To Pay Or Not To Pay?

Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Blog, Model | 5 comments

To Pay Or Not To Pay?
An image from a collaborative shoot with UK model: Ivory Flame

Another thing I get asked a lot, is about how expensive it is to shoot models. Well, there are so many different ways to engage the services of a model and each photographer has their own preferred way. You can pay the model for his or her time, they can pay you, it can be on a collaborative basis or indeed a combination of payment and collaboration. With so many things in the mix, the one and only thing that’s important is that both parties are happy with the agreement and that the agreement (which ever it is), is honoured by everyone involved.


A collaboration is where model and photographer (perhaps also stylist/makeup artist) come together to take images that will benefit the portfolios of all involved. Everyone freely gives of their time, expertise and often creative input to create a final image or set of images. Effectively the model provides her services “free of charge” (although I disagree that it’s free) and the photographer provides images, usually nowadays on CD, but could also be prints. If you get the right mix of people, the right mix of creativity, the results from such collaborations can be amazing. However, on the flip side, if the mix is wrong, then the results are often shockingly poor.

This work is often referred to as TFx (Time For x – where x can be P – for print, CD – for CD etc.). I have known models to work in exchange for accommodation when they’re touring, or in exchange for goods like the clothing/accessories used on the shoot. The obvious advantage of TF work is that there is no financial investment, or certainly minimal financial investment, so all parties involved end up with images they’re happy with, without needing to have parted with their hard earned cash. But there can be complications here, or maybe I over think things and make it complicated? Most shoots incur some expense, whether it be location hire, travel expenses etc. In my experience, models often look for these expenses to be covered, not shared, so in reality the photographer is often the one to bear the brunt of these costs. So whilst it’s still considerably cheaper than paying a model in full, it’s often not “free” – there is some financial outlay.

For me though, I’m a firm believer in equality. If a shoot is a collaboration, for the equal benefit of all involved, then I’m a firm believer that what ever costs are incurred, are split evenly amongst all involved. If no one person is benefiting more from the resulting images, then no one person should have to carry any more of the financial burden than any of the others.

Paid Shoot

An image from a paid shoot with UK model: Raphaella

I’m assuming here that it is the photographer paying the model – and not the other way round (which I believe is actually not an urban myth – it does happen). Paid shoots are very simple in their nature; you book a model, he/she turns up and models for you, you pay the model and the shoot is over. It’s like engaging the services of an accountant. You are paying them to provide a service for you, for a defined period of time. By and large, for a paid shoot, the creative direction is controlled by the photographer, but that doesn’t imply that the model has no input. In fact, I have found the dynamics to be identical between the paid and collaborative shoots I have engaged in, in the past. The primary difference, with the exception of money changing hands, is that there is no obligation on the photographer to provide images. Unlike a TF shoot where the photographer should provide X amount of images in Y time frame, on a paid shoot the images don’t ever have to see the light of day. In fact, over the last 2 years, there have been 3 occasions where I have simply archived off the images, deciding not to edit, display or print any of them, because I wasn’t happy with the results. A luxury I wouldn’t have been able to afford had the shoot been a collaboration.

One thing I do not do on a paid shoot, is provide the model with images. I don’t allow them to have prints, I don’t provide permission for them to use the low resolution images on their portfolio pages or their blogs. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule, but by and large this is how I work. A model assigns a value to their time and will charge me for that time. So if I pay for that, I don’t understand why I should also provide images? If I want a models look in my portfolio, then I book and pay for that model. Similarly if a model wants my work in his/her portfolio, then they can either pay me for my time or work with me on a collaborative basis. But I will not pay a models full rates and provide images as well. And I don’t understand photographers who do ❓

Of course, I have had models tell me that it’s good publicity etc. but the truth is, unless you are a professional photographer looking to advertise your services, then the additional publicity you may get by having the model host your images in her portfolio, is pretty much useless. As a paying (usually) hobbyist photographer, the best advertisement I have for my work is the email I send to models with the subject “Paid shoot?” 😉


So, how expensive is it to shoot models? Well rates vary wildly depending on who the model is, how experienced they are and what genre you’re shooting. But typical hourly rates will vary from €25-€45 per hour. The more hours you book, the lower the hourly rates become, with day rates varying from €200~€250. At this stage, I rarely ask models their rates, but instead tell them my budget and ask them if they’re interested. If a model is busy, then its rare they’ll discount because they can secure higher paid work elsewhere. But like every business, there will be quiet times and models during these times will often work at reduced rates. All in all though, you can book a model for an hour or two for the price it would cost in petrol to drive up the mountains or to the coast. It’s not necessarily expensive.

