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Trade is Trade, Not Free

There always seem to be posts in model photography forums, groups on FB, and even in FB statuses in regards to trade shoots or TF work. And quite honestly, some of it just makes me shake my head. I am not referring to those posts looking for such work, I am talking about those that discuss the concept in general and end up becoming a train wreck.

I often use the phrase trade, instead of TF, because I think it makes the whole purpose of the shoot a little more obvious, though lately I have slipped back into saying TF more. Whatever you call it, a trade is… wait for it… supposed to be a trade. This means both parties get something out of it, usually in the form of photos for their portfolio.

Here are some examples of how a trade photoshoot might work:
– model and photographer agree on a concept/style they both like and they shoot that for both of them
– model and photographer each have a different concept they’d like to shoot with each other, so they shoot one concept for each of them
– model, photographer, and make-up artist decide on a concept and shoot it for all of them (feel free to add in wardrobe stylist, hair stylist, etc)

The catch is that, ohmigosh!, everyone is supposed to get something they can use out of it. Otherwise somebody is just doing their part for free, and people do that. I’ve done that, but it’s not what I consider to be trade.

And trade should not be considered “free” in my opinion. I invest my time and money into keeping up my appearance, purchasing wardrobe, staying on top of my posing, etc. Photographers have at least a camera, lenses, and often lights and a studio as well as time they have spent learning their skills and so on. I am giving my posing, my look, and my skills and the photographer is giving their skills, use of their equipment and usually space. And we are both giving our time. We are trading with each other. I agree that money is not changing hands directly, so in that sense it is “free,” but when someone says “free” in the condescending, devaluing sort of way, it really can be annoying and indicates to me that they are likely not that familiar with what trade is.

Therefore when someone is asked to do a trade photoshoot they probably look over the portfolio of the other person/people and see if they think that person/people can create work with them that will benefit them.

Personally, I find it a tiny bit frustrating when I’m asked to do trade work by someone who can’t shoot content I can put in my portfolio so I have to turn them down because what they do want to shoot is something I already have a lot of. For example, I shoot nudes. I have a lot of nudes already by some really, really good photographers, both local and from across the US. I really don’t need any more unless you can top or at least equal what I already have. Some ways you can top it (besides just being a better photographer) might be: having a unique location, especially a private, legal outdoor location, being able to provide shoes or wardrobe (for example, corsets or fine lingerie) or jewelry, providing hair and/or make-up, etc.

The same goes for photographers. Some photographers do not feel they will benefit by shooting trade with a specific model or models in general. These photographers may charge models or simply not shoot them at all. Some photographers do not pay models and only shoot trade because, usually, they can shoot with models of the level they wish to shoot via trade. Generally these photographers are quite skilled and have built up a good portfolio, so models are often willing to shoot trade with them.

And let’s remember what trade is, it’s a trade. So if I’m not going to get anything out of it and I only have limited time for shoots, it’s really foolish of me to shoot if I won’t get anything out of it (either photos or monetary payment or wardrobe or something). The same should go for any one else. And I’ve certainly been turned down for trade before too. Most of those have since worked with me or asked to work with me because I went out there and improved my portfolio.

Portfolio improvement is kind of the whole point of trade with a few exceptions. You shoot with the best people you can in order to improve your work so you can get paid jobs, or work with better people, or get published or whatever.

It’s a bit of a personal pet peeve to me when I meet people who seem to have no desire to improve. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried to help or tried to recommend mentors to (at the appropriate time) who just ignore me or tell me “Oh, I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing now” when what they’re doing isn’t making them happy and they’re upset because they can’t get better people to shoot with them.

You have to do your homework. As a model I’ve put in hours and hours networking, studying the work of others, taking care of my appearance, learning to do a little hair and make-up, practicing poses, getting advice from others, etc. During the shoot is not the only time you’re working at this, at least not if you want to be really good at it.

I realize I’ve been a bit blunt here, but I feel like this is something that people really need to understand.

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Trade is Trade, Not Free

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