This is something that is on my mind quite a lot and something that I was prompted to think of once again this morning. Please do note that this is being posted via my personal blog and is NOT considered part of my advice as it’s purely my opinion (though I absolutely stand by everything I’m about to say). I just don’t feel that personal opinions like this are really advice.
As a model or photographer or really anyone who does or makes anything, you have to have some kind of marketable skill or product that is viable in whatever market you are in. This means your rates/prices have to be competitive, you have to spend time marketing, doing research and continuing your education, honing your skill or improving/updating your product, and networking with others in your field.
I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve struggled to remember this myself, but I’ve always adapted eventually and finally I’ve come to terms with the fact that modeling doesn’t need to be a full time job for me to continue doing it. It’s okay to model as a part time job, for a bit of side money, or even purely as a hobby. I don’t feel that whether a model is charging or not should have any bearing at all on their “worth” as a model to others in the industry or to fans. In other words: Just because a model isn’t being paid doesn’t mean he or she is a lesser model than someone who is. And just because a model does get paid does not mean they are somehow better than those who aren’t or don’t. What makes you a good model is your professionalism, your modeling skill, and the quality of the work you turn out.
Moving on… Not every model or photographer is going to be able to make money from their modeling or photography. Aside from skill, there are so many other factors, most notably the ability to offer something your target market sees as valuable, the ability to have competitive rates, professionalism, and likely a somewhat flexible schedule. You can be awesome at what you do, but if your target market doesn’t see your service/skill as something they want to and can pay for, then you’re not going to get very far.
And this brings me to photographers. If you’re a photographer and your target market is models, you’re going to have a struggle ahead of you. Models are usually young people with lower incomes. They don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on shoots. And, quite honestly, most freelance models build their portfolios by shooting trade. You may or may not be able to give them better photos than they’ll get doing trade at this moment, but if they don’t have the money (and many of us simply don’t), then using guilt-trips, accusing us of not “investing” in our careers, or other negative tactics aren’t going to get you very far and they make you look inconsiderate and rude. Also, to those of us that know a thing or two, they also make it look like you don’t know your market very well or that you’re trying to “trick” newer models into shooting with you with promises of boosting them. If you can give them phenomenal images in genres that benefit them, great. Otherwise, you need to find a market that actually supports what you do. This is why so many photographers shoot other things like weddings, senior portraits, etc. That’s where the money is.
And the same goes for models. You can’t expect every photographer to be willing to pay you. Unless they are successful at selling prints or making other money from photos, they aren’t likely benefiting financially from shooting with you. Most photographers who pay models do so in order to build their portfolios, or to create images to sell themselves. But there are plenty of very talented photographers who shoot for art or as a hobby who aren’t making a penny from it. You can demand to be paid all you want, but if you want to keep updating your portfolio, you’re probably going to need to shoot some trade as well. And if you are charging rates, keep in mind that the people who hire you are probably not going to be the best photographers in the area and they aren’t generally obligated to give you photos afterward unless you specifically agree on such.
Another thing: just as being paid doesn’t make you “better” automatically, shooting/posing as a hobby doesn’t make you “worse.” I’m a tiny bit tired of hearing people go on and on about how you’re not a “real” photographer or model unless you get paid (or published). Those people are usually looking for ways to try to make themselves seem worth more and apparently their work isn’t doing that for them. I don’t care how much someone gets paid or who they’ve worked with. I think what really matters is their work, at least when comparing to other models and photographers. Obviously marketing and such comes more into play when you’re dealing with “the public,” but I still believe if you feel like you need to knock someone else down to bring yourself up than you must not be as good at what you do as you’re claiming to be.
Modeling and photography are creative, artistic things. They are subjective. They can be “commercial.” They can be “just for fun.” I prefer to surround myself with those who, no matter what their goals, are respectful of others no matter what they shoot and what their goals are. If your marketing, be it for paid work or trade, art or advertisement, can’t be based on your skill and quality without having to include you down-talking others, then I firmly believe you’re doing it wrong.