How to set rates between models and photographers, who’s paying who?

There are many articles out there on how to set rates and charge for photography and modeling services.

This article is geared toward the freelancers among us, and primarily to portfolio work.

Rates vary widely, from a few dollars per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour.

Rates vary by market location, market type, and the look of models and the style and talent of photographers available in the given market.

And if the work is paid work, i.e. for a catalog, or bill board, etc.,  there is an advertiser with pockets and everyone is getting paid somewhere somehow.

The long and short of it is,  if you are in a market, and you have a particular style or look, and skill level, that will determine what you can charge, in that market.

If for instance, you are a Phoenix area photographer, you might get a certain amount here for your skills, for a particular style of photography… or you can drive to Los Angeles and get some different amount.  I know photographers who do this, for purely economic reasons.

With location, opportunities and values change.  This may mean moving or travel or doing without…

This principle applies even more so to models.  The rate in New York for fashion work is different than in Tulsa..

Many working models travel… perhaps most do.

Generally, it is easier for models to travel than for photographers… Don’t believe me?  Look at the number of post for traveling models versus traveling photographers on a site like Model Mayhem…

This all  said, what do you charge, and who pays who?

Time and talent is money.

The single largest determinant in who pays who and how much can be calculated by looking at the portfolios.

Who has the better portfolio?

A great photographer does not have to pay models to shoot.  Models and clients pay photographers with great bodies of work.  The only time this photographer has to pay is for a special look or for a paid project, or just to save time.  But, he doesn’t have to pay, hardly ever, just to shoot beautiful models.  The models line up to be shot by him.  And, he has to say no, or please pay my rates…

A super hot model with a great portfolio doesn’t have to pay photographers to shoot her… Photographers pay her.  A super hot model without a portfolio may get paid here or there…

Again, it is often by photographers who need to pay… i.e., their work is not up to tip top par.

Where portfolios are closely aligned, a great deal of trade or small amounts of money change hands.

It can greatly benefit a model starting out to pay several great photographers whose work she admires to get some great shots into her portfolio.


Because getting paid is based on the difference between models’ and photographers’ portfolios.

A model with a great port will get paid more than one with a ho hum portfolio.  Pay three photographers $500 to $1,000 each to get great shots of you into your port, and suddenly, you have a killer portfolio with 8-12 great shots in it.  Everyone will wish to shoot with you.

Same thing applies to a starting out photographer.  Pay to get great models, and your shots will look better.   Better shots mean a better, more experienced class of model will work with you.  At first, you gain a great deal by paying to work with the better models.

Difference is, a model with any talent can get a great photographer to pump out great shots of her PDQ.  A photographer cannot get great shots without studying the craft for some number of months or years… So, the photographer may be hiring models a lot longer than models will be hiring photographers…

This is great and as it should be… It keeps a lot of models in the market, as there are many more photographers willing to pay to learn, than models needing to pay to develop a great portfolio.

I cannot stress enough the value to an aspiring model of working with great photographers early in their careers.  Each shoot one goes to, on trade or paid, takes time and money to prepare for and attend.

If these efforts produce ho hum photos, it can take months or years to produce a good portfolio.

Pay depends on a good portfolio.

Invest a little early on, and it will pay dividends for years to come.

Once the port is good and full, one can charge with abandon or decline any shoots not clearly taking the port up a notch.

Imagine being able to tell a photographer or model (for reals) that your portfolio is full, thank you very much… and your rates are very reasonable.




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