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Models Who Expect Free and Why You Need to Set Boundaries

Nirvaani in red suit posing on white background

"You owe me" or "I have famous people following me" are lines I've gotten over and over from certain models. It is as if we photographers are expected to work for free, and when you ask for money for your time, you get pushback. I have had the privilege to work with some incredible models in the last bit. Professional, receptive and can work well with me to create some art. The models I work with know their angles and are of the utmost kind. But I've run into a few entitled ones along the way where if I set boundaries to how many TFPs (Time for Print or Trade for Print) I do, I often receive emoji-filled messages that at first glance seem cute but are filled with hate and angst. I'm setting boundaries, not only for my mental health, but to focus on making my business grow, and this is why you should too.

Let me set the stage, "Hey! I just came across your IG page. Your photos are amazing. I would love to collab with you. Let me know :)". "Yes.. it depends. If it's a cool concept for the portfolio, I'd be down. But unfortunately, I am booked right now, and if you need to get yourself in then X is my rate." You get a cleverly worded message that looks innocent but laced with passive aggressive comments and heavy emojis to emphasize their point. Those models will tell you they're famous or you'll get some kind of exposure because they have famous people following them or maybe they think you charge too much. Their last message ends by saying you suck and are not as good as you think. But you recall them reaching out because they LIKED your work.

I think all photographers are tired of explaining why our work costs so much. I know for me personally how much time I invested in my work and the countless dollars I spent on workshops and courses from Lindsay Adler, Lara Jade, Pratik Naik and Portrait Masters to name a few. I have about $25,000 worth of equipment that I use at any moment to create the work that I do. I'm sure you've accumulated a lot in gear, no?

I have set boundaries around my TFPs and hope this helps you set some too:

1) I am setting boundaries for how many images I edit.

Some photographers offer images with light retouching and a few with high-end magazine retouching. All of my images are high-end retouched and although I do have actions to make my workflow faster, I do spend at least an hour editing and refining a photo. I am looking at things like skin detail, redness, excess hair frizz, and folds in clothes to make the lines cleaner. You may choose light editing or high-end, but the work is the same... don't diminish it.

2) I am setting boundaries with how many TFPs I take.

I love TFP to keep the portfolio fresh and to network with some cool people. But if most of my work is TFP how am I to pay for the business insurance and all the necessary expenses to run my business? I would be out of money quickly and my passion and love for photography and running a business would be down the drain. I am aiming for one TFP shoot a month. If you're not running a business then go ham on the TFPs. But if you're a business owner like myself you do need to focus on those clients who pay, their work is ultimately more important.

model with scarves around her leg
The styling of this shoot had me sold. Sometimes it just starts with a clothing concept.

3) I am setting boundaries with the concepts I add to the portfolio.

It has to be interesting and I mean really interesting. Different in terms of styling and concept creation. If I shoot a clean look with a suit, I am not going to want to do the same shoot with another model. I've done it. Bring on another challenge. Are you asking me to photograph body paint or maybe a street fashion photography shoot? If so, I've never done that before... let's shoot! Adding to the portfolio should be challenging and fun, create concepts, and try new things but don't create the same work over and over under the guise of free or exposure. You've mastered that look, do something new.

4) I am setting boundaries with who I work with.

I have had the privilege to work with models who have modelled for a year and those who have been modelling since they were a baby. It depends on what is shown on the portfolio to make me determine if I want to collab with that model. Do they have a great face for makeup? Are they coming with some modelling experience and I don't have to direct their posing? Do they have zero modelling experience but their look just says it all and it's a definite must to work with them? I've seen models choose which photographer they want to work with. I believe we photographers' should be able to exercise our right to who we want to work with.

black swan makeup on a model
Arya is worth paying for. She has a real knack for makeup.

5) I am setting boundaries for models that I do pay for.

Sometimes I have a concept and a model in mind that would be perfect for the shoot. I pay for that model because I want to show them I VALUE THEIR SERVICE. I want to be the embodiment of someone who doesn't throw her hands in the air when someone charges what they believe they are worth. We photographers do value others and will pay for services. We need to end the cycle of entitlement and expect free work for exposure. If you value someone, pay their rate. If you can't afford it, say so without getting angry or defensive... they have a cost of business. On a not so photography-related story, my seamstress has payment issues. She charges what I believe is a nominal fee for hemming or alterations and one of her clients made a snide comment about her $60 fee. She is worth it... she's got such an eye for fashion and design. $60 to hem my favourite red suit as pictured above is a non-issue.

I am setting some hard boundaries, and like any boundary in life, you'll get some pushback. It is the one-off models that make the other professional models I work with look bad. I thank those models that I worked with so far that exude so much kindness and professionalism. You make creating art so worth it. And to those photographers reading this, know your worth no matter if you're charging $100 or $1000, you've worked hard to charge those rates. Don't let a few bad models ruin your pursuits. Give this a like if you enjoyed the read.


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