One of the big arguments that comes up in the photography community is “Why should I pay a model $75-$100/hr when a painter only pays a model $20-$30/hr?” I am just going to take a brief moment to explain why this is.
There are several reasons photography models are paid $75-$100/hr per session vs. life models which are paid $20-$25/hr per session. Generally speaking, a photographer will have produced multiple images that can be duplicated from negatives or digital media and will be able to create as many identical prints from that original source as desired. A painter will only have one finished product: a painting. Although the painter can make prints of that painting, owning a print of a painting is not the same as owning a painting. If someone had Ansel Adams negatives and a skilled lab technician, one could duplicate a hundred identical prints. However, there will one be one Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Even if one was able to duplicate “Starry Night” exactly, the time and effort it would take to make an exact duplicate is less cost efficient that reproducing a picture from negatives.
Now, there are some photographers that work in more specialty mediums which create one image with no reproducible negative such as tintype, Polaroid or wetplate. However, from a 2-3 hour session, even a wet plate photographer can get more than one image. Often a painter will only have one finished product from a session. Sometimes, it takes multiple sessions. I work with quite a few academic and realist revival painters. To get a realistic painting from life, it usually takes about 100 hours or more. This brings the modeling fees to about $2,000 for one finished work. Even if a model poses for a drink-and-draw or an art school where s/he is paid 20/hr, it is still a great opportunity. Most of the painters who hire models for $2,000+ jobs work at art schools and hire the models who posed well for their classes or attend drink-and-draws to scout for models to use in their personal work. It’s like going to a casting where you also get paid.
Now why would models prefer to work for multiple session for 20/hr rather than work with a photographer and get $100/hr? It seems like it would be less time consuming to just go for big money all the time. But for a painting over multiple sessions, a model is pretty much guaranteed $2,000. It is steady, dependable employment. I know photographers complain about flaky models, but photographers can be just as flakey. If a photographer pulls out of a $300 shoot, it leaves the model in a lurch. The painter, on the other hand, will probably not disappear or suddenly cancel. And if the painter does cancel, it is likely that s/he will reschedule if s/he wants to finish the painting.
Some painters prefer to work from reference photos. For reference photos only (meaning no release) rates generally start at 50-75/hr. In all situations, as soon as a camera comes out, rates go up all across the board. Painters seem to be the most understanding and accepting of this. The only people who seem to not get it are photographers. In fact, most art schools an ateliers ban the use of photography.
(Personal aside: There are a few private arts who hired me for a sketching session and asked if they could take one or two pictures strictly for reference. However they paid me extra for this, in most cases $20-40 bucks extra for maybe one or two pictures. Recently, I posed for fully-clothed reference photos for a painter and he paid me $300 for about 20 minutes. I’ve told a few painters about this and the consensus seems to be that it was not unusual or unheard of for someone to pay that much money for reference photos. When I tell photographers they are like, “$300 for 20 minutes? Then he has to spend all that time painting the pictures? That’s just crazy!” It turns out that in most cases, painters are paying much more per picture for reference photos that they will not sell or show at a gallery than photographers are paying for a whole photo session which they will presumably try to sell or show at a gallery.)
One of the reasons rates are higher for anything dealing with photography for this is that sitting for a drawing or painting gives the model plausible deniability. If a person sees a painting of a model, s/he can say, “Oh, that isn’t me, that is a wo/man that looks like me.” However, with photographs it is much more difficult. Even without a release, there is always a chance that the photos can be released publically on the internet or passes around from person to person.
Which brings us to releases. What is one exactly paying for to have a signed release? One is paying for the right to use a person’s actual likeness, in perpetuity, for any reason that does not defame the person in the image. Often releases say that not only the photographer can use the image, but their estate and their heirs. So after the photographer has passes the photographers children and grand children own the rights to the image. That is a long time to have control of the exact likeness of a living individual.
So a photographer says to a model that s/he will not use her real name or put the pictures on the internet. There is no guarantee that s/he will honor those terms. It may even have a special line in the release that the model goes by such-and-such a name, but it does not guarantee the photographer will only refer to the model my that name. There is a chance that any photographer could suddenly feel vindictive, want attention or just plain forget and post a nude picture of a model under her real name. There is also no guarantee that the photographer’s heirs will honor these terms either. At any point a nude photo of a model could appear on the internet under the model’s real name. Unlike a painting where there is plausible deniability, it is hard for a model to deny a picture is of him/her. If the model retires from modeling, the model’s future employers could find it and fire the model. I realize that this seems ludicrous that someone would be fired over art nudes, however, we live in a bubble where nudity isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, most of the outside world seems to feel differently. It labels people who are naked on the internet “sluts” or “morally corrupt.” It can reflect negatively on a company to employ an ex-nude model. Did the model willingly take this risk? Of course, but probably because a higher rate was involved which made the risk more worthwhile.
(Personal aside: I used to go my only my first name, Aubrey. However, people started to credit photos to my first and last name. In the beginning, I tried to get photographers to remove my last name. Some did. But others were resistant, telling me it would take too much work to change their website or that it isn’t a big deal. After a while, I just stopped asking people to take down my last name and pretty much had to own that naked pictures are attached to my first and last name regardless. I am not ashamed of the work I have done and I don’t care if there are naked picture of me on the internet, I just wished they only used my first name as I requested back when it mattered. Now I am unemployable outside of artistic fields and it is much easier for people to find out who the naked girl in the picture is and stalk me. On the upside, the art schools will always hire me as long as I can hold a 20-minute standing pose and I’ve moved around so much it is hard to locate a valid address.)
The last reason why there is such a difference in rates is due to the difficulty of the job. Although life modeling for painters is difficult, it requires much less effort or personal engagement than photography. In fact, a painter is pretty much paying a model to sit there and meditate while s/he paints the model. Photography generally requires much more activity. A model must move around, change poses, be physical on the job. Take a model into the woods and there is a greater chance the model will get injured, bitten by bugs or be exposed to poison ivy which will put him/her out of commission, losing money and work, until the model heals. Take the model to an abandoned building and she risks stepping on glass or nails.
Although the biggest grievance of photographers is they are paying more money to shoot a model in the short term, as it turns out artists are paying more money to paint a model over the long term— and getting less of a return (one painting as opposed to multiple photographic images which in many cases are reproducible ad infinitum.) Painters usual even pay more money per photo that are purely for reference than photographers pay for photos which the photographer could sell or exhibit. Coupled with the personal risks that strip a model of his/her anonymity and limit the model’s potential employment opportunities, this is why photography rates are higher than life modeling rates.