Paid vs. Trade Shoots

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Okay, so you are all waiting with bated breath for me to weigh in on this heavy trade, tfp, tfcd, pay, conundrum. If you are a model/actor/photographer then you know all shoots fall into two categories: paid and unpaid (including all trade shoots; trade for prints, CD, content, etc). If you have been living under a rock with the Geico man, then let me explain.

Models: Franchesca DC, Kirsty LingmanElena Churikova, Candace

Paid shoots (where you are paid)

Pretty simple: Someone pays you money for a photo shoot. If you are a model, you are paid to model. If you are a photographer, you are paid to take photos. This is how you make money getting paid to do what you do. I won’t talk about these shoots because everyone should be doing them. After all, how else will you get paid?

Paid shoots (where you pay someone else)

These are shoots for specific purposes. You might pay someone to take portfolio photos, because you want exclusive photos for your Web site or project, because you just want some hot photos of yourself to show your hubby and/or make all your friends jealous of how gorgeous you are. In the glitzy world of high end runway and fashion modeling, models will pay over $2000 for a portfolio.

Unpaid (trade) shoots

For these shoots the model and photographer work out some sort of equal trade. The “equality” of the trade usually depends on the relative standing/demand of each party. Both photographer and model need to bring relatively equal value to the table. So if a model is well-established, published, and recognized then he/she will usually only shoot with a brand new photographer if he/she is a friend, has amazing work, etc.

Model: Megan Daniels

Pay someone to shoot with me? No way!

Psshhhh, I have people lining up to shoot with me for free. Good for you! But are they lining up to pay you to shoot? Or pay you more? Are these “free” shoots actually getting you closer to your goal? If not, you might have reached a plateau or a sticking point in your career.

It is easy to fall into the trap that you can just keeping shooting for trade until you “make it” or when people will hire you. So when you get started as a model or photographer you need to build up your portfolio first. Most people do this by shooting trade. The model gets photos for his/her portfolio, the photographer gets photos for theirs, and everybody wins.

Don’t think that a trade shoot means “free” shoot (and yes, I’m guilty of this one as well). A trade only works when both parties bring equal value. So if both of you bring nothing, you get nothing. If both of you bring a lot, you both get a lot. But because you are on the same playing field, how can you expect that the other will boost you up to the next level? Of course, you will get experience, continue getting better, and slowly improve your portfolio. But the way to make real breakthroughs is to pay someone at that next level to shoot with you. Who shot your photo and Who is in your photo makes a huge impact to your portfolio. When you have shot a well-known model, then your credibility and network expand. When you have shot with a well-established photographer, you expand your network and also get images that are most likely of better quality than those knocking your door down to shoot with you “for free.”

For years all I did were trade shoots. I was lucky that I started with a somewhat art related background so I had a natural eye for photography. I have always been able to get trade shoots with models. And I continued to grow and get better. To me, I would never think of paying anyone for a shoot.

One of my first breakthroughs was when I paid my first model for a shoot. She was much more established than me (~25,000 followers to my… well, Twitter). Once she posted our photos people started following me, I was making connections, more established models would shoot with me, etc. That opened my eyes to the fact that when you hit a plateau or ceiling, one of the ways to break through that is to setup a paid shoot.

Of course, one of the other main reasons to pay for a shoot is when you need the shots for something specific and have certain qualifications, like if you need the content to be exclusive and the other person cannot use them, even for their portfolio. And sometimes there are just people that you want to shoot with that also add credibility to your own portfolio. I paid Megan Daniels for the honor of shooting the photo above.

Hopefully, I have convinced you that you should pay to shoot. And of course, who wouldn’t want to do a shoot where YOU get paid? Well, now I want to convince you to shoot trades as well.

Model: Mel A

Let someone shoot me for free?

Psshhhh, I have people lining up to pay to shoot me. That’s great! But there is so much more to being a “professional” model or photographer than getting paid.

When you are getting paid for a shoot you can only expect to get one thing out of that shoot: Money. That is your compensation. You can’t expect a tear sheet, great shots for your portfolio, to learn something new, or even experience from your shoot. All of those things are important parts of being a professional.

One of THE BEST reasons for doing a trade shoot is because you want to do something for a friend or colleague. I am a very giving person and I like to freely share the gifts that God has given me with my friends and family.  The above shot of Mel A was done for free and I will ALWAYS shoot her for free as long as I live and have a trigger finger.  Do you know why?  Because she is THE REASON I am starting to become successful as a glamour photographer.  When she joined a prestigious group, she told all of the girls to come to me for shots. Some of them came and shot with me. Some of their friends saw my work and shot with me. Some of the girls that I shot referred me to other people to shoot… and so on.

Ironically, sometimes becoming a better professional means taking some time to not be a professional. When we are paying for a shoot, or being paid for a shoot we have to put our game faces on and get the job done. After all, time is money. When you are established and successful, you can get in a rut and get burned out. You can grow stagnant and take the same “safe” shot or bust out the same pose. I know this has happened to me and my passion for photography turned into a job, a chore.

One of the best ways to get out of a rut and get back to enjoying what you do—like when you had your first dreams of becoming a model slash actor slash photographer—is to go back to your roots and fundamentals. And shoot some trades.

There are many great upsides to doing a trade shoot:

  • You get to shoot something YOU want to do
  • There is less pressure to do your best
  • You can expand your abilities by trying something new
  • You get a chance to work with someone you might not normally work with
  • You can get some new and updated shots for your portfolio
  • You can have fun!

To wrap things up, I strongly believe that every model/actor/photographer should shoot when they are paid, when they pay someone else, and to trade with someone else.


I am Reuben. I take pretty pictures of pretty people for Glamtography. Please do not ask me to shoot nude or implied--I always wear clothes when I shoot ;)

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