Tangled Web of Trade For Whatever


It comes around in cycles and, with every iteration, there is a new diagram of how it should work. I did a very simplified one myself years ago that says the exact same thing as the more popular variants today. But, the new version looks more like a tangled web than ever with arrows pointing this way and that. In the end, it is a really simple thing to draw out. For some reason, no one wants to talk about what really happens.

The Basics

TFP, or Trade for Prints or just “Trade”, is a simple idea. In the current theory, when photographers and models work together, whoever is the most experienced should get paid by the other party. If they are equally experienced, they should trade if they can each add something to the other person’s portfolio. Oversimplified, but that’s the gist.

The Tangled Mess

There are a lot of assumptions in the basic concept that do not hold up under casual scrutiny. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Who is defining experience? Is that measured in years, publications, popularity, income, or followers on a social media platforms?
  • What is good portfolio material? A million headshots in, is it possible that a new face walks in that is so striking and expressive that it stands out? It is the Hollywood dream: Be in the right place at the right time. Be discovered!
  • Exactly what do we mean by “trade”? Certainly, time and talent is being traded between the two parties. Images, perhaps? If one party is getting something completely new while the other is revisiting old material for a much-needed “refresh”, is that still a trade?

Brutal Truth

Trade is quickly tangled in other factors. Speaking from personal experience, I have had models approach me for trade shoots. Once we’ve come to an agreement, they demand to alter the deal. They will be bringing a friend who will get their own shots as part of the trade. They want me to produce head shots on trade but demand I pay them for anything else I want to shoot. One of my favorites is they love my work but realize I don’t have 100,000 followers on their favored social media platform, so I’m not going to get them the requisite exposure.

Tangled Is As Tangled Does

Shooting on trade is not a difficult concept. Stop complicating it with unnecessary modifiers. If someone offers trade and you don’t see the value in it for you, politely decline. If you see someone’s work and decide you really want to work with them, ask for their rates. Stop playing games. Create. Have fun. Find a third party willing to pay you both for content.

Well, except for that part where the “industry” has managed to make third party work a trade for exposure.

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