Many photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists, designers, and nail technicians do shoots on a “TFP” basis.
I’m sure some of you are sitting there looking at the screen thinking, “What is a TFP?” (Totally Fun People? Testing For Popularity? Tacos From Pennsylvania?)
Put simply, TFP stands for Time (or Trade) for Print (or Portfolio). You may also see the phrase TFCD used. TFCD stands for Time/Trade for CD. This term is most frequently used by photographers who use digital cameras.
It doesn’t really matter what the letters stand for since all abbreviations mean the same thing: nobody gets paid.
You won’t get a commission or hourly rate and neither will anyone else involved.
Now I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking, “Why on earth would I want to work for free?” You actually won’t be working for “free,” but in exchange for high-quality images, which you can use in your portfolio or in your marketing materials.
Generally, you find more amateur photographers and models doing TF work to build their portfolios and gain experience. Occasionally you’ll stumble across a professional who wants to do a TF shoot to get a specific look for their portfolio, or so they can sell the images independently to a stock photo company.
Outstanding work can be produced at a TF shoot.
That being said, here’s a short list of reasons why you need to be very selfish and selective when it comes to working TF.
- If you have a full portfolio and the project isn’t going to be published somewhere that will grant you a significant amount of exposure, you don’t need to work TF.
- Unless you can trust the photographer to deliver the images, you deserve to be paid for your time, product, travel, and professional expertise.
- You’re not a charity worker. Unlike the model and the photographer (the two people who are going to gain the bulk of the exposure from the work), you’re the one investing the most in terms of time and product. I’m not downplaying the value of the photographer. Many photographers spend years in school and thousands in equipment. However, once those initial investments are made their overhead is reduced to $0. Some may argue that their time is worth hundreds and that may be true, however, the majority of the time the ones who are coordinating the shoots are the photographers. Just because they’re willing to take a loss to capture a specific shot doesn’t mean you have to be.
Preparing yourself for a TF shoot:
1.) First, write up your own TF agreement.
Mine is here, if you want to see an example.
Specifically outline your policies. Make sure to include a form containing: the photographer’s name and business name (if any), the location, the names of the models involved, the types of services and the values of the services you’re going to be expected to perform. Also include the trade items agreed upon. I recommend placing a paragraph in it that states that you will not accept images that have obtrusive watermarks. Watermarked images in your portfolio are not flattering or professional-looking. (The last thing you want in your advertisements or business cards is a photographer’s watermark.)
In bold, capital letters, write this statement, “IF THE TRADE ITEMS PRODUCED FROM THIS SHOOT ARE NOT PROVIDED IN 30 DAYS, THE PHOTOGRAPHER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PAYING THE FULL PRICE OF THE SERVICES PROVIDED.”
Put simply, this statement will ensure that you will benefit from the trade project. Include the estimated cost of your time, your travel, and the service values so the photographer understands what you’re worth, down to the penny. This form serves as a contract between you and the photographer. Have a signature line for yourself, the photgrapher, and a witness to sign.
2.) Prepare your own release form.
Make sure the release states clearly that you have the right to use and distribute the photos as you see fit and that nobody else can claim any profit from the photos. (This includes yourself. You cannot resell or relicense the photos. That right belongs to the photographer alone.)
Take photos of the model’s driver’s licenses with your phone. Include a paragraph in the form that releases you of any liability in the rare event that a model has an allergic reaction to a product you use on her. This likely won’t protect you from being sued, so make sure your Professional Liability Policy is current and active.
3.) Be sure that all parties involved have a clear understanding of what to expect from you and what you expect in return prior to the shoot.
That’s basically what this paper is for. It’s to have everyone’s expectations in writing before you waste your time on a project that might not benefit any of you.
Beware of “Commercial TF” Work
“Commercial TF” is where a client seeks professional staff (models, photographers, and support staff) to create images for commercial usage but only pays out in tearsheets or prints (usually with limited distribution rights).
This is not an appropriate use of TF because you are giving someone else the ability to make money from your work without getting compensation in return.
Don’t confuse this with working in exchange for an editorial tear. Obviously, if someone wants you to style some models TF for a spread in Vogue for free, do it. What I’m talking about is commercial advertising. If everyone starts working TF for clients, our work no longer has value.
If you work is good enough to be printed in magazines, you’re good enough to be paid for your time.
“Experience” and “exposure” is not a good reason to do commercial work for free. You need those two things to get commercial work to begin with. Unless you’re able to use those images how you please, don’t work for someone else for free just so you can tell others that you did so.
Just because you’re not getting paid does not mean that you have no obligation to perform.
Once you’ve agreed to work TF, you must follow through with that agreement. Everyone else has committed to the shoot. It’s a lot like when a client no-shows for an appointment. You booked that time for her. That slot is now open. You could have put another paying client there. That missed appointment represents time and opportunity wasted. Your time in the salon is money. Same for the support staff, the model, and the photographer involved. Not to mention that most professionals that work in modeling and photography know each other. Almost everyone I’ve shot with knows several other photographers and many of the models I’ve worked with.
If you aren’t dependable, word will get around and you’ll never get work.
Do you have any tips for working TF? Want to share your shoot stories? Let’s talk about it in the comments!