Elan Vital Media | Opinion: To Trade or Pay for a Shoot?
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Opinion: To Trade or Pay for a Shoot?

That’s the question.

At the beginning of my, so far, short tenure as a “pro” photographer, a friend of mine that actually was a good chunk of my inspiration to become a photographer by trade in the first place, referred me to a site called Model Mayhem. I thought, and asked, wtf is that? She told me it was a networking site for people in the modeling industry. So I joined the site in 2012. Guess how many photoshoots I’ve been paid for. You guessed it if you thought fucking zero. ‘Cause that’s the answer. Fucking zero.

The way I think it should work is this: The person with the lessor experience/schooling/etc should pay the person with the higher experience, if the person plans on using the photos for commercial use, or making money off of them down the road. If it’s for practice and only social media is going to see them, I say go for trade.

Since 2012, I’ve paid approximately 10-12 models, as I felt that they would “enhance” my portfolio. It hasn’t really. During the beginning stages, I admit, I really was shitty. But now? Not so much. It’s still the same story with most people. Most models try to make it, most photographers try to make it, but unless people work outside the modeling industry, they don’t make it to the “big leagues” and they don’t make enough to make a solid living. Most of my shoots have been for trade in order to work on a collaboration I’ve got in my head or something the other people have in their heads, and everyone gets something out of it. If I am planning on submitting a set for publication, I usually tell people in advance, and if I get paid for it, I split it evenly with the people I worked with on the shoot.

Although, my school taught me the opposite. Always charge for your work and stick to your guns. And if you don’t get paid or offered payment, then don’t do the work. I agree to that to a certain extent. I think it depends more on situation, experience level, credentialing, etc. My original sentiment stands: always pay the more experienced person, especially if their portfolio can back it up. If it can’t, then go for trade or they should be paying you. And if one person is paying the other, it should be agreed upon in writing prior to the shoot. Not an email. An actual agreement. But always use your best judgement. Sometimes doing trade shoots can backfire, and so can paying someone else. Always make sure you get things in writing, otherwise, regardless if it was for trade or pay, it may not always go the way you expect.

The last thing I’ll say is this: if your portfolio is on a website being hosted for networking, make sure it isn’t full of cell phone images, or selfies from Snapchat, with bad rule of thirds and horrible cropping. Artistic value is one thing, but unless it’s still high quality photography, the artistic value is only going to go so far. Save the cell phone pics and selfies for social media to give updates to fans, not brag about to potential people that you’re going to work with. Your portfolio is your image.

PS. If you liked the article, or have any points of view or want to just say, “rock on, I loved it!”, feel free to comment on the facebook page on the post that brought you to the article! I would love to have conversation with people within the community about it!

Phoenix is a legend. He is dedicated to creating scenes that are devised from his imagination, which depending on the day may or may not be NSFW. His passions are Star Wars, paintball, journalism, photography (right?!), jeeps, being from the South, and his dog Trooper Duke. He is fluent in American sarcasm, bacon, and donuts. He's probably eating bacon or donuts as you read this.