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A Beginner Photographer’s Guide To A “Trade Shoot”






Starting out as a portrait or fashion photographer comes with its challenges. When a model is involved you cannot just get the shot you wanted; it becomes a collaborative project. A shoot that goes smoothly can translate into better photos and a happier experience for everyone. I received my degree in photography and thought that portrait photography was my calling.  After college, I jumped on the site “Model Mayhem” and decided to do “trade shoots” to fill out my portfolio. A “trade shoot” simply means the model and photographer are not being paid; it is just for portfolio building. This can be a great way to learn how a shoot runs before there is money on the line from a client. Here are some dos and don’ts for a beginner photographer on a trade shoot….




Gather inspiration…..



This can be the most enjoyable part of the process. It’s time to do a total brainstorm of the type of shoot you want to capture. Some artists do get creativity blocks from time to time. The main reason is because they are probably too stressed to produce. Your body needs to be in the “rest and digest” stage to have inspiration come through. Utilize your notes app or keep a small notebook on hand at all times. The creativity muse will hit you at the most inconvenient times, so be ready.





Edit though your ideas…..



Now it’s time to look back at ideas that are feasible. I used to work backwards: I would see a location first, or maybe a piece of clothing, and know I could shape a shoot around it. Art work needs to convey a message or feeling. You want the viewer to not just see a cute outfit for the photo to be impactful. Yes, there will be times when you are doing a very modest headshot, but for portfolio building, now is the time to get creative.















Research your model…..



I used the platform “model mayhem” at the time to find models. I am sure there are other resources out there that are just as helpful. Instagram can be a great resource as well. However, nothing beats a friend of a friend since there is already built-in trust. Make sure it says that they are willing to do trade shoots. Show the model your portfolio and let them decide if you would be a good fit or not. For a fashion shoot, use fashion models! When you use your friends or family in place of a model, it will read as a nice portrait, not fashion.





Do your homework….




Before you even ask a model to be involved, you need to pre-plan the shoot. This requires knowing if it will be in studio or “on location” to start. Secondly, consider what your overall vision and look is. Even a simple headshot involves some lighting choices. Book your studio session in advance and make sure you give yourself a practical time slot to get everything done. For an “on location” shoot make sure your location is secure. You don’t want a model dolled up only to find that a gate is locked and the cops are called. Speaking of studio, I encourage you to go to a semi-professional space. It’s tempting to set up a make-shift studio in your apartment. However, it might make your model uncomfortable.






Show don’t tell….



Show models your visual references instead of verbally explaining. It saves so much time when both parties are on the same page and understand the assignment. You can pull photos from fashion editorials or any visual reference for the shoot. It can even be a track from an album you are obsessed with. Share your inspiration and explain it in a simple way to get the vision and mood across.









Model etiquette….




Your model (who is working for free) deserves to be treated well. Make sure to have food and beverages or anything else he or she will want. Do not expect a model to stand for five hours straight. Give plenty of breaks, especially if the shoes are uncomfortable or the posing isn’t natural. Communicate throughout the shoot so they understand how long to hold a pose and how many looks there will be. Say up front how long the shoot will take and don’t go overtime.





Have your model sign a release…..



Make sure your model is fine with their image being used for future art shows, submissions, and anything that will put their image on display. You can google model contract templates and fill in what needs to be communicated.





Gather a small team to help…..




It’s almost impossible to expect a whole crew to help you. However, without helping hands you will be struggling. Hire a makeup artist (can be for trade), get a friend or a roommate to help assist you in holding lights or any other equipment. You can even add a “stylist” if you have a fashion-forward friend. Having others on set will make the model more at ease and take the shoot more seriously.













Over prepare the wardrobe and equipment….




You can ask the model what looks she / he already has. Start with the models’ own wardrobe first because you know the clothing will fit. You can add in extra items such as coats, hats, and accessories. When planning to have three looks, have clothing for six looks to have your bases covered. Prepare extra camera, batteries, and lights. It would be unfortunate to have your battery run out in the middle of a shoot forcing you to stop.






Show your model your process….



Whenever you stop to set up for the next look, show your model the photos you shot. It will give them a sense of how the shoot is looking. They want to know that their angles are working or if they need to fix something.  Also, they might mention an idea you haven’t thought of yet to make it look better.






Upload the photos after the shoot is done and show your photos…..




Have the model review the photos and give you feedback on what the best shots were. You can star the ones they loved in “Lightroom” and other photo-editing programs. This will smooth over the editing process and you will be less likely to get the dreaded, “oh… are there any more photos?”…. after you spent three hours retouching and editing.














Deliver the edited photos in a timely manner…..




You never want to leave a model hanging. Communicate when you will be delivering the edited photos. Explain your editing process so it is crystal clear what to expect. Certain photographers do a total photo dump and hand over every photo that was taken. I suggest you narrow down the best shots that you both agreed on. It’s better to have your best photos out there rather than in-between, less flattering pics floating around.









Bottom Line…..




Starting out as a portrait or fashion photographer is not for the faint of heart. You will run into issues no matter how much planning went into the shoot. Your model might not be happy about the results or you might feel that you didn’t bring your A-game. It takes a lot of practice to run a professional set. It’s best to start simple and not do an overcomplicated vision when you are lacking the experience to back it up. Be kind to anyone who helped you on the shoot and be gracious to the model. They are not obligated to help you and you are lucky to have a team. Never hide the photos you have taken from the model. Get them involved and not in the dark. Make sure before you even meet that they understand the vision and vibe. Overall, the most important thing is networking, building your portfolio, and creating a great reputation.

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