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Photography for Trade

We’ve talked in the past about how it harms the photography industry when amateur photographers give away photos that they should be charging clients for.

Jewelry Fashion Shoot Photo

Afternoon sunlight with reflector. Lightroom post-production with filter from Pretty Presets. Canon 5D Mk II and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Settings 90mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/320 sec.

The flip side of this coin is that we all encounter many opportunities for trade, where it makes perfect economic sense to swap our photographic skills for something of value in return.

Perfect example: I was talking recently with my neighbor Rosely Pacheco, who is a dealer in fascinating Brazilian jewelry that looks like gold but is actually made of woven grass (yes, grass).

Jewelry Fashion Photo Shoot

Two Canon Speedlite flashes off-camera TTL via Phottix Odin trigger. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Settings 105mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/800 sec (yes, that’s High Speed Sync).

She was asking me how she could take better photos of her jewelry.  Some photographers would, quite properly, see this as an opportunity to pitch their services to her for a fee.

But when I look at Rosely I see a young woman with model-ish looks who I would like to have in front of my lens.

So I suggested that she wear the jewelry, and then let me take photos of her.

She will get photos of her jewelry “in action,” and I will get portfolio shots without having to pay a model.

Jewelry Fashion Shoot Indoor

Four Canon Speedlite flashes off-camera TTL via Phottix Odin trigger. Lightroom post-production with filter from Pretty Presets. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Settings 99mm, ISO 200, f/4.0, 1/13 sec.

More importantly for me, I can use this friendly, no-stress photoshoot to test out some locations at my new apartment and try some new lighting techniques that require a willing victim subject.  I couldn’t experiment like this with a paying client (too risky), and I’d rather not pay model rates while I tinker around with my lights.

Fashion Photo Shoot with off-camera flash

Two Canon Speedlite flashes off-camera TTL via Phottix Odin trigger. Canon 5D Mk II with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS. Settings 47mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/2500 sec with HSS.

Even better, I was able set up a couple of video cameras to capture the whole thing for a future course on Advanced Off-Camera Flash Techniques.   (Stay tuned for more info on that. Meanwhile you can get the basic introduction to this kind of photography in my beginner off-camera-flash course.)

The end result is that we both got something of value to us without any money changing hands.  Rosely is happy with the photos, and I’ve been well paid in both portfolio shots and future course material.


The moral to the story is that it pays to keep your eyes open for these kinds of opportunities, which can slip by if you are not consciously on the lookout for them. And it pays to make the little leap of courage required to propose and then execute the plan.

When you are first starting out, you’ll get a lot more of these than you will paying gigs.  But the portfolio you are building will one day land you the paying clients.

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  1. John Grubb says:

    Hi Phil. I am doing exactly this to build my portfolio. My very first model shoot was with a first timer and (thanks in part to your course) her jaw literally dropped when she saw the results (under portraits and glamour section of my website). I am now working with a band to do their promo poster and they set me up with another first timer who I just met today and discussed our upcoming shoot. This girl is amazing and I will again have some amazing pictures for my portfolio. She’s into fitness competitions so my work is going to get around. This free shoot could lead to a lucrative business with the girls in the fitness competition biz and the band is also promoting my work. So really, I’m not working for free. I’m getting a ton of ‘advertising’ in return. Thanks again for your course. What I learned was invaluable.
    By the way, this website is not going to be my main site that I have bought a domain for. It’s just kind of a test site 🙂
    John Grubb

  2. Phil Steele says:

    John, thanks for the kind words. Nice shots of Autumn! This is how we learn. Keep up the good work.

  3. Bruce AlleyCat Evans says:

    Currently as a student photographer I’ve met other beginner photographers where we get together with amatuer models, pick a location and have fun doing shoot-outs. Mostly we trade our photos to the models for their time so we each have something for our portfolios. This is great practice and builds a helpful network where we can support each other in our progress, my own social circles have really improved since picking up the camera.

  4. SH. MOHSIN JAWAID says:

    Regarding image 1 and 2——-would not be more sharper if taken with f/5.6 or 6.3?——image 2 , though nice but the background isnt clean it seems that the building is actually growing on her head.

  5. Terry Croom says:

    Yes I agree, it’s a question of getting the right balance.

  6. Peter Rooney says:

    Thanks Phil, more good advice. Can I just ask what you think of the Phottix Odin trigger? I was watching somebody on Youtube who uses it, now I see you use it. Was wondering what your views are as I am in the market for a wireless trigger?

  7. David Walker says:

    Great Blog Phil, all makes sense and a great way to enhance your portfolio as well as getting know.
    Best regards,

  8. Jim Steed says:

    Thanks for your creative outlook. Creating a WIN-Win outcome is the way to go.

  9. Phil Steele says:

    @Peter – I have a review of the Odin trigger on the blog:

    It’s my current favorite. Fairly expensive, but amazing capabilities.

  10. Phil Steele says:

    @MOHSIN JAWAID – You are correct, in hindsight I wish I’d gone to a smaller aperture for a little more DOF on her. I was excited by playing with the high-speed-sync ability on the Odin (this was a test shoot after all), so I was intentionally going for wide aperture and fast shutter speed to experiment with this feature. But if I did it over again, I’d reduce the aperture a bit as you suggest, to make sure that not only her eyes but also all of the jewelry was in sharp focus. I’m so used to shooting portraits with super-shallow DOF that it’s a hard habit to break. This is why we practice new techniques on our friendly neighbors. 🙂

  11. I just did a fabulous trade. I got a new logo design (from a wonderful graphic designer) in exchange for me shooting her family photos.
    A total win-win…especially because she designed my logo AFTER she saw me in action as a photographer.

  12. SH. MOHSIN JAWAID says:

    Thanks for the reply.

  13. matias says:

    great, i sometimes do that when i have that kind of oportunity…

    best regards

  14. danny says:

    Good and great idea…,Phil


  15. valencia fayette says:

    My community is my field of practice. Its a good opportunity for me to practice my photographic

    My community becomes my field of practice. I do a lot of shows and community activities and are more at ease with events photographic because of that.
    Thanks for the insurance to know that I am not alone doing that.

  16. Roman Laureano says:

    Hi Phil,
    First and foremost I want to thank you for the portrait course and the tutorials.
    They have helped me in many ways. I have a question regarding what file to use for printing 11×14, 16×20 when shooting with a10 mp Nikon D200. Raw or jpeg? I have printed 8×10’s at home with good results. I am relatively new to digital slr’s.

    Thank you in advance,

  17. Phil Steele says:

    @Roman – Thanks for the kind words. For printing it won’t matter if you use RAW or JPG since both will have the same number of pixels. But in editing the file, you might have more room to make exposure and color-temperature adjustments if you shoot RAW.

  18. Jeff Lantz says:

    Hi Phil i agree with your whole premise. i just did 2 photos shoots at two wineries here in Seattle. they are now each publishing my images on their web sites and i have had a few calls for copies of the images from their clients. my prints are made with my Epson and beautiful. the images are also posted on my flickr and Facebook sites. thanks for your suggestions. jeff

  19. Tim Jagooe says:

    Having started “trade” shooting in 1961 I’ve reaped better devidends than any 401K or IRA. Remember to be a professional. As a model I tend to go fo the water on the wDOF extremely shallow. Love soft buildings. Might crop rail. But what do I know?

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