Earlier this year, I did a photoshoot with a model who put an idea in my head after she decided that our collaboration was productive and I didn’t creep her out the way a lot of photographers do. These days, that is a high compliment.

“We should go on tour together. Get in your car and travel to various cities across the Eastern seaboard, announcing that we’re coming ahead of time and letting people book us – me for modeling, you for photography. Then we could shoot with each other over those weeks while we are traveling together and collaborating with others who are paying us,” Olivia suggested.

The idea immediately appealed to me, as I desperately miss getting out into the world to explore, plus she is a super-cool person to hang out with. But then my mind populated with reasons I couldn’t do it, and I left her with a lukewarm “I’ll think about it” response.

What If It Wasn’t Such a Crazy Idea After All?

A lot has changed since then. I’m no longer figuratively chained to a desk from 9 to 5. I may not be able to say that very much longer.

In a practical way, it makes perfect sense. Traveling models do these tours all the time, usually alone, which isn’t really very safe when you’re talking about a beautiful woman visiting strangers whose motivations aren’t really clear. It would be of tremendous value to a model in that situation to have a male she can trust to be her traveling companion.

I know how boyfriends and “escorts” can be a pain in the ass if a model brings the wrong person, but hell, these photographers who are shooting with her would probably appreciate having a fellow shooter around to assist and talk shop.

With the way things have become, I personally feel safer having another person around who can be trusted to make sure everyone on set feels safe.

Putting miles on my car wouldn’t be a huge deal considering I’ve spent the last 5 years driving 100 miles a day just to get to my desk in Chattanooga from Fort Payne. I can see, though, where it might suck if the model is booking gigs with photographers, but I’m not doing as well getting people to hire me as a photographer on these stops.

I know, I know. It’s not so much a lack of confidence in myself as being unsure how everyone else would step up.

Olivia assured me that my work is good enough for people to want to shoot with me, but it’s just a sad fact that most pretty women can get photography done for free or super cheap due to the ubiquitous nature of digital cameras today.

It feels like EVERYBODY is getting a DSLR and calling themselves a photographer these days just because they know how to take a decent photo in Auto mode.

Plus, there’s a whole new generation of people in their 20s and 30s who have grown up bombarded by slick visual imagery. They are the Pinterest generation, the Instagram generation, and they have the same eye I do for visual design.

I love the photography they are creating, while simultaneously realizing they are on my heels, able to generate similar or better results for dirt cheap because they are scrappy millennials who are used to still living with their parents and not having any money.


Looking at it from the flip side, I do offer photography that has greater value because of my reliability and the insights that come from living for a while. I’ve encountered just about every lighting and equipment situation you can possibly imagine and have developed the capability to adapt and improvise on the spot to get decent results even when all hell is breaking loose around me.

It would indeed be a challenging gig, going into unfamiliar places, having to scout possible locations to shoot what the models hiring me would want and consider marketable for their portfolios, making sure all my gear gets properly charged and securely stored so I am ready for anything, plus editing in between bouts of shooting and driving so I get the clients what they have paid for in a timely manner in a way they can conveniently download or purchase prints.

I can see it’s a viable idea. If only I could pre-book it and go into it knowing I wouldn’t just lose a whole bunch of money sharing costs with a traveling companion who is having a lot more success attracting bookings and doing the work. It would be fun to go along for the ride but really suck if I’m reduced to being a spectator, chauffeur, and hired muscle losing money day after day.

We would also have to work out the nightly arrangements, as I am pretty sure Olivia was not proposing that we share motel rooms. I know that a lot of these traveling models will find other models who are friends with to crash on their couch for a night while they are in town.

Some of them do the same with photographers they are friends enough to trust not to rape them in the middle of the night. Would these folks embrace her traveling partner, who is a complete stranger, welcoming me into their homes as well?

One possibility I thought about was doing the Airbnb thing, maybe getting permission to use the space as a location option for myself to shoot with my companion model and/or any of the models choosing to shoot with me during our time passing through town.

Whenever I am traveling for some reason, I do at least some outreach to see if there’s anyone interested in collaborating since it is always great to add new faces found in exciting and different places.

Whether those people are willing to pay me? Well, that’s the $64,000 question.

Remembering BYOM

I’d been here before. Sort of.

Snapping a candid in 2001 with Huntsville-based models Missy Damron and Lisa Bradford back when I was young enough to get away with such cheesy shots. Two decades later, I stil communicate with both, as well as others I met in person that day.

August marked the 18th anniversary of an event I put together called BYOM (“Bring Your Own Model”) that was essentially getting a bunch of photographers and models who were communicating on the Internet together in a pretty place to actually collaborate, get a feel for each others’ vibe, and decide whether to follow-up with one-on-one shoots afterward.

Each photographer was asked to bring at least one model who was local to him or her so we all met someone new to us and expanded the scope of our professional networking.

I think it was a huge success. I met so many models and photographers who I’ve kept in touch with and collaborated on numerous occasions. Several of them I am so happy to call friends. Like Lisa in Huntsville, a dear friend whose own teenage daughter has become one of my regular models, and Paul, who has always been a blast and gets my encouragement and prayers today as he goes through chemotherapy.

It’s a beautiful thing to make enduring connections and feel an impact beyond just your own little small hometown.

The Internet was still a relatively new thing back in 2001, and it provided a safe way of determining whether this person you were talking to was the real deal or some psycho hiding behind a thin veil of artificial normalcy, trying to lure other people to their doom. And not just psycho in the stab-stab sense, but also garden variety narcissism.

There are some kooky people in this game, sometimes loveably so. But then, I find eccentric people fascinating to talk to and photograph. You pretty much have to be a little crazy to put this much effort into something that people love, then quickly forget.

Niceness is great to find, but you could also get a sense from the quality of the resulting images whether it warranted going to the time and trouble of traveling some distance to do a full, complete, real photoshoot with them on their home turf. You gain a sense of whether a possible collaborator is experienced or still learning how to operate their camera and what sort of creativity he or she brings to it.

Same with models: Does he or she just stand there like a deer in the headlights awaiting direction on how to bend every little joint or does this model transform into a visually stunning muse that you need to keep in rapid-fire mode to capture?

I encourage anyone reading this to try something similar in your area. Just be careful screening who you invite to participate.

Traveling Photographer On Demand

Is there any interest in working with me if I happen to travel in your direction?

Let me know so I’m not flying blind and know what someone might actually want instead of guessing.

© 2019 Steven Stiefel | Stiefel Creative