Should models work for free?

10 Mins read

TFP is a modern fashion industry term, which many models face quite often in their career. It specifically refers to those who are just stepping in to the industry, because apparently these three letters are supposed to open up the modelling world for them.

TFP stands for Time for Photos (or Pictures) and means that a model and a photographer will collaborate to get equal use from their work – images for one’s portfolio.

There are benefits to both sides of this arrangement. The model can build a portfolio of prints to show to prospective clients at little or no cost, whilst the photographer gets a model for a test project and also some pictures for their portfolio.

However in reality, this definition is no longer completely accurate: when some established models hear the word ‘TFP’ or ‘test shoot’ they run away, close the Facebook page or hang up the phone. Because it can literally mean work the whole day for someone, for free.

Recently, TFP and its effect on the fashion industry has started to raise questions more frequently. To understand if it really does influence fashion world negatively, we spoke to a number of individuals within the industry.

Firstly, why there is a concern that TFP is killing the fashion industry? The answer is that more and more designers prefer to shoot inexperienced models, just because they agree to work for free. As a result, photographers get bad photos, designer clothes are represented in a wrong way, and editorial shoots’ quality goes down rapidly.

Camera shot by CCØ BAY via Flickr

But the worst side effect of TFP is that people are being exploited.

Charlotte Brooke, Miss Earth England, believes that people abuse the term “Time for Photos” and many people do not even know what it really is.

She says that it should be an exchange of services, particularly, the model’s time for a copy of the photographer’s pictures: “Yes, there could be a makeup artist, hair stylist, and clothes stylist and it can still be TFP. There could even be a designer, and it can still count as TFP, [but] as soon as that picture is used for more than portfolio then it becomes working for free, and that is wrong.

“It is not “good exposure” to do TFP. It is taking advantage of often young and inexperienced or naive models. ”

She is also sceptical about how employers boast about having spent £20k on equipment and say the photos will be up in Harrods and Harvey Nichols, but then go on to say “but there is no budget to pay a model. You will get exposure.”

She adds that exposure doesn’t pay the bills and all it gets the model is more people requesting free work.

“Don’t fall into the trap of people calling work ‘TFP’ because there is a difference. Time for photos is only acceptable if it’s for portfolio use.”

As a new model myself, I have done a lot of unpaid work. In most of the cases, people promise you exposure and get all the profits after that.

But, as Charlotte said, it is actually ‘bad exposure.’ People expect you to work for free further and further. It leads to a huge problem of exploitation.

Now established in the fashion industry, I rarely agree to do any unpaid work, unless it won’t affect my other businesses, or if it is a charity. On the other side, I still have a lot to learn, so I can use TFP to improve my skills.

Photographer [Jeff Meyer]

It is a personal choice for everybody, but some models get fooled into thinking that this is absolutely normal.

Not only do models suffer from the unfair use of free work, it exploits photographers, fashion assistants, stylists and many others.

People are being used, and it is awful.

An example of photographers being exploited is the case in which one creates beautiful pictures for models for free, spend their resources, and then models use them without crediting the author, getting all the benefits.

Some people would agree that there are two sides to this issue. Pete Fallan, a talented photographer, says he has benefitted from TFP but also lost out too.

He had situations where people used his work for their own good – “My latest issue is when people are asking photographers to work TFP to snap their kids!”, he says “but, as long as it is win-win all round, then I can’t see any harm.”

I can say from personal experience, that sometimes there is no time to eat, drink or even sit to rest on the day of the shoot or catwalk.

During one of the September weekends, I had a few shows in a row. I was exhausted by the end of the last one. It is proper work, which requires time, energy and money to do. If you are lucky enough, you get your expenses paid.

And traveling itself is tiring too, especially if you are based in another city. You can either benefit from it or lose a lot.

Continuing on the topic of exploitation, some designers generally use models for unpaid work, justifying it as TFP. But the difference between a collaboration and unpaid work is quite huge – for example, I worked for few designers for free, doing full day photoshoots and catwalks.

I didn’t get any money, but I have got fabulous pictures for my portfolio, and I have also seen my photos published in one of the world’s most known fashion magazines. Personally, I am happy with that for now.

But this doesn’t mean I will work for free all my life just because I am getting published somewhere. I have been published in one of the leading Asian magazines, and been paid for working as a model.

As a result, I am willing to work more with the person who brought me there, and I would say no to other offers over this one.

On the other hand, Rosemary Lloyd, a multi-award winning model and current Miss Earth Air, says a firm ‘no’ to TFP. She has worked in the fashion industry for 13 years: “Some people pretend to be your friend and loyal to you so you can work for TFP for them and exploit you,” she says.

Unfortunately, this is the truth. As soon as they know you won’t work for free, she admits that their loyalty stops, and so does their friendship.

She also adds that some people say the classic ‘I don’t have money to pay’, but then somehow they have a car, a mortgage, Apple products, designer stuff and so on.

Lloyd claims that highly professional models do not work for TFP as there is always going to be more paid opportunities. She advises not to sell yourself short and not to let any companies use you.

However, the model admits that government registered charities are the only time she wouldn’t charge as it’s for a good cause.

Fashion Show [Wikimedia:Mandiberg]

“TFP is the most abused term in the fashion industry, TFP was invented for those who are new to the industry and don’t have a portfolio and needed to build one. But once you have a representative professional portfolio to offer clients, then paid work should only be appropriate!

“Stop asking professional models with years of experience to work for TFP, not only does it devalue your standards as a company but the models also.”

