Shoot classification for Models and Photographers

Posted on November 16, 2012


It has been a while since I wrote something about modeling and lately, many models have asked me about the types of shoots and what should should be expected about each of the types of shoots. This applies to photographers, too!

The motivation is the number of models who have come to me to ask what I am doing with my shoots and if such and such is ethical in  how they are handling their releases. The models often times feel cheated because they shoot a “test shoot” and are required to sign a full release without getting paid, and then see the photographer getting paid decent amounts of money for the shoot and nothing makes its way to the model. Is this type of behavior ethical? No. But, this seems to be the normal behavior with many of the photographers who shoot digital today. I also frequently hear models and other photographers comment about how a particular model wants to be paid and doesn’t understand the industry. I hope this allows others to understand my perspective on this and gives them a way to think about the industry and classify the shoots they do appropriately for the work they are doing.

Let me start with the test shoot and progress through the different types I shoot, and describe them for everyone to see and understand.

The test shoot is exactly that: a test shoot. Often, they are the very first shoot I do with a model. The purpose for me is to test out the model and see if they can work with me. The images are used primarily for portfolio use for both the model and me. I also use test shoots to try out something new – usually equipment, technique, and post processing process. The key here is that it is really a test of some kind. The images won’t be used for anything but each other’s portfolios. In the case of a meet and greet, I might sell an image as a piece of artwork because of the location I am shooting but the model always gets something for the money I make on that image if they have stayed in touch with me. Models are never paid for the work I do when I am doing tests. I am also never paid as a photographer. I need to say here that most in the industry refer to these as “TFP” or “Time for Print” or Time for CD or some other “time for” phrase. This type of work is not distributed or sold to anyone. The release signed should also state this on it.

The next is personal work. These are images that are taken by me because I see something I want to capture or want to do something. It is work I come up with and not have a client in mind initially. Almost all of my fine art images that aren’t commissioned fall into this category  These are the images you find in galleries and within most published artwork books. Depending on the model, they may or may not be paid. The model doesn’t pay me unless if the model is my client. I am, the photographer, the primary benefactor for this type of work. I sometimes pay models depending on their skill level for this type of work. Most models want to be paid for this type of work. Depending on where I want the work to end up, this may be a full release or restricted to a more narrow use.

The next is model images. These are images that models want to do or images taken in the process of teaching a model how to be a model. The model is never paid for this type of work. They are the benefactor of the work created. The bulk of the work with models tends to fall in this category. The images are intended strictly for the model’s use, although if I don’t post them, the model usually gets upset. These are often pretty pictures of pretty people. There is never a client other than the model. These are also the type of image most models want for free and to show off that they are models. Professional, full time photographers hate doing these images. They are also the least priority of the images I create in post processing. I frequently use them for fill in to keep me busy doing work. Some photographers don’t do this type of work. There may be a release so the photographer can use the images in their own portfolio or book. Beyond this, there is no real advantage to the photographer to shoot this type of image.

Something that is a combination of the last two categories of work is Spec work. Spec is short for speculative work. This is the work that is done to be published in a magazine or book or to be used by a movie house or even sell in mass quantity. The key is that the work is done in anticipation for getting published or used. This means there is little money for a return on the image if money is made, and there is no guarantee that money will be made at all. The model is never paid for this type of work. The photographer is only paid if the photographer is able to sell the work. The amounts are usually very small. If used, both the photographer and model get extensive exposure and that exposure often leads to new work and paid work.

The next type of session is paid or commissioned work. These are images that a client pays for the photographer to create. Model images if paid for by the model fit in this category. If a designer wants work done, this is the category of that work. If the model isn’t the client, they will often get paid. If the model is the client, they don’t get paid. The photographer is always paid. The release in this type of work is almost always a full release because it is unknown where or how these images will be used.

I hope this gives you some idea of the types of work and who gets paid for the work.