The Mistakes Equine Photographers are making with Model Calls

If you’re at all part of the Facebook Universe, you’ll see groups on groups on groups. The Equine Photography group on Facebook is one of my favorite and quite resourceful to new up and coming photographers or full-blown professionals.

One of the BIGGEST topics I see discussed are Model Calls, and I also see a ton of up and coming photographers advertising “Model Calls”  across social media platforms.

Originally, Model Calls were an exchange of services to help build a photographers portfolio or it was a photographer looking for a specific look or style to photograph and use for advertising. “Back in the day” it was an exchange of service, so the photographer would give the images captured and used in their portfolio to the model or subject in exchange for their time. 

Photographers have started transforming this into a sale pitch (in a way) by declaring they can purchase more images if desired or they’ll give a discount on the session. There are also photographers using model calls in hopes of driving more traffic to their website or social media pages.

These reasons above are why In my opinion…I think Model Calls are stupid. CALL ME CRAZY AND SHUN ME NOW!

BUT there is a reason and here is what I do instead.

The number one reason I think they are stupid… which I feel like I’m coming across as mean saying, but the reason is:

It devalues all photographers work.

Not just your work or my work, but it devalues all photographers work because it creates the stigma that photographers shoot for free and we do not value our time. Photography is a service, you are using your time to serve someone. For me 4-5 hours is spent throughout the entire photography process for every session that I do. This is from advertising, communication, shooting, editing, delivery, and follow ups. TIME IS MY MOST VALUABLE CURRENCY. It is something I am not getting back. If I am dedicating my time to serve a client, I am going to charge what I believe my time is worth. In whatever form that might look like for you. When photographers advertise for a FREE SHOOT they are voluntarily declaring that their time has no monetary value. The problem that arises from people constantly seeing FREE SHOOT, is potential clients start second guessing their desire to BUY. Why? Because if they wait long enough, odds are they’ll find another photographer to do a “model call” or “free session” that they can apply for and get free images. This is why you see professionals trying extremely hard to educate clients on the importance of quality, because so many people are doing free sessions or “model calls” for the wrong reasons. People no longer see the value in buying. 


I approach people privately about modeling a session for me. 

As stated, model calls can be used for many reasons: a desire for a certain style/ look or even a way to market themselves. The only times I have done model calls is to A. Get my foot in the door at a barn in hopes of photographing others there or B. To obtain a certain look/ style

Instead of posting everywhere “Looking for a rider that owns horses at Stable XYZ who would be interested in FREE PHOTOS"  or “Looking to photograph a Christmas themed session and needing a Fresian Stallion. Message me if you have one, will give FREE PHOTOS!” I will instead do my research and message people privately. 

If I am wanting to photograph at a specific barn, I’ll look for riders who ride there that I believe would best serve as a representative of my work and style, I’ll then message them something along the lines of:

“Hey my name is Sara Shier and I’m an Equine Photographer in your area. I have absolutely loved following the story of you and your horse! I think your story and personality would really resonate with my audience and fit into my brand and style of photography. Would you be interested in me coming out for a day to photograph you and your horse? In exchange for your time, I will provide the images from our time together for you to post with credit!”

From there I’d educate my model on crediting my work in exchange for the free photos as well as the importance of not sharing that this was a FREE SESSION but instead an exchange of services for my business. Odds are, if I produce great images and provide an enjoyable experience, the model will rave to others at her barn how awesome of a photographer I am.


  1. No one but this ONE person knows I did this session without taking payment. To everyone else on social media, it just looks like you booked another client, you booked a really cool client at this big barn that every photographer wants to shoot at. 
  2. You are gaining the most important form of marketing WORD OF MOUTH instead of another like or follower on social media who doesn't have any intention to buy and is just looking for FREE photos. If you really look into who you are choosing to model, you’ll find someone who is excited to share your images, is a likable person at the barn they are at and will rave to them about your work, and have a large following that will generate the traffic you were after. These people do exist, you just need to NOT BE LAZY and look for them. 
  3. These people will respect you and your business more! You are proving that you are not another “up and coming photographer” advertising on social media, but a professional looking to capture an ideal look and style. You’re also making this model feel they are important and something to offer, giving them more reason to like you and want to promote your services! 

I hope we as photographers can work on changing the stigma of model calls and this has given you a reason to sit back and look how you approach your next model call!