News,  Photography

Why TFPs Are Not Always Equal


Trade For Pics or TFPs are a great way to broaden your portfolio as a photographer, model, and makeup & hair stylist. However, depending on your creative style (like mine), TFPs can be extremely costly. I learned this past year that TFPs were ACTUALLY putting me in the negative.

The Pros

In 2016, I was new to the Seattle area and was still trying to define my style of photography and makeup artistry. During a time of unemployment, I conducted many TFPs (since I had so much free time and was oozing with creativity). Here are the pluses to doing a TFP:


  • Gaining experience in different settings
    • Lighting, shadows, weather, location, crowds, distance, and capturing images on different surfaces or angles
  • Developing connections within the artistic community
    • Finding those that really support you and love your work, discovering what personalities you mesh well with, becoming familiar with models for future projects, gaining a reputation in the community that will transition well to clients
  • Defining your style
    • Seeing what images really attract others to your work, playing with different capture & edit techniques, discovering what styles excite YOU and make you want to do more, how you may need to rely on others to complete your style (i.e. wardrobe, makeup, hair, models)
  • Building a portfolio
    • Covering events or portraits that beginners are RARELY hired for, collecting photographs to display your artistic ability, collecting marketing materials for advertising


  • Practicing on different skin types (dry, oil, etc.) and skin tones
  • Learning what product companies you prefer over others and the reasons behind it
  • Getting feedback from models on what makeup products are difficult to remove or are too messy
  • Getting practice in for straight lines, curves, and quick application
  • Conducting a variety of looks (that you likely would not be hired for)
  • Quickening the length of time it takes you to complete a look

The Cons

In 2018, I became an OFFICIAL business - which came with licensing fees, sales tax collection, and paying for accounting software. While having a full-time job, I have slowly been growing but am less likely to take on TFPs. Here are the reasons WHY:

The Time Involved

Being the makeup artist AND photographer and extremely taxing on my time. Here is the breakdown of the time it takes for one creative session.

1 Hr Coordination (To pull a theme together, I must look for inspiration and sometimes collaborators to work with. It takes time to draft emails, search for ideas, and draft a design to pull plans together.)

1.5 Hr for Initial Set-Up and Preparation (This includes setting up the backdrop, cleaning the space, prepping makeup brushes, camera equipment, and moving furniture).

1.5 – 2.5 Hrs of Makeup (The themes that I created are never simple AND so the makeup takes a good amount of time to apply).

2-3 Hrs Photography (Once the makeup and wardrobe is on, there is NO turning back. I must capture everything I envisioned because when we say done, it is OVER).

1-2 Hrs Dismantling Setup (My studio is in my home – therefore, I have to put everything back in place to make it a home again. I have to clean up anything that made a mess, which has even included boatloads of glitter in my bathtub!).

5-8 Hrs of Editing (Editing is almost the LONGEST part of any photographer’s tasks! I tend to edit a few hours after coming home from work for a week or two. Then, I must prepare the photos for the model’s online gallery and watermark them for online posting.)

At a minimum, I am dedicating 12 HOURS of unpaid time for trade where a model only has to be present for a minimum 3.5 hours (not including their commute). When you compare these two aspects in terms of time, a TFP is NOT an equal trade.

The Cost of Materials

Just this summer, I have implemented a $50 model fee for anyone who participates in a creative shoot. This fee covers a portion of the materials used in the session.

Current Photographer’s Kit:

  • Sony Alpha Camera Body ($500)
  • Sony Wide Angle Lens ($800)
  • Sony Long Range Lens ($300)
  • Nikon Camera Body w/ Lens ($450)
  • LED Studio Light ($148)
  • Custom Built Backdrop ($300)
  • Two Interchangeable Backdrop Colors ($75 each)
  • Reflector ($30)
  • Memory Cards ($30 each)
  • Lightroom Software ($99)
  • Lightroom Presets ($80)

Total $2,887 (and this is cheap compared to full-time professionals)

Current Makeup Kit:

  • Foundation for Multiple Skin Types ($120)
  • Powder for Multiple Skin Types ($80)
  • Lipsticks, Stains, and Balms ($300)
  • Eyeshadow Palettes & Singles ($350)
  • Eyeliners ($130)
  • False Lashes ($80)
  • Body Paint ($110)
  • Glitter, Jewels, other Accessories ($80)
  • Glues, Primer, & Setting Spray ($115)

Total $1,365


Moving Away from TFPs & Towards TRADES


Since I have recognized the extra effort that I have been putting into a TFP, I am willing to negotiate a trade with a model, designer, or other type of collaborator. I am more than likely to accept an arrangement where the person is offering a service that I cannot provide for myself (for example, I have done trades for salon services and landscaping). For any person who is more than eager to work with me and wants to provide an incentive to schedule a session, I am receptive to bargains that equal more of my time and money.

I hope that this article explains my perspective as a photographer and makeup artist on the topic of TFPs. Through financial costs and the sacrifice of valuable time, I have learned that not all trades are equal for all parties involved. Especially for someone who has a full-time job and now, a family, I hope that this breakdown explains how I value my own free time and creativity. Please be aware that this article is an estimate of my own costs and values for my specific style. This may not reflect the same costs for other photographers or MUAs.