An open letter to TFP (Trade for Print)
First off, before I get stuck in I am sure you exist in other industries (I know you do in music under the "exposure" myth).
I believe you exist with the most honest of goals: to enable photographers and models to gain experience without needing to pay money. Here we run into the first issue with TFP; if you are a photographer new to the portrait industry and want to gain a portfolio and use a model who is doing TFP (generally because they are new as well, it isn't something they do full time, or is a hobby for them), you will find it a slow and long time learning to pose and create stunning images. This has two knock on effects;
1. You will very quickly have a substandard portfolio and will try get paid work or join an agency and they won't take you.
2. You could get start getting a bad reputation within certain communities of doing poor work. A bad reputation is hard to loose and easy to gain.
So what else is wrong with TFP?
A lot of people expect me to work for free when I do portraiture. Some even get offended that they would have to pay me to do my job, and demand me to work for free (a professional agency has even said that to me—an agency which would want the best for their clients). This kind of attitude is because of the large amounts of TFP.
How can we make it better?
The best way to learn is to hire a model and be upfront that you would like them to teach you some stuff about posing and arranging for fashion or glamour etc... They will help you, you will learn more and you will gain a better portfolio quicker. As it will be of a professional standard, this will then make it easier to join agencies or get more clients because you will be able to show a good track record of high quality work, the clients you will then get will pay you.
Starting a photography business does require you to spend money on something; assuming you already have your camera, your next big outlay is the learning curve and building a portfolio.
I am not saying that doing a favour for a friend who is getting into modelling is the same as TFP. It is not. Equally it is not OK to not be paid for your work, especially as you are using your knowledge and experience while someone else is benefiting, plus you have to pay for all your equipment, software to process, and insurance (which you should have).
TFP is one of these sad things that started with all good intentions, but has been distorted to get free work out of creatives while creating a norm for everyone to work for free—which you wouldn't expect from a Lawyer or Accountant, so why is it okay for creatives to work for free?
I understand that there are extenuating circumstances, but as I said, TFP was started with all good intentions but has been twisted into making everybody lose, from photographers to models.
Working for free is not okay, and being paid doesn't always have to be money, but I would warn against the exposure trap as that is quite often a false idol. Follow rule one: Look after yourself, and rule two: Meet the client beforehand.
It is a shame TFP has gone so far off track. Farewell, and I hope to see a better version of you soon.