Test Shoots

How to Do Test Shoots?

Test shoots are an ideal way to build up your portfolio while forging the relationships that will help further your career. Here are some guidelines for creating test shoots that are valuable, rewarding and productive.

Creating test shoots, or just ‘testing’, (also referred to as ‘time for print’ or ‘tfp’) is a big part of the early stages of your creative career. 

It allows you to build your on-set experience, develop your professional network and plug gaps in your portfolio by creating more of the work you love, free from a brief.

Put, test shoots are photoshoots that are put together expressly to experiment and create new images. 

A client does not commit them, and there’s generally no money involved; it’s just an opportunity for a group of creative people to get together and try out ideas.

Test shoots are a valuable way to build up images for your portfolio, but it’s not just about getting new pictures. 

Testing provides you with invaluable set experience, opportunities for exposure and the chance to work with new creative teams.

To put it simply, test shoots (or TFP, Trade for Print) involve at least a photographer and a model, who work together to produce images they can use for their portfolios. 

They are traditionally free, although sometimes one party may charge another. 

You can also bring on several other creatives to build a great team, such as a Makeup Artist, Hair Stylist, Fashion Stylist, and more.

A good team can produce some great images, and because there’s no client brief, you get complete creative freedom!

Tips And Guidelines For Successful Test Shoots

Test Shoots

Concept

Shoots need a concept, and the joy of a test shoot is that you can choose any idea or brief that specifically interests you and your team. 

Think about your aesthetic, your values and the kind of work that you want to be putting out into the world or which your portfolio is lacking. 

A test shoot is an ideal time to create the images that your book is missing or to make a statement about something you believe in, free from the restrictions of a client brief.

Building Your Team

The Mastered directory is a great place to find a team. It contains every hairstylist, makeup artist, nail artist, photographer, art director, stylist and brand that has been on a Mastered program. It can be hard to pull clothes when you’re starting, so working with brands can be a mutually beneficial experience, too.

Alternatively, use local Facebook groups or Instagram to find like-minded creatives – the Instagram location tag is handy for this. Personal recommendations are always great too.

If you know a photographer locally, ask them who they work with and if they could put you in touch. 

Photographers usually pull together shoots, so they’re often a good starting point for other contacts.

When you’re starting, it can be tricky to attract more established creatives. People like to work with their trusted network as they know what they’re going to get and work well together. 

However, with a good concept, a professional approach and an intense mood board, you can demonstrate how serious you are working together. 

Remember to tell the rest of the team what you can bring to the shoot, too; no one wants to feel they’re being used.

About models, agencies usually have a list of ‘New faces’ – they’re new models who need experience and shoots for their portfolios. 

These models tend to be more available for test shoots, allowing you to build a good relationship with agencies.

Create An Agreement

Agree on upfront with the rest of the team on what you want and expect from the shoot. For example, suppose it’s a fashion shoot. 

In that case, the photographer may agree to take some extra beauty shots at the end of the day for the beauty team’s benefit, or a stylist could include some of a brand’s photos in specific images. Hence, they gain valuable assets for their social media.

Discuss in advance what each member of the team wants to get out of the shoot, then be sure to stick to the plan on the day so that everyone’s requests are met. 

Creating a test shoot agreement can help with this. Similar to a contract, they outline what everyone has agreed to and means you avoid issues such as images being printed without credit or not receiving images. 

It doesn’t have to be formal – just a signed document that says you’re all in agreement. You can find a basic test shoot agreement here.

On-set Etiquette

Test shoots are about much more than creating images. You’re building relationships with others and developing your skills. 

If you make a good impression, you’re likely to work together again and create more images for your portfolio. 

Likewise, if you’re impressed with someone and get on well, that’s someone you can call on when you have shoots in the future. That’s how a creative network is built.

Remember that on set, you’re all relying on one another. If you can’t make it, get someone to replace you and let the team know ASAP. 

You only get one reputation in this industry, so do your best to make sure it’s a good one.

These are the people that will grow with you and refer you for jobs in the future, so be sure to be polite, professional and respectful at all times. 

While being professional on set is important, personality is too – which is why post-shoot drinks or a debrief over coffee is always a good idea to build relationships and get feedback on your contribution.

Keep It Up

There’s no reason to stop testing once you’re established. 

Many of the best-known creatives continue to take on personal projects for the express reasons people do test shoots – to work with friends, try new ideas and create images that are true to them. 

