Everything You Need to Know About Test Shoots

November 16, 2020

No matter what stage you’re at in your photography career, we all get drawn to whatever job pays the most. At the end of the day, this is a business, and you shouldn’t be trading your time and skill for nothing in return. That’s why I have put together this post covering everything you need to know about test shoots.

The way I see it is, I either exchange my talent and time for money, or in exchange for something else I need. We all get caught up with making sure we are getting paid for our work and rightfully so, but money isn’t the only benefit we can get from shooting.

Often with paid shoots, we are so fixated on capturing the image our clients want, we lose focus on what we want to shoot for our own portfolio.

My next point is very important if you want to attract the relevant clients; you should only share photos that represent the work you want to attract. It sounds so simple, but so many of my mentoring students come to me saying they’re not booking their ideal client and are unsure why. Often, we go through their website and Instagram account and the photos aren’t of what they would like to be shooting! So what needs to change is what you put out there for everyone to see.

‘But Alex, how can I share photos of shoots that I’m not booking’ I hear you cry. Test shoots. Boom! See what I did there. If I want to be a pet photographer, but I’m posting photos of weddings how is anyone going to know that; 1, I can take photos of dogs and 2, that I want to. You must be firm with yourself and get out of the habit of posting for the sake of it. It’s better to post nothing on your social media than to be posting photos that don’t represent the work you want to be shooting

How to book and navigate test shoots:

  1. Make a plan – Be very clear with what it is you want to get out of the shoot, chances are you aren’t going to be paid for test shoots (you can be, but that’s for another day), so you have to make sure you are leaving that shoot with something of value to your business.
  2. Do your research – There are hundreds of modelling agencies, especially in London. All it takes is an Instagram or google search to start finding names. Look through their clients, the sort of work their models have on their books and make a list of agencies you are interested in working with.
  3. How to reach out – I like to send a short, to the point email expressing I’m interested in testing with them. Make sure to include links to your website and social media so they can see your work.
  4. Mood board – Make a mood board (the website Milanote is great for this) showing the style/vibe you are after. Take photos from Pinterest, other photographers you like and location ideas. Include this in either your initial email or once you have had a response. 
  5. Follow up – If you don’t hear anything after a week or so, don’t hesitate to follow up, agencies get hundreds of emails a day and it might just be that yours was missed

The main and most exciting difference between a test and a paid shoot, is you hold all the cards. You can ask the model if they need anything particular for their portfolio which you can help with, but at the end of the day you can use this shoot to get the content you need for your portfolio and marketing. Let your creativity shine!

To ensure the best chance to create the images you want, share your mood board with the model so you can both work towards the images you want to create. This will give the model a chance to prepare themselves and help increase the likelihood of achieving your goal.

So now the fun part of editing, and there are only a few things to do differently from your normal process. Agencies don’t tend to use more than 5-10 photos of their models, so there is no need to waste time editing 60 photos, unless you want to of course! You can always ask the agency how many they may want and even to pick the unedited photos they like the best. I always think its good to get an industry professionals opinion anyway.

And that’s test shoots! I could talk about this topic forever, as I think testing is a tool that all photographers should utilise. If you have any questions at all feel free to slide into my DMs on my Instagram!