Learning The Photography Business

photographers on TFP shoots
It's not unheard of to have 10 to 12 photographers sharing TFP models

Photography is one of those fields that requires a certain amount of study, whether that comes out of books, online, or in a classroom, combined with practical exercises in order to grow in the field.

There are lots of ways to get that experience. You can strike out on your own with the equipment you can cobble together and slowly build your portfolio. Another approach is to partner up with other photographers in the area and pool your resources.

TFP Shoots

TFP stands for Time For Prints and it’s how poor photographers starting out get to work with poor models just starting out. The basic arrangement is an exchange of the model’s time for your pictures.

When it comes to a commercial release, some TFP models will sign them, but many will not. Usually a commercial release comes with a price tag. Some photographers will insist on a commercial release for a TFP contract, and more than a few get them. To me it seems a little unfair. If you’re going to sell the photos, the model should get something, even if it’s on a contingency basis. That’s my philosophy anyway, not everyone agrees.  You don’t need a commercial release to use TFP photos in your personal portfolio, you may when using them on a commercial web site or for promoting your business.

It’s not unusual for two, three or more photographers to team up for a large shoot involving several models. When I say “models” most people are picturing women in the 18-24 demographic, but don’t get tunnel vision when it comes to picking talent. There is a big call for older and middle age models and don’t pick all women, either. Mix it up. The more diversity in your model selection the bigger chance you have of making a sale.

tfp model
Make diverse choices when selecting TFP models and don't forget to consider men as well

Studio Rentals

I know successful photographers who do not have their own studio. They rent studio space when they need it, sometimes scheduling several portraits on one day. It makes sense in many instances. You can rent fully equipped studios with high end lights by companies like Paul C. Buff and Bowens that even include the radio triggers and backgrounds. In some cases you’re just renting lights, space and supplying your own backgrounds.

Until you have the business to justify your own studio and equipment, this may be your only option for getting started.

This is another area where partnering up with other photographers can save money. Two photographers splitting a studio rental may be able to work with high end lighting equipment for as little as $20 an hour.

You can find other photographers in your area on Flickr, through professional associations like PPA, or just running an ad in Craigslist. Obviously, you’ll want to spend some time checking out potential partners and agreeing on the ground rules of shoots beforehand.

By looking around and working with other photographers, you’ll be able to encourage one another, learn from one another, and cast a longer shadow than either of you could alone.

Cambo Wide RS Anniversary Edition

Cambo Wide RS
Cambo Wide RS Anniversary Edition for extreme architectural photography - by Cambo

Architecture is one of those specialty areas of photography where the cost of the really high end equipment can be absolutely eye-popping. It doesn’t stop there, either. Imagine having all the problems associated with background, lighting and angles when your subject is two stories tall.

Architectural cameras, like the Cambo Wide RS Anniversary Edition, start with price tags in the tens of thousands and up and that’s just the body. You get to spend almost that much more again on a lens and digital back. Expect the whole kit to be near $30,000.

At least you won’t have any trouble remembering your serial number for warranty service. For cameras like the Cambo Wide RS Anniversary Edition, they’re only making 65 of them. It won’t be that difficult to keep track of your warranty as the cameras come personally engraved with the owner’s information.

What you get for that princely sum is a precision camera with an aluminum body and stainless steel gearing in a “pancake” style camera made to use with medium format digital backs and extreme wide angle lenses. All that precision is necessary to get such a wide angle lens that close to the sensor.

The camera body is built with a variety of wide tilt and swing panels that provide up +/- 5 degrees of tilt along two planes with precision geometry gearing.

All the gearing is designed to move the back, not the lens, so it’s possible to get interesting effects like precision panorama shots just by moving the back.

Definitely not for everyone, but if you’re one of those people who dream about doing architectural photography, this is one of the cameras you dream about owning some day.

Studio Lighting Series – Light Ratios

This is another installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at ImagesForever.net in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up to us for this series.

