Trade Is Trade, Not Free

There always seem to be posts in model photography forums and groups on Facebook in regards to trade or TF work. Honestly, some of it just makes me shake my head. I am not referring to the posts looking for such work—I am talking about those that discuss the concept in general.

I often use the phrase trade instead of TF because I think it makes the whole purpose of the shoot a little more obvious. 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.

Model: Dekilah; Photographer: Joshua Winstead; Henna: Magic Monkey Mehendi

Here are some examples of how a trade might work:

  • Model and photographer agree on a concept or style and they shoot that for both of them
  • Model and photographer each have a different concept they like, so they shoot one concept for each of them
  • Model, photographer, and makeup 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. People do that. I’ve done that, but it’s not what I consider to be trade.

And trade should not be considered “free.” I invest my time and money into keeping up my appearance, purchasing wardrobe, staying on top of my posing, etc. Photographers have a camera, lenses, and time they have spent learning their skills. Often they also have lights and a studio. 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 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 shoot they probably look over the portfolio of the other person and see if they think that person can create work with them that will benefit them.

Model: Dekilah; Photographer: sforsythe; Makeup Artist: Michelle Busch; Hair Stylist: Mk83

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 even better people, or get published.

I find it a bit frustrating when I’m asked to do trade work by someone who can’t shoot content I can put in my portfolio because what they want to shoot is something I already have a lot of. For example, I already have a lot of nudes by some really good photographers. I don’t need any more unless they can top or at least equal what I already have.

The same goes for photographers. Some photographers do not feel they will benefit by shooting trade, but others choose to shoot only 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 have only limited time for shoots, it’s really foolish of me to shoot if I won’t get anything out of it. The same should go for anyone 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.

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


Dekilah has been an art model since 2009. She has worked with over 100 photographers, ranging from the newest of the new to hobbyists and highly-skilled professionals. She is also very active online and in person reaching out to newer models and photographers to help them learn to communicate well and to avoid common issues in the modeling industry. Her website is

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