TFP, TFCD, ‘Exposure’ and other forms of exploitation.

posted in: Photography Blog | 0

TFP (Time For Prints) and its hipster brother TFCD (Time For CD) are terms that get bandied about a lot, and there is a lot of disagreement about what they actually mean. Thankfully, I’m here to clear that all up for everyone because I am the suppository of all wisdom (Australian politics joke. Sorry).

TFP is in essence a good idea. It means that people starting out in creative fields have an opportunity to build their portfolios without having to pay out vast amounts of all that money they don’t have. Ideally, a newbie photographer will get together with a newbie model and a newbie makeup artist and create something cool together. Everybody will leave the experience a little more skilled than when they started it and with something to add to their fledgling portfolios. Everything will be awesome.

Unfortunately, in the real world it doesn’t always work out that way.

We’re all in this to make money, right? Sure, we do it because we love it, but when it comes down to brass tacks we all want someone to pay us loads and loads of cash to snap photos of scantily-clad models, or to BE the scantily-clad models, or to paint the faces of the scantily-clad models, or to design and provide the scanty cladding.
So what happens is that one fledgling creative will approach another to collaborate on an idea, the conversation will go really well and everybody will love the idea, then suddenly the one who has been approached will say “Great! My rates are…” or even the one who has done the approaching will suddenly drop that one right out of left-field. Then there’s awkwardness and somebody mumbles the hated phrase “TFP” and then there’s more awkwardness and inevitably someone gets angry and then there’s a few snippy comments about how they should have started the conversation on the basis that it would be TFP and then some more awkwardness and finally the whole thing gets scrapped because of all the awkwardness and then everyone goes off and vaguebooks about how you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix the dunny for free.


What we have here is a unfortunate situation that occurs a lot. It happens because we’re all trying to make some money from our art and we all feel (rightly) that our time and work is worth being paid for. What we often DON’T get right, however, is who we should be asking for money. And this is important, because it is the root cause of why it is so difficult to make a living in the creative industry.

Models, photographers, makeup artists, stylists (and many other creative fields) – we all need each other to get started. We all start out as unknowns and we need to work together collaboratively to put together a portfolio of work to catch the attention of those who DO have a budget and are hiring.
There is no point in demanding money from another creative when collaborating – they don’t have any, and they’re trying to do just the same as you are: get noticed.

So. We collaborate. We are upfront about it being TFP right from the word go. We make awesome images together and then Vogue magazine hires us, transforming us into instant celebrities and showering us with cash, hors d’oeuvres, and free stuff. Yes?


Enter ‘Exposure’. This one is a nasty little sucker. If you thought TFP was bad, wait until you meet Exposure.

I’m writing mostly from a photographer’s perspective now, but the same applies for anyone in a creative field.
So, you’ve done the hard yards. You’ve collaborated and collaborated and become insanely awesome at what you do. You’ve got an amazing portfolio full of images that would put Annie Leibovitz to shame and now you’re ready to hit the big time. Let’s go get published in a magazine! Yeah! They’re absolutely reliant on images, right? I mean, have you ever read a magazine that wasn’t completely packed with photographs? Surely they pay well for such an essential element of their publication? Nope. They look at the tear-sheet of images that you’ve sent them and if you’re awesome enough for their lofty standards they will contact you and say:

“Dear Scumbag, we are prepared to publish your sh*tty images. It will be great exposure for you to be featured in our illustrious magazine. We don’t have a budget for photography but you should be grateful that we’ve even noticed you”

Wow. So, these publications would not even make it to a newsagent’s shelves without photographs and yet still have the audacity to demand them for free?

Oh yes.

Why? Because they can! If you say “Hell no!” when they try to extort you for your hard work they will simply move on to the next sucker. You didn’t get paid, and you even missed out on that magical pie in the sky called ‘exposure’. Sucks to be you, huh?

What to do about it?
It would be easy for me to say to you that you need to stop working for free, but unless EVERYBODY stops working for free when approached by magazines or the like, all that’s going to happen is that you don’t get published at all. Why would the magazine pay an unknown like you for your work when the next unknown on their list will jump at the chance to get published?

Everybody needs to stop working for free. Yes. Yes they do. Is it likely to happen? No. At least, not anytime soon.

We all have a choice to make, basically. Do we let the extortionist jerks get away with it in the hopes that someone will see our published work and approach us for real commissioned work or do we turn them down and hope that everyone else does as well?
Use your judgement, is the only answer I can give you. If you REALLY want to be published in that mag then you’ll do it despite the fact that you know you’re being taken advantage of.
But while you’re about it spread the word, tell all your creative friends about it, make a noise, organise a protest or something and slowly we can start to change everyone’s attitude.

Because, well, they WOULDN’T ask the plumber to fix their dunny for ‘exposure’…


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