Photos Courtesy of Travis Curry
Building up your Fashion & Beauty Portfolio takes a lot of time, patience and serious commitment. Having a strong Fashion & Beauty Portfolio will help you gain clients within your industry. Test shoots are a great way that you can build your portfolio. A test shoot is a collaborative shoot between a photographer, model and creative team and are normally free shoots unless otherwise specified. Although you are not making money off of the test shoot, if you’re getting great images for your portfolio then the shoot has paid for itself in the long run.
Where to Begin
I’ve found that going through a Modeling Agency is the best way to start working with professional models. The best thing to do is to call up the agency and tell them that you’re a Fashion Photographer interested in submitting yourself for testing. There are a few great blog posts online about the etiquette of working with Modeling Agencies and how to approach them. Check out: A Guide to Working with Modeling Agencies from Fstoppers for some great tips. In this blog however, I will be sticking to the topic of testing.
If you aren’t in a big fashion market like NYC, London, Paris, LA, etc. there are still regional Modeling Agencies that you can work with. You also may find a great Mother Agency to work with in your area. A Mother Agency is responsible for scouting new models, developing their careers and placing them with agencies in larger markets around the world. Mother Agencies are awesome to work with and I suggest building a relationship with a Mother Agency as well.
Gain a Clientele
Before I moved to NYC I found a lot of my models through Facebook. I never had good luck with Model Mayhem in my area. When I was very new to shooting fashion I hired a few local models that I wanted to photograph. Working with them was a true investment for my portfolio at the time because after shooting with a few good local girls, it got people interested in working with me. This helped me get testing shoots with other models and hair & makeup artists. Eventually I was able to approach models that I wanted to work with for tests. Sometimes they agree to a test and sometimes they do not. It’s all about what’s going to be best for everyone’s books!
For your test shoot it’s best if you have a creative team (hair, makeup, wardrobe, nails). Some things may be more difficult to find such as a wardrobe stylist or nail artist, but you can get around those by partnering up with a local boutique or salon. Hair and makeup is definitely something that is needed for fashion and beauty shoots. Be sure to create a Mood Board of inspiration images for the shoot. This should be images you take to serve for inspiration for the entire shoot. While you shouldn’t focus on recreating those exact shots, you should use all of the images to find visual references when directing your team and the model. I often find photos that have an eye makeup that I love, another shot has a hair style I really like and then one image might be an idea of the lighting or the feel of the story. Even if you are just doing a test shoot, a mood board is a great way to keep things in focus during your shoot. I have a few set mood boards that I follow for a lot of my tests to keep me on task.
Be Open to New Ideas
When you’re on set you need to think of the test shoot as a collaborative experience. While you are the photographer and you’re in charge, you also need to create great portfolio images for everyone involved in the shoot. Be open to suggestions from the MUA and the hairstylist and if the model has an idea for a shot, try it out! Don’t let anyone take over and derail your shoot, but be open to collaboration. That’s the beauty of testing; that you can try out new things which may end up taking your work in a new direction or creating a really amazing shot you didn’t expect to get!
If you’re testing with an agency, you’ll most likely be testing a New Face that was recently signed. New Faces often are still going through development, so they are learning how to pose and connect with the camera. An agency will send its New Faces on many tests to build up their experience of working in front of the camera before they make a debut with clients. You may have a New Face who is a natural in front of the camera or you may have a model that just stares blankly at you waiting for direction. When working with New Faces, give them lots of direction and help with posing as you would one of your other clients. You can get an idea of how they move and their experience/comfort level in a few short light test shots. I like to pull up fashion poses and inspiration images on my iPad to give the model some insight.
When I work with models I want them to feel comfortable and happy with me and my team. If they are enjoying their time with me, then know that I will get the best possible images from them. The same goes for your creative team, so make sure you are taking care of everyone on set. While test shoots aren’t big budget fashion shoots, you should still operate like you would with a client with professionalism before, during and after the shoot.
Finally, make sure you get your images out to your team! A lot of agencies will want to select their shots first, if you have any additional shots you’ve edited, be sure to send those over to the agency and team as well.
Testing is the way to build up your Fashion & Beauty Portfolio. It’s also a great way to network with people within your industry. The more you test, the more you show your work, the more jobs will come to you. Be patient and enjoy the process!