Steven Brokaw Photography

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Collaboration & TFP - Lets Talk About This

As a photographer, and I'm sure the same is true for all creative, I am asked to "collaborate" unpaid or provide time for photos ("TFP") frequently.  First, a few caveats; 1) I'm a professional, but don't do this full time, 2) I tend to look at every photo-shoot or collaboration as both a business AND creative transaction, 3) I regularly test, collaborate & do TFP, 4) like all creatives, my time is not free or unlimited, and finally 5) photography is expensive so TFP's & unpaid collaborations must have mutual consideration.

I'm generalizing, but some people do not understand what a TFP or unpaid collaboration is.  This creates misunderstandings, and I always feel like a dick when I say no, or try to bring the discussion back to why we are doing a TFP.  So here goes.  This is my understanding / definition of unpaid collaboration or TFP.  Note, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Collaboration - I honestly think amazing things can come out of collaboration.  Each party brings an idea or a set of ideas, and there is agreement on what each party will do before, during & after the photo-shoot.  A true & specific collaboration.  A collaboration is not when one party does all or most of the work or has all or most of the expense.  Also, it's not automatic a collaboration is unpaid.  In some situations creatives may be paid when they don't share the vision or they don't need the work for their portfolio.   Here is an example of my dream collaboration.

I'm contacted ... let's say a stylist / designer, and says, "I'm preparing a new fashion line.  I've checked your portfolio and your style is what I'd like to highlight the fashion on my website.  I've contacted a couple of models, and would like to talk to you about working together to arrange a photo-shoot.  I'll bring a few pieces from the line & a couple of models who I think will work well with my designs. Would you be interested in working with me and suggesting some lighting / styles that will work.  Here are a couple of photos of the pieces / and models selected.  Maybe you could contact your preferred MUA & hair stylist to see if they would like to help.  I'll pay the cost of the MUA or maybe they will work TFP.  Also, once the shoot is done, how about we co-author a blog on the shoot, and submit to a couple of magazines.  I'll do 1 of the submissions and you do the other.  Here is a list of the magazines & blogs I think we could submit.  We can work out an agreement on how images will be used, and then I'll be willing to style your next shoot free of charge."  Wow, this would be great.

This is how a collaboration should work.  Both parties bring something to the table, there was an agreement on who did what, ideas were bounced around and the end result was hopefully a great photoshoot. 

A collaboration is NOT when one side says they want to collaborate, but asks you to do all the heavy lifting.  A collaboration is not when someone says they want to collaborate, but goes radio silent.  Also, don't sell anyone on / or promise all the benefits of working with you, the connections you can bring, or the value to their portfolio.  Personally, if you give me a strong sales pitch or promise the glories of the collaboration I'm going to steer clear.  That's simply code for "I want free photos".  Unless you have an AMAZING track record or portfolio, I have to question the motive.

I'm sure the same applies if you are a MUA, hair stylist, clothing designer, painter, DJ, videographer, etc.  

Time for Photos / Prints ("TFP") - TFP is unpaid.  This is an extremely useful tool for creatives, but also misused.  TFP should be used carefully, tactically & communications must be VERY clear.  This is how I arrange most of my test shoots.  In my experience, most experienced models, photographers, creatives, etc. DON'T do TFP unless it's for a friend, they REALLY want to work with someone or they want to test equipment or techniques.  As a side note, a collaboration can include TFP & at the same time a TFP can be a collaboration.

In a TFP photo-shoot, BOTH parties must get something out of the arrangement.  In my case, I am giving my time & product (studio setup, photo-shoot. post processing, images) and a model is giving me their time, looks & skills.  In a TFP arrangement neither party receives financial compensation (unpaid).  However, I get to photography someone I want to work with / practice a technique / lighting and hopefully images I can use in my portfolio (especially if it's a skilled model).  The model will get agreed upon number of photos, hopefully the ability to try out new posing, clothing, lighting techniques, and access to my social media activity.  The consideration for both parties should be equal.  The consideration should be discussed upfront.

The problem with TFP is its misused, miscommunicated, or one side gets significantly more than the other.   I'm often confused when a creative reaches out to me and says they want to work with me or do a photo-shoot.  If someone DOESN'T tell me "I would like to arrange a TFP shoot", or "I'm available to do a TFP shoot" then I'm assuming you are are reaching out to hire me.  

If arranging a TFP, make sure you let the creative (i.e. photographer) know what consideration they will get out of working unpaid.  Don't be offended, pushy or shitty if the creative doesn't want to work TFP (although they should at least follow-up).  They may not see the same value as you, they don't have the time or your look doesn't fit into their portfolio.  The same goes the other way, a talented model or creative isn't going to reach out to someone less experienced or doesn't have the necessary portfolio and offer their services TFP.  

Therefore when you reach out to me (or any experienced creative) for a TFP you MUST show a portfolio / website.  Be specific what style or look you want to work on and what consideration you require.  Don't reach out to a creative and ask to do TFP and then say "whatever you want"...what does that mean?    

On the other side, a model, MUA or stylist should look at the photographer's portfolio.  If their skills or style aren't going to help them or isn't what they are looking for then I shouldn't be considered as a TFP candidate.  As an example if you want to try some steampunk vibe or you want to practice a exotic boudoir shoot....I'm probably not your guy.  If you want to do fashion, shadows, implied, B&W or beauty then hit me up. 

I'm VERY specific if I initiate a TFP shoot or want to initiate a collaboration.  I will let the person know I would like to do a TFP or collaborate, why I want to hire them and what is the consideration (i.e. 4 processed final images of your choice).  This should happen on both sides.

Please note, a TFP is NOT the same thing to me as helping a new creative out (which I enjoy) or doing a test shoot.  Those are different in my mind.  Finally, there are some creatives that I would go out of my way to collaborate of do a TFP for.  They hit me up and I'm there.

So in conclusion, a TFP or collaboration needs to provide consideration for all parties.  If I'm being asked to do a TFP, I want / need specifics ... don't make me beg or do all the work.  If I'm asking someone for to work with me TFP or do an collaboration I will be very specific.  Let's get something started.

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