Three point lighting
Today we focus on the distance difference between d1 and d2

Light ratios is one of those subjects that makes people’s eyes glaze over because it’s technical and there’s math involved. That’s why I started with the more fun Three Point Lighting instead. But to really understand studio lighting, we have get into light ratios.

In order to give a portrait depth and character, we control amount of light and the shadows. To keep a face from looking flat, we change the ratio between the amount of light coming from the main light, the key, and the secondary light, called the fill.

When applying light ratios to the subject of three point lighting, most often it will be applied to the ratio between the key light and fill, but not always as we’ll find out in later articles. Each f-stop difference equates to roughly half as much light reaching the subject. So the key and fill being perfectly matched would be a 1:1 lighting ratio.

Knock one stop off the fill either by cutting the flash power or moving it farther from the subject and that gives you a 2:1 ratio. Take 2 stops off the fill and you’ll have a 4:1 ratio.

As discussed above, you don’t usually want the key and fill perfectly balanced on a 1:1 ratio. The most common ratios used in portrait photography are a 3:1 and 4:1 ratio. So if someone told you to set up a three point lighting set with a full power 3:1 key/fill ratio at f/11 and -2 stops on the hair light, you’d know what to do. You’d set your key power to give you a metered f/11 at the subject and the fill -1.5 stops, which would be between f/5.6 and f/8, technically f/6.7 on the half-stop scale. The hair light would be two full stops less at f/5.6.

Because you need a 3:1 ratio at full power, you’d know that you’ll have to move the fill farther from the subject and use the light meter to gauge the distance. Since he’s been shooting portraits in the same location for years, Karl has marks on the floor where the fill goes for a 3:1 ratio and a string from the key to the subject for the proper distance for f/11. Once you get in the ballpark, most photographers are going to eyeball the subtle changes anyway.

The old full stop calculations are starting to give way to modern cameras that are graduated in ⅓ stop increments (1/3 EV), which yields a slightly different f-stop series, but since we’re fixing the camera at f/11, it doesn’t matter.

Let’s go back to our three light setup graphic. Notice the fill is much farther from the subject than the key? That spot corresponds to a 3:1 metered ratio with two identical floor flash units set to full power. Why would you want a full power 3:1 ratio instead of just knocking back the fill power? Maybe you want bracket the photos by raising the ratio to 5:1 and 7:1 and the easiest way to do that is just to cut the fill power instead of moving it and shooting a meter reading.

ratio series
We switched to dark clothing on a light background to make it easier to focus on the facial lighting.

You can see in the photo the differences are subtle but noticeable. We went with a white background and darker clothing so you can focus on the lighting changes to the face. As you can see, by the time we get to 7:1, it’s looking a little dark on fill side. Not a flattering look for women.

Studio Lighting Basics – Three Point Lighting

This is the first installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at ImagesForever.net in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up and lent his expertise to us for this series.

the basic three point lighting setup
The basic three-point lighting setup

While we’re going to start with an overview of basic three point studio lighting, this series may jump around a bit as basic lighting touches on several peripheral topics that are key to understanding how good portraits are composed along with studio lighting.

First, the equipment we had to work with:

key and fill spacing
The Key is the black Fomex on the right and the fill is the Octodome on the left. Please note that flower leis are not stock equipment on Alien Bees

Our key light is an Alien Bees 800 in a Fomex rectangular soft box

Our fill is an Alien Bees 800 in a 48 inch Octodome

The hair light is an Ultra 1800 fitted with a grid screen on a boom

Throughout the shoot we used only a single modeling light on the Fomex soft box.

We maintained a consistent distance to the subject the old-fashioned way, with a string to the center of the key soft box.

meter check
Start off with a meter check to make sure we're in the ballpark

All the lights are on PocketWizard Plus remotes and the transmitter on my Canon 7D was a PocketWizard MiniTTL. The lens was a stock Canon 28-135mm zoom set to my closest eyeball approximation to 85mm.

All camera settings were manual unless otherwise stated, we used 1/125 of second for a shutter speed through the entire series. The f stop varied as I’ll explain in the article.

check distance
Karl checking distance the old fashioned way - So we didn't have to do meter checks constantly

I did minimal post processing adjustments on the pictures so you can see the difference in the lighting. Standard color correction and cropping is all that was done.