Testing keeps your portfolio fresh, provides assets for social media, allows you to stay in touch with other creatives and is an excellent way of building your confidence and being proactive between commissioned jobs. 

Sourcing The Talent

Any creative can look to bring together a team for a test shoot, but I’ll tell it from a photographer’s perspective. 

You can source your models anywhere; Instagram, Facebook Groups and Modelling Agencies are all great places to find talent.

 

If you’re starting from the beginning, you can practice with your friends.

Makeup Artists, Hair Stylists etc., can all be found similarly and may also be represented by agencies.

A note about the Modelling Agencies: You should contact the agency, not the model, to arrange a test shoot. 

The agencies need to manage their talents’ schedules and ensure they’re putting them forward for exemplary work or test shoots to best support their career.

Planning The Shoot

Although there’s nothing wrong with turning up on a shoot and “winging it”, in effect, there is always a minimum amount of planning that is required for a node to work. Generally, it is the photographer who decides on the following aspects, sometimes with collaboration from the team:

  • Location (is this in a studio setting, at a beach, in the park, etc.)
  • Outfits and theme (what kind of clothing, how many outfits, etc.)

Makeup/Hair

How many final photos the team should expect, and the delivery timeframe

A mood board can help clear up the confusion by showing similar outfits, makeup and hair that you want to achieve. 

It can also show the model the sorts of poses and expressions you’d like to work towards.

Remember to ensure that what you’re trying to achieve is within your technical abilities and suited to the model you’ll be shooting.

As far as hair and makeup are concerned, less is more. Have the model come prepared to wear their hair down and up in a loose bun or high ponytail.

Makeup looks great when it appears fresh and natural, so dewy skin paired with a little bit of lipgloss and mascara always works, and the minimal approach provides a youthful vibe which is always a plus for the model.

Also, the clean slate approach will give potential clients a blank canvas to envision several different looks. 

Keep in mind; you can always add more makeup as the photoshoot progresses if you feel so inclined.

Another note about Modelling Agencies: Agencies will generally expect the above information, along with the mood board and time & date, in the form of a “Call Sheet”. They’ll forward this to the model you’ve chosen for the shoot.

Shoot Shoot Shoot!

That’s it! Meet at the agreed time and make sure you keep up communication between the team beforehand, so there are no surprises. Every photographer works differently, but some key things to remember are:

This is a collaborative effort; make sure it’s worthwhile for all parties (not just yourself). Stay positive; if something isn’t working, move on and try something else. 

If you’re shooting outdoors, pay close attention to the weather (and tides), never put anyone in danger, respect people’s personal space and ask permission if physical contact is necessary (it rarely should be). 

If you’re having trouble communicating poses or expressions, try doing them yourself! Talk and provide feedback to your model; they often have no idea what they look like on camera.

Courtesy

As a common courtesy, ask the booker if they have any specific images they need and deliver those requests. 

Whether the location is a studio on a white or grey seamless or outdoors, there are three frames that you can’t go wrong with. Always make sure to capture:

  • full length
  • 3/4
  • portrait

Some models have a look that begs to have a beautiful image taken while others do not. 

The other angle that I will consistently deliver is a straight-on horizontal image of shoulders up. The booker always loves this angle and often doesn’t know this until they see it.

Deliver

As a photographer, it is your professional responsibility to meet the timelines you provided to your team on image delivery. 

Make sure you edit and deliver the photos on time, and if you’re running late, then communicate this as soon as you’re aware.

You can deliver your photos in many ways, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Full resolution images may be required if any team members intend on printing. 

Still, you can probably get away with lower resolution images for online use (I resize mine to 2048px on the long edge for web use). Modelling Agencies may expect full resolution images every time so ask if you’re unsure.

Usage & Attribution

It is expected within the industry that test shoots or TFP work are for use in portfolios only. 

This generally covers all personal website and social media use, and commercial usage is strictly not included. 

Therefore, depending on where you live and your regulations, you may not require a model release (unless you were to negotiate commercial usage rights).

All usage should be attributed to each team member in good faith, although many businesses and creatives often forget. 

This includes modelling agencies and clothing labels if they were a part of your shoot!