Lloyd believes that professionals should not be approached unless an employer has a budget in place. She compares it to doing grocery shopping – “Do you go to a store and walk out with the company’s bag full of food without paying and say to them ‘I am walking with your bag of food, so it’s good exposure’?” Otherwise, it is taking advantage and exploiting them.

She calls for professional models with a representative portfolio to not work for TFP and undersell themselves. And don’t go for “you get great exposure, we pay you next time” or worse “we will feed you.”

“Please, models, photographers, designers, hairstylists, makeup artists know your worth! TFP is taking advantage and exploiting you!”

Lloyd also adds that if you have been approached by a charity fashion show, you should require the registration number, which every charity has, so make sure it is official.

I will be working with Rosemary Lloyd in the future. Despite the fact, that her cosmetics company is very new and we are friends, she will be paying me because she believes that work must be paid.

But once again, nobody forces anyone to do TFP; it is a personal choice. But the fact that unprofessionals are being chosen for professional work just because they are free of charge might be a reason why the quality of fashion projects go down.

TFP is a chance for models to become better, to get into the industry and be paid there.

Mirza Miah, designer and founder of Iman Boutique, says he doesn’t like the term TFP as it has negative connotations, so he tries to use the term “collaborating models”.

Once again, I worked with him for free when I met him. I don’t regret a second, as all I got was nice pictures, wonderful friends and lots of fun, and because of those pictures I could add to a portfolio I am now getting paid for.

“As a designer in the Asian wear industry, I’ve found that with models trying to break into the industry it’s very hard to get work – thus leading to a lack of portfolio pictures to showcase what they can achieve in a shoot which would be worth a designer’s money,” Miah says.

He finds it a bit harder to work with collaborative models, as there is a need to get them to know their poses and angles to best showcase the garment. It can take time, not to mention overcoming their nerves when they see bright lights and a camera aimed at them.

Miah tends to work with them and direct them as much as possible to get the best shots possible which he shares with the model for them to build their portfolio.

His suggestion for aspiring models is to sit in front of a mirror, know your angles, overcome your nerves, use collaborative work to showcase your talent, build your portfolio and then start your search in paid work after making a good professional reputation for yourself.

“Also, remember that not everyone’s budget is the same, but their creative thinking can even help the ‘established’ models,” he adds. “There are always opportunities to grow and develop your portfolio, even if that means lowering your rate. It may just help you in the long run.”

Truly, you can experiment with your rates and work, just don’t believe that you have to work for free constantly to get somewhere far.

The analogy to this case might be free internships. Amy Latham raised this topic in her article “The age of not being paid.”

“Why should someone trying to build a portfolio of work, or provide a creative service be treated any differently?” she says. And how is it different in fashion industry then?

Despite being a personal choice for everybody, TFP doesn’t seem like a viable option. I have refused to do five jobs because I was not getting paid and I just sat at home for a whole month without any invitation because they don’t want to work with me anymore. Why? Because I request money for doing work for them.

It happens in any other industry with internships too. You want to be paid, but as a result, you just stay without any work experience.

Naeem Yasin, an established model, adds that TFP is a major point of discussion in the industry and it is good to see many people challenging it.

Yasin says everyone has done TFP, whether as models or photographers or any other creatives, especially when first starting in the industry.

He remembers one of his first ever agencies warned him that he needs to make sure people do not take advantage by saying it’s ‘TFP’ or ‘test shoot’ and then use the images to advertise their stuff in magazines/online or otherwise.

“At the time I stupidly ignored that advice as I just wanted images for my portfolio. And work I essentially did for nothing, was used to advertise (and therefore to make money) for the client,” Yasin says.

If a model wants to build a portfolio they should be doing test shoots or collaborations where both parties get something out of the work,” he adds.

He thinks that if the models are not getting paid than the photographer or designer should not be making any profit except portfolio building. As most new models are willing to work for nothing, everyone else suffers as these clients know they can get work for free anytime – but as a result, they get what they pay (or don’t pay) for.

“Finally, if as a model you choose to do TFP make sure it’s to your advantage also… For example, if Vogue approached me for TFP would I accept? Hell yeah! Because that is major exposure!

“But unfortunately… most clients use the ‘exposure’ line to get models on board but most of the time there is none!”

It is very sad to see how some people in the industry have turned a normal understanding of Time for Photos concept into the shameless use of free model work for their own benefit.

Fair use applies on both sides of the camera [Pixabay:gjbmiller]

Diane Jordan, a model, says she was working for free at first, as it helped her to create a beautiful feed on her Instagram page.

“The work I was doing for free, later on, helped me to get noticed. Back in 2013, I helped a designer duo for nothing and then, I saw my face in Daily Mail. I also had paid jobs as I established good connections while working for free,” Jordan shares.

Jay Kristoffer, a photographer, questions how can a model or photographer that is starting out, become professional without TFP. He believes that if you love photography or modeling, you won’t mind doing it for free.

He adds that Lara Jade would not be where she is today were it not for the contribution that TFP made to her work and career prospects. She continues to do personal work to this day – although she probably doesn’t need to. Countless full-time, professional photographers and models do the same, for the similar reasons.

The conclusion is that TFP should not be mistaken for free work. It is an essential part of beginning a career in this industry, but there is a difference between giving a volunteering opportunity and deceiving a model – saying it is a test shoot and then using their work for own benefits.

People’s work should be paid. For all the photographers, models, designers and other members of the fashion industry.



Featured image by gjbmiller via Pixabay

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