What is TFP?
In photography TFP is an arrangement between a Photographer and a Model (usually) where both parties give their services to the other for free because the resulting images will be a benefit to both of their portfolios. It's sometimes called Test Shooting too. It's a pretty common arrangement that has been around for years and everyone uses it - from amateurs to professionals. It's basically saying 'My work rocks, your work is awesome, together we can make something deadly that'll make both of us look really good'.
The benefits are obvious - the photographer gets to try out new techniques or ideas with no financial pressures, as well as testing to see if the model that they're working with is any good in front of the camera. The Model gets high quality images in return for giving up their time and can try out new poses too. It's essentially personal development but with a goal of having something deadly to show for at the end of it. And If either party has any self-promoting sense, they can use these images to benefit themselves in other ways too. For example, Models would typically use these images to show their worth when charging a fee to other Photographers - and Photographers can charge future model clients for portfolio sessions on the back of these images.
The main thing to take from TFP is that no one person makes a financial gain from the photographs directly. Sure you can both come to an agreement later and decide how you sell the images, but essentially everyone's on equal footing and nobody should be using the images for financial gain without at least the others' consent.
So what's the problem?
TFP isn't a hard concept to wrap your head around, but it can however be a difficult concept for businesses to understand. Especially businesses that aren't really businesses. You know the sorts. They sell dresses on Etsy that nobody wants to wear or make hats that are made of weird materials that smell when it's wet outside. Regularly across Facebook or Instagram, you'll see 'Casting Calls' for 'Commercial TFP' similar to:
"Models and Photographers wanted. Looking to update my photos for my page, need professional photographers and models to show of my jewellery/dresses/smelly hats. TFP only. It will look great in your portfolio'.
Which looks as scabby as it is. Even payment in the form of clothing is cool - who doesn't want free high-end clothing? But getting nothing in return for commercial work is ridiculous. You'll see people chiming in stating that this isn't TFP, or that they need to pay for services like this - which are both true. If the the business is looking for photos because it understands the link between high quality images and sales - then it should be paying for them. They would see a financial benefit off the back of these images and the model and photographer would have worked for free. Which is a bit of a dick-move.
But realistically speaking, instances like this don't really affect anyone. No model or photographer worth their salt reply to 'adverts' like these. Exposure is worth the paper it's not written on. Especially when the images won't be on a billboard or in Vogue magazine - but on some awful Facebook page instead. Which means that an array of photographers armed with their first DSLRs and an army of models who can't model are the only ones that are available for these 'fantastic' opportunities.
The other main downfall to TFP is people not researching who they'll be working with and then being upset that the results aren't what they thought they'd be. This one is easily avoided - look at the work of the person proposing the shoot. They won't suddenly become the best model or photographer ever just because you're working with them.
So how do I make TFP work for me?
It's simple. Have high standards.
Lookit - you're great, you really are. Chances are that because you read this blog, you're already insanely beautiful, talented in an uncountable amount of ways and you probably smell majestic too. So given that you're so amazing, why would you work with someone that isn't going to show off all your magnificence in the best possible light? You wouldn't. Your time is important - and if you're going to be giving it to someone else, make sure you're giving it up for something you see the worth in.
If you're in any way talented or beautiful (I'm neither, but I am insanely charming - which also works) you'll probably get a load of people inquiring about TFP shoots. You're under no compulsion to agree to do any of them. But check their work. If you like it and think that working with them will benefit you, go for it. Plan something new, check out a location you haven't before or do weird stuff with your approach to lights. Make sure you're both on the same page and go make magic. Remember TFP is personal development - use it to benefit you! If they're pushing a specific agenda that you're not cool with, push your rate card.
But if I do TFP won't everyone assume I work for free?
Probably. But people also assume that Keanu Reeves can act because he's been in big name movies, and that's clearly bollocks; He's more wooden than a tree full of antique furniture. People can assume what they want - it's up to you to put them right.
There aren't many jobs that don't require some sort of personal investment if you want to progress. Chefs will spend hours at home perfecting dishes, Football coaches will watch hours of matches of opponent's games devising plans and Dentists will perfect ways to ask you questions at the most inconvenient time. For the most part these are all unpaid, but they're necessary to know if you want to raise your game to the next level. The same goes for Models and Photographers. TFP should be seen as development and improvement - and everybody has room to improve. You won't instantly be the greatest photographer or model - so put the hours in with someone who you know will help you get the best out of you.
(And don't forget - photography and modelling don't have to be about money if you don't need them to be)