Additional Tips

here are a few tips for other photographers looking to do the same:

  • You’ll find creatives with varying levels of experience. Do your best to understand where they may need help, or be honest if you need help or advice if you’re pushing your limitations.
  • Try to critically analyze your prospective teams’ portfolios before booking them in. Look for varying styles, poses, expressions and themes which can give you confidence in their experience. Avoid people with highly retouched portfolios unless that’s the look you’re going for. Always communicate to ensure everyone is on the same page. I’ve had last-minute cancellations, incorrect outfits, people arriving at the wrong location and time, and everything in between go wrong. Communication may help you avoid some of these from happening!
  • Most importantly, enjoy.

How To Test Shoot With Agency Models

Test Shoots

As a photographer, you have most likely been building your portfolio in various ways, from seeking the aid of friends, capturing images of family members to connecting with models in your area. 

You’ve been shooting everyone and anyone willing to step in front of your lens. And even though these subjects have been great, you’re feeling inclined to take your work to the next level. 

The next logical step for many photographers is to start building contacts with modelling agencies. To test shoot with agency models. 

Shooting With An Agency Offers

A variety of models with different looks and styles for your projects. 

You can essentially choose what type of model best fits your idea will give your portfolio a more cohesive and identifiable representation of your photography niche and vision.

Agency models are more experienced. And, the content you produce will result in more professional images. 

We are all thankful for the friends who have played models and been our muses to develop our careers. 

But, working with an individual who truly feels comfortable in front of the camera is a noticeable step up in your work.

Test shooting with agencies develops relationships for future work. Whether you shoot unpaid tests or eventually become a paid test photographer for an agency, building a relationship with booking agents can aid your career. 

Working consistently with an agency allows you to develop a reputation not only with them but also within your area’s photography community. 

You are potentially leading to positive recommendations for other projects.

Having A-team & Going Solo

Having a consistent team will most likely garner more test shoots, some of which may even be paid in the future. 

In the beginning, however, a team may prove difficult to come by. If you do not have a team, do not fret. 

An essential lesson to take away from testing is learning to maximize production value with as few resources as possible.

This is not ideal, but it does teach the bare essentials. Rest assured that once you learn to master this by yourself, your work only improves. 

It was a one-person show when I first began, and it allows me to jump in wherever needed if someone on my team isn’t available due to the last minute booking. It has also helped me be a better director.

Follow Up For Future Tests

After you have completed your test:

  1. Wait a few days to follow up with the agent.
  2. Mention that it was great working with them and the model.
  3. Add that you hope you can work together again shortly.

The one thing to remember is that working with agencies requires patience.

You may not hear back right away. But, before you know it, you’ll be sent new packages of models and setting up continual test shoots.

Some models have a look that begs to have a beautiful image taken while others do not. 

The other angle that I will consistently deliver is a straight-on horizontal image of shoulders up. The booker always loves this angle and often doesn’t know this until they see it.

Remember Who It’s About

Test shoots are typically about the model, so remember to direct them in a way that captures their whimsical and mischievous mouse. 

Subtle movements seem to prevail over the hard-hitting poses, and that is because there is often a disconnect at the beginning until the intimacy sets in and you feed off of each other’s timing.

The best images are captured when you are communicating without speaking at all, transfixed at the moment with each other.

Gear

You can get away with photographing an entire test shoot with minimal gear. I photograph most of my tests with an 85mm, switching to a 50mm when the situation calls for it. 

Some tests can be captured using only natural light and a reflector. In the studio, a single light will always do the trick. 

My lighting consists of a single Broncolor Siros L 800ws with a shoot-through white umbrella and a collapsible beauty box.

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 85mm 1.2L II 
  • Broncolor Siros L 800Ws
  • Broncolor Beautybox 65 Softbox
  • Savage 36″ Shoot Through Umbrella 

Conclusion

In the beginning, it is very typical for a model booker to request all unedited images from the shoot. 

Until that rapport is built, they want to cull and choose the final selects to be edited. This often comes hand in hand with a brutally honest critique. 

Listen to all of it, the good and the bad, and apply it to the following few tests. Once that trust is established, you will only send them final edits of your choosing.

Test shoots are the perfect time to test out new gear, lighting setups and themes. Ensure that you first capture what the agency has requested of you and then have fun. 

Learn to master the basics, and the rest will come. The more tests you crank out, the more people tend to want to collaborate with you. 

This is when the best relationships are developed, and quality teams are built. This is also when some of the best work is created. 

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