What is a Test Shoot for Models?

A test shoot is a collaboration between a photographer, a model and sometimes other professionals like makeup artists, hair stylists, stylists, set designers etc. Unlike commercial shoots, in a test shoot, the different professionals don’t charge each other a fee, but they gain the experience of the set and access to the work produced for their portfolio.

You would think that test shoots consist of young and inexperienced professionals but sometimes the crew can be very advanced. People, who are already established in the industry, may want to do test shoots to practice a new idea, to refresh their portfolio or to create an editorial for a magazine. ( I will probably explain more about this in a different blog post). When I was about to graduate from my BA in Athens, I had the chance to meet my favorite fashion photographer and I asked him if he was still testing. He said that all photographers keep testing throughout their careers. The better you become, you will have access to better opportunities, better crew and models. He actually said “I can tell how big a photographer is in their industry by the quality of models they shoot on their tests.” So if you want to develop your portrait or fashion portfolio and explore lighting, testing is something you should consider.

Where Do Photographers Find Models?

You can find models for tests in a lot of different ways.

• You can try some of the Facebook groups for photographers and models in London.
• Or ask your friends or even approach people you would like to work with on social media.
• Model agencies


If you want to test models from model agencies you should follow this process.
Model Test Photo by Maria Tzili

How to Contact a Modelling Agency for Tests

• Do some research

Have a look online at different model agencies and make a list of their websites. Look at what kind of images they use on their portfolios, especially under the “New Faces” tab. Those will be models that are new in the industry and they will be testing more, whereas the main board will have portfolios that are full of paid shoots and editorials. That can be a bit confusing and discouraging.

The New Faces board can give you a clear idea about what kind of photographs they accept for their entry-level models.

Have a look at the agency’s social media as well. Normally, they would credit test photographers. You could link to their website and see what kind of layout and work they display there.

• Make sure you have a body of work that would look appealing


After your research, if you realise your work is not relevant to the images that are normally used for new faces’ portfolios, you will need to create some more work before you get in touch with any of them. For that you can use friends or family or the social media and facebook groups option.

However, if you do your research well, you will see that there are different agencies with different styles. From the conventional size and height models to curvy, diversity and classic boards, and each one of them will have different requirements. So make sure you are targeting the correct style for your preference.

• Time to contact the agencies

All agencies have a website with a contact section. Under that, you will find a generic contact email. Some agencies have “meet the staff” pages or about pages, with everyone’s contact details, which would be a better way to contact the bookers directly. At the beginning, I would aim for “new faces” or junior bookers.

Don’t bulk email people. Take the time to write a personal email to each one of them. It always comes across as a more genuine message but also, it prevents you from exposing all the mistakes you may make in your first trial to every single model booker in London. After you start getting some responses, you will be able to adjust and improve your way of contact and portfolio and you don’t want to waste this opportunity by mailing everyone at once.

Include your work in your email. You can add a link to your website and 2-3 of your best test images in the signature of the email. You should also include a mood board with some references of what kind of lighting and style you are going for and the date, time and location of the shoot.

Working in a photography studio at first, will help you look more professional and safe. The location can be important as well. Central London would be preferable and studios that are more established would be better options.

After you build up a good relationship with an agency it could mean that you can test in different locations. I personally did a lot of tests at home or in different locations.

Keep a list of the agencies that never come back to you and give them a phone call. Ask to speak to the person who manages the new faces board or say that you are a test photographer and request to be directed to the most appropriate person.
Model Test Photo by Maria Tzili

How Do I Choose a Model for a Shoot?

When one of the agencies comes back to you, they will probably want to ask you some questions about the style and purpose of the shoot. Some of them will also ask you to go to the office for a meeting. New models can be very young and it is normal for them to want to make sure they meet the people who do their tests before they trust them with some models.

After that, they would normally send you a package with some options of models that would potentially be available for this shoot. You need to go through the list and pick your favourite one. Sometimes the booker may come back and say this model is not available now. Don’t be surprised! If they send over a package with 8 models, it would be a waste of time to check beforehand if each one of them will be available for this. If that happens just pick another one.

When you agree on a model, who you like and who is available the agency will send you the booking confirmation, which will include the terms of the shoot. What you are allowed to do in the shoot and how you are allowed to use the images. Read that carefully and if you find anything that seems unreasonable feel free to negotiate. You should expect to see terms like no nudity is allowed, images cannot be used in any commercial way, images cannot be published in magazines before the booker approves the titles etc. I would insist on getting a confirmation that I will be credited on social media, if and when my images are posted. The same contract would normally mention the turnover times. Make sure you can meet them.

After that you should send over a call sheet with all the information for the shoot - time, location, date, contact number and emails of all the crew members and yourself. At this stage you can also request for the model to bring in some wardrobe options and makeup if you don’t have a makeup artist.

To be continued:

Dos and Don’ts for Test Shoots
Best Lighting for Test Shoots
List of Model Agencies
How to Make a Moodboard and a Call Sheet
How to Submit Editorials to Magazines

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