The Setup

While the layout of a basic three point setup is fairly straightforward, it’s actually a little tricky to get everything working together properly.

First we moved the key 10 degrees off the camera axis and shot a key only test. That’s actually not bad, if a little flat.

front key only
This is the key only, about 10 degrees off the camera axis - A little flat but not bad

Next we added in the fill and you can see that gave us much more natural looking lighting and skin tones, but our subject’s hair looks a little flat. That’s where the hair light comes in.

As you can see the hair light really helps separate the subject from the background. It highlights her hair, but also her back shoulder, which changes the entire character of the photo and makes the background more distant.


fill plus key
This is adding the fill - As you can see it yields a much more natural looking light
key, fill, plus hair light
What a difference the hair light makes! See how it separates the subject from the background

When Do I Need a Model Release?

model release
If I wanted to sell this picture to a stock photo company, I'd need a signed release

One question I get frequently is, “When do I need a model release?” First, This is not intended to be legal advice, that’s what your lawyer gets paid to dispense. This is my understanding of when you need a release.

Also understand that the answer will sometimes vary depending on who you’re asking. If you’re asking a stock photo agency that you want to list your images, then the answer is what they tell you. Every company is different and some require that you use their forms. Be sure and understand the agency-specific requirements before you start shooting for stock photography.

You Do Not Need a Release To Take Someones Picture

A common myth in some circles is that you need a release to take a picture of someone you don’t know. You do not need a release or even permission to photograph someone, provided that person is in a public place and not anywhere they might have a reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e. the bathroom, a changing room, etc.).

You Do Not Need a Release For Artistic or Journalistic Expression

You generally do not need a release to use your own photos in a gallery display or other artistic expression, even though those activities might also involve you selling your pictures.

In addition, you can still sell those photos to newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and educational publications. Few of the newspaper photographers I know ever bother with releases, unless they think the shot might be used for something other than news reporting.

If this were not the case, paparazzi and sports photographers would be out of business overnight. This is also referred to as “editorial use” in some circles.

You Positively Will Need a Release For Any Type of Commercial Use

Any image of identifiable subjects that might imply commercial use or endorsement, such as commercial web sites, brochures, print advertisements, billboards and magazine ads (different than images used in a story), will require a model release.

This is how the whole concept of celebrity endorsement works. You can take a picture of Lindsay Lohan ducking into a nightclub and sell it to the tabloids, but the club owner cannot use the image in an ad that implies endorsement without Ms. Lohan’s signature on a release.

Since stock photo agencies are in business specifically to sell images for web sites, brochures, billboards and other commercial uses, you will need a signed model release for any photo containing identifiable people.


Minors cannot legally enter into a valid contract, period. Anyone under 18 will need a release signed by their parent or guardian.

Property Releases

Property releases apply to pets and identifiable property and buildings. In most cases, you will need a signed property release to sell images of a particular building or animals.

Public buildings and landmarks are exempt, though you can get into trouble photographing government buildings these days due to security concerns. There are also some exemptions for skylines, where a particular building is part of the landscape. Those exceptions are not always clear.

Some Gray Areas

Even though the rules are fairly simple, there are some gray areas that I’ll mention in passing.

Political Endorsements – This is one of those areas that can go either way, depending on the circumstances. Just to be on the safe side, I try to get a release for anything that might imply endorsement of a particular candidate or position.

Events – Most venues have language on the ticket stubs that if you’re there, you consent to be photographed for the purposes of endorsement. This is kind of a gray area, so it’s one of those times you actually might need to talk to your lawyer.

No matter how careful you are, you can still get sued. You’re going to be better protected in cases when you have a signed model release.

Needless to say, save those releases forever.

Book Reference: A Digital Photographers Guide To Model Releases by Dan Heller

Video: Ignore the hammy dialog until the lawyer talks.

Model Releases Sample
Getty Images