Do I have to pay for a model’s time?

Do I have to pay for a model’s time?

I formally started my Landscapes of the Body project seven years ago. At that time, I had years of experience shooting people places and things under my belt, and had a decent portfolio of well-exposed and composed images.I also had a vision (albeit cloudy) of what I wanted my project to be. I knew I wanted abstract images of the human form and I didn’t want them to contain faces. My biggest problem was – you guessed it, finding models who would work with me. I belong to several online forums for models and photographers, and by far the most common question I see other than what kind of camera should I buy is: where do you find models. To a lesser extent, I often see people asking if they need to pay for their model’s time.

Getting Started

When you first start shooting art nudes, finding models willing to work with you can be difficult. It’s the old chicken and egg story, you most likely aren’t going to get people willing to take their clothes off in front of your camera until you have some good images of models without their clothes on to show. This is where we insert the argument given by all the old grizzled photographers (like yours truly) that a good photo is a good photo. Good lighting is the same whether you have clothes on or not, and while this may be true, until you have that base portfolio of work to show, it is going to be slow going. So, what is the answer? Either do TFP (trade for Print also known as free) or pay your models. How you proceed is up to your individual budget. I tried both routes – I traded my camera skills for the model’s time. Because the model often has a vision for their work as well, we ended up splitting the shoot time. Eventually, I started paying my model’s time and focusing on my vision for the project for the entire shoot – again how you work is up to you.

Where to look

Recent changes in online ad posting policies for many sites havemoved models, and photographers looking for models off of sites like Craigslistand Backpage to more legitimate modeling sites like and

 The benefits of these changes far outweigh the negatives, and from personal experience, sites where a photographer or model are managing a profile make no-shows far less common. Think of these sites as yelp for models, where poor experiences are tracked, and questionable behavior can be checked. Unless your work is top notch, and/or you are offering a unique style of image, prepare to pay for your model’s time – especially before you have an established body of work to show.

Do you always have to pay?

This depends on where you are in your skill level. Sometimes you need to take a step back from your work and look at it objectively, consider (as a photographer) that there are a ton of other people out there looking to work with models for free. Ask yourself if your work is equal to or better than the others in your area. If you can’t tell if your work is good, then that is a bit of a separate question. If you can’t look at a significant number of images on your portfolio that are not excellent quality, then be prepared to pay for your model’s time.

Once your work and name are established and you have a solid portfolio to show, expect to start hearing from models who are willing to work with you for free or discounted rates – especially if your work is unique.Models will often seek out established photographers when looking to refresh their portfolio. Many of the models I have worked with for my project Landscapes of the Body in recent years have been TFP because the models end up getting shots for their portfolios, and I can have some luxury time to experiment within my style to take my new images to the next level. I do often still pay for a model, especially if that model has a body type or social media following that would benefit my project. If a model lends something to my project, I have no issue at all paying for their time. I see it the same way a model does – if a photographer has a unique style that would fill out a portfolio, often models will work for free or discounted rates to get that style of image in their body of work.

Patience and persistence are the keys

You need to start somewhere, and (especially) if you want to shoot artistic nudes, you will likely have to pay to build a basic portfolio of top-notch images. If you work hard and refine your skills expect to reap the rewards down the line.

I love to hear from my readers! Please feel free to contact me on social media. My photography site: My fine art nude site:
Instagram and Twitter: @nedskee


I originally wrote this article for the November 13, 2018 #TuesdayTips on Twitter, but a couple days before it was released Daniel Norton [who does a lot of videos for Adorama] released a video which covered many of the topics in a similar way to this article. I figured that including his video in this article would not only reinforce many of the points I made, but also offer some alternate perspectives.