When you are starting out on your career path as a model, building your book (portfolio) and getting lots of practice being in front of a camera are musts in your development. At this stage it may become an expensive endeavor and any opportunity to get professional photos for free is appealing. There are photographers who will be willing to shoot some models for free. There are many young photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. who are happy to shoot what is known as TFP or Time for Prints, meaning everyone is working for free and in exchange they each get the photos for use for their own portfolios, websites, and social media. It can be a great way to learn, grow, create content, and build relationships with other working professionals or up and coming talent who may be stars in their own right one day. These photos can’t be used by any of participants for profit or beyond this scope unless the photographer and model agree to that usage and sign legally binding contracts, such as a Model Release (giving the photographer the ability to sell or monetize the images), or transfer of ownership (from photographer to model) via a Work for Hire Agreement. That means, without the necessary agreements, no one can create a calendar using these images and sell it or submit the photos to be used in an ad campaign, for example. A standard TFP should not require a model release to be signed—unless the images are specifically being shot as a submission for possible publication, which you’ve agreed to before shooting. Unless otherwise specified the photographer will retain ownership rights to the images and you very likely will only see and have access to the images the photographer thinks highlight their skills or conform to their standards. Some will give you every image they shoot but this is not the norm. It’s best to clarify what your photographer will supply before shooting if it’s important to you.
Another circumstance under which photographers will often offer to shoot a model for free or sometime even pay the model a minimal amount (how enticing, paid modeling work—a dream come true!) is for stock photos. They may or may not call it a stock photo shoot. They may refer to it as a Test as well (another name people use for either TFP or shoots that models pay for in the early days of their career to build their book). The difference with this shoot being that they will ask/require you to sign a release. This legally gives them the right to use the photo for profit and in whatever why they want that is included in or not excluded by the release. It removes all claims to any financial compensation you might have or control over the images. The photographer can they use the images in any way they choose that is within the scope of the release you signed to sell or use them for profit. There are several host platforms sites, such as Shutterstock or Adobe Stock, on which these images can be listed for purchase and downloaded by anyone willing to pay. The photographer will continue to make money for each download however, the model has no claim to the images at this point and the initial payment, if any, is all she will receive.
While this can be a great way to get images and even make a little money in the process, I caution models against this for a few reasons.
First, your image is everything. When you give up the rights and control over it, not only are you losing money, you may find that your images could be used in ways that are not in line with your values or goals for yourself and your career. You could be surprised to find image used in an ad campaign for teen pregnancy, drug use, sexually transmitted infections, or worse. It can be not only embarrassing or uncomfortable for you, it can cause you to lose out on work later in your career as brands are careful about what associations they create to their name and image. Even if the images end up being used for something that you are okay with, a beauty spa for instance, it can limit your ability to make money working directly with such clients in the future.
There is a risk of over saturation or devaluing your brand. Over-saturation is especially important for commercial models because brands want your image to be associated with their product and not to have consumers thinking of other products when they see you. And your perceived value, or level of exclusivity plays an important role for high fashion models. If your face is suddenly everywhere at Walmart, Prada is not likely to hire you.
The most important risk factor, from a legal risk perspective, is the potential for conflicts. Let’s say a big national brand like Verizon Wireless wants to hire you for an upcoming commercial or print ad. This should be a high paying job and part of the reason for that is that you sign legal contracts stating that that you have not and will not be publicly associated with any other cell phone or related companies for the duration of time specified in the contract. If you see that T-Mobile is running ads with photos you did as a paid test or stock photo shoot, you now have a conflict and will lose out on the opportunity to do the Verizon ad (a potential six figure one) all for some free photos you may not even be using anymore or perhaps the $50 or $100 you made for that shoot. What if you don’t know about the T-Mobile ad or it doesn’t start running until after you’ve been hired by Verizon and shot their ad? Now you’re in an even worse predicament because ignorance is not an exemption to a legally binding contract. Verizon will have to reshoot the entire ad and can now sue you for their losses, which can be substantial.
Of course, that all said, there is also the possibility your photos never end up being used for anything and the money you make helps you continue to pursue this path so, it is something you’ll have to assess the value and risk of for yourself and decide if it is right for you.