I was recently having a chat with a photography colleague of mine. Mostly the usual comparing notes about new lenses etc but then he asked me an off topic question.

“How do these erotic sites keep the models coming back for more shoots?”

As someone who has shot a lot of content for sites over the years, it had never occured to me that the general public had the perception that models were visiting these photographers repeatedly over extended periods of time. It gave me the idea to write this blog post.

The question being how do these sub-par photographers manage to keep models returning for shoots given their often bad reputation for lewd behaviour and also how do they afford it.

The short answer is, They don’t. There are quite a lot of factors in this but I’ll tackle them in order of simplicity.

Firstly COST. The majority of these shoots take place in developing countries in Eastern Europe and as such the models get paid very little, in fact many photographers don’t pay their models at all, instead promising to give the model exposure. It’s usually far too late by the time the model realises that they have been conned.

What normally happens: A photographer will pay (or not) a model for one days’ work and then shoot as many different sets of images as they can in that time, usually running the model ragged, giving them minimal breaks and rushing them to change outfits quickly (some less reputable togs will also sneak in “behind the scenes” shots of the models changing.

The plan is to get at least a years worth of content out of the model which the photographer can then drip-feed onto their website, assessing when to publish each set based on sales of the previous one (or number of views in the case of subscription based sites). They make blog posts or captions which give the illusion that the model is visiting them every week.

Sometimes a model will suddenly disappear from the site which is usually because the model has changed so much in their appearance since their last shoot that it would kill the illusion that they had been regularly visiting the photographer.

Some of these photographers, particularly in the “teen” genre have bad reputations for attempting to use their position to leverage “favours” from the models, but because they’ve already gotten one or two years’ worth of content by that point, it doesn’t really matter to them if the girl comes back for a second shoot or not. More experienced models tend to experience less this sort of thing since they are less likely to be susceptible although it still happens.

When hiring new models this is not ideal since word spreads quickly, so only the most desperate or ill-informed girls will work for them, but from a sales point of view, many customers like the idea that these models are “slutty” even though they usually are the polar opposite.

Some models will start rumours about photographers and competing models. Unfortunately the nature of the business relies on immature people who have yet to understand that competition is good. Sometimes it is simply for what they perceive to be unfair business practice since that they only get paid for one days’ work whilst the photographer can sell the images over and over again. This is the reason so many models have stopped working for photographers and just run their own Onlyfans business model, with varying degrees of success.

Shooting this content is in no way erotic and the idea that models and photographers are all hooking up is absurd. Unless one or the other is incredibly unprofessional they are usually FAR too busy to even contemplate that sort of thing and rumours to the contrary are usually highly exaggerated.

There is a term which we use in the industry, “Level pushing” which is also something which some photographers are often guilty of, in fact you can often see evidence of it in the photos or videos. Models have what they call “levels” which refers to the level of nudity to which they will work i.e. Non-nude, Topless, Implied nude, open leg etc etc. One of the side effects of the manner in which these shoots often happen is that during the course of the days shooting, the photographer will “work” the model, slowly trying to break down their resistance to shooting at levels which they are uncomfortable with. This usually manifests in image sets where the model looks uncomfortable or in some cases upset.

Featured Image copyright Matt Belshaw 2022