Part Paid – Part Image Deal

An image from a part paid/part image shoot with US model: Anna Catherine

This is a mix between a collaborative shoot and a paid shoot, where there is still an obligation to provide images and still payment, but at a reduced rate. Personally I HATE this type of engagement. It has all the complications and obligations of a collaborative shoot and none of the advantages, in that you still need to part with your hard earned cash. Also for me (over thinking things as usual), the discount offered by the model has a direct link to the value that he/she assigns to your images. So if a model was going to work with you for one hour at €25 but would drop their rates to €20, that’s effectively saying they value your work at €5 😯 I’ve ticked many a model of my “would like to work with” list, based on the discount that they offered me from their rates, for my images.


Some people refer to a test shoot as a TF shoot or collaboration – but I don’t. A test shoot (for me) is a short shoot, lasting no more than an hour, where the model will test with the photographer. It is effectively a live casting. The photographer gets to see the model in the flesh, gets to see how she poses in real life and how they work together. The resulting images are not initially intended for portfolio usage, but obviously if the results are good, there’s nothing stopping them being used as such (by both parties – i.e. a collaboration). Given that most of the models I work with are from the UK, I rarely get the opportunity to test with them before I shoot them, but for Irish models, it is something I insist on (probably one reason I don’t work with a lot of them ❓ )

Pay & Buy Back

So I prefer the simple, clean, no obligation, pay and walk away engagement model. I hate, hate, HATE the part paid/part image deal. But a lot of models I work with do ask me for images from the shoot. My solution to this, is that I offer them the opportunity to buy back images after the shoot. Unlike the other methods (collaboration or part pay/part image deal), there is no obligation on me to sell and no obligation on the model to buy. I don’t have to have the images prepared by a certain date. I don’t have to have a certain amount of images and indeed, if I’m not happy with the images, I never have to show them at all. But once/if I do publish them, I offer the model the opportunity to buy them for their portfolios.

My goal here is not to profit from the sale, simply to cover the costs of the shoot or certainly contribute towards them. As I’m a total control freak, I would never provide the model with high resolution images, whose only use could be for printing, so if the model wants prints, I provide them with prints; if not, I’ll provide them with web sized images for their portfolios. The most I would ever charge would be the value of the shoot itself – all other images (not prints) would be free of charge beyond that point. Prints, if required, would be provided at cost.

Each To Their Own

As I said at the start, everyone has their own preferred way of working. A lot of photographers will pay models and provide images (again – I won’t). Some would never dream of ever paying a model. Others would never work on a collaborative basis and others would never work with a model on any terms unless they had tested first. It’s very much a case of each to their own. But done right, working with models, certainly doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and can work out considerably cheaper and indeed more productive than other photographic genres like landscapes.


  1. I’d love to be able to pay models for all the reasons you mention. However, I don’t have a money tree in the backyard. Where did you get your tree? 🙂 Seriously, what’s your primary revenue stream? ie how do you cover the expenses of the shoots?

  2. It’s definitely not a money tree that I have… I work long and hard, but thankfully nothing to do with photography (which is my escape from work)

    I’m an electronic engineer “by trade”, but 10 years ago, myself and my business partner set up a semiconductor electronic design services company.

    Thankfully that affords me the luxury of being able to pay models

  3. semiconductor electronic design services company / money tree, same thing 🙂 I’m happy for you. Enjoy your success.

  4. I wish

  5. Well done for clarifying these things for other photographers Ciaran.

    I pay the vast majority of models, and shoot quite regularly as I enjoy it, and I do it purely for the art.
    Because of that I also give models as many images as they want, but I also respect you and your way of working. It’s horses for courses.

    While I probably spend quite a bit on models I cut costs by shooting with other photographers, and my annual spend pales into insignificance compared to other photographers I know who go on wildlife safaris, landscape training courses and other extremely expensive photographic holidays. So I consider my hobby cheap, well cheapish 😉

Care to share your opinion?