directions we had especially regarding the working noose around her neck. Victoria was bold, brave, and most importantly amazing at taking direction.

I guess you get the idea of how a TFT shoot should go.  So I guess the only thing left is to wrap it up and put a bow on it….

  • Be humble (both the photographer and the Model).
  • Be professional this includes being on time.
  • READ the contract and/or actively listen to the terms ahead of time and either; agree to, or hash-out anything that seems “out of place”, before the shoot.
  • Understand, photographers are busy running a business and doing the majority of the work.
  • Yes, WE (the photographer) ALWAYS maintain rights to the photos.
  • Don’t be a douche…SHARE and PROMOTE, (Photographers and Models) help each other grow within their respected fields.  Success is a team effort!


I hope this blog helps, both the Amateur and Experienced Photographer working with Models, and Amateur and Experienced Models working with Photographers.  But more importantly I hope this provides a little insight to potential clients, on what all goes into photography, because it is more than just taking you out to a location, pushing a button, and handing over an image you see here.  The level of planning, coordination, and customer service I put into TFTs is only a part of what I do for paying clients.


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