Whether you are a new model, working model or aspiring model, having the right photos at the right time is crucial to your success. Testing is fundamental for every model starting out and continues throughout every models’ career. The trick is learning how to get the most you can out of every test you do.
The process or thought that goes into whom you test with and how much you spend (or don’t spend) depends on a number of things.
For aspiring models
Do not spend money on photography at this point. Agencies just want to see snapshots of you in order to decide if you are appropriate for their clients. Save your money until after you are signed so that you can spend it on someone your new agency recommends. And frankly, even if you have done a test or two, showing that material instead of simple snapshots can actually hurt your chances for representation if the photography is bad. Remember, what you like and what an agency likes will often be very different.
For represented models
If you are represented by an agency, they should be referring you to test photographers they trust and use frequently. Typically, these will be tests you need to pay for yourself, whether it’s out of pocket or advanced to you by your agency (meaning, you will pay out of future earnings). Test photos aren’t usually cheap and, most models find, you get what you pay for. It definitely pays to listen to the advice of your agency and work with the photographers they suggest. If you can’t afford the test now, ask for an advance or save your money. The cost of a test will pay off many times over.
Plan to spend between $250 and $850 on a shoot with a pro. Also, be prepared to pay for a makeup artist and stylst. This may or may not be included in the cost of the shoot so be sure to talk with your agency about what to expect. Your agent should work with the photographer on the direction and tone of the shoot. They will have the best understanding of what you need in your book to make you more marketable.
Please don’t expect your agency to get excited about most free tests or student work. Most free or cheap photographers cost next to nothing for a reason and your agency is not going to want to put work in your book that might set you back. While it doesn’t hurt to practice, as an agent, I had very little luck finding material we could use. If I did see a new test photographer with promise, generally they would agree to do a free test or two so we could verify the quality and then he/she would start charging shortly after.
Lastly, if you are a new model, PLEASE reinvest any earnings from modeling back into test shoots. Models who do this are savvy – one new test could equal two new jobs. Now you have the material from your test and material from a booking.
For self-represented models
As a freelance/self-represented model, two things you do not want to do is hire a portrait photographer or go to a studio that specializes in glamour photography. You need fashion shots, not portraits. The photographic techniques used in portraiture are not the same as those used for fashion and the lighting for both portrait and glamour photography differs from fashion photography.
Be sure you understand who your clients are and what they want to see. If you are doing a lot of show work or local catalog aimed at working professionals or stay-at-home moms, don’t book a highly editorial photographer. Your clients will want to see how well their customers will relate to you.
Whether you want to pay for a shoot at this point depends on a number of things including your personal financial situation and your career path. If you are self-represented and trying to find work without the services of an agency, by all means, invest in photography.
If you are ready to find your photographer, there are a few ways of looking:
Using the Internet: Posting on the PlusModels board or using sites like Model Mayhem is a good way to find a fashion photographer. However, some photographers don’t like to, want to, or know how to shoot plus. Ideally, you should find a photographer who already has worked with plus-size models so that you can see his previous work.
Schools: Check your local area for art schools that offer photography classes. Schools often need models to pose for fashion photography classes and, if you’re lucky, you may get paid for it! If they don’t need models, let the department head know that you are an aspiring model looking for photographers and that you will TFP (test for photos) or split costs.
Agencies: You can call local agencies and ask them to refer you to test photographers in the local area that shoot plus. You always want to be sure that they know you are a plus size model because all photographers don’t necessarily shoot plus. This method may or may not pay off. It is the policy of some agencies to not reveal the names of test photographers they use. Any photographer the agency refers you to is going to be spendy, so be prepared.
Once you find a photographer, you want to set a time to meet with him/her prior to the test. If it’s someone you don’t know, take the precaution of bringing someone with you or meet the photographer in public; don’t take chances with your safety.
Always have an idea of what you’re looking for. Starting a scrapbook or binder of images you like and think would work with your look is a great way to communicate to a photographer what you are looking for.
Some photographers will be more open than others about the collaborative nature of a shoot. If you are paying the photographer and meeting resistance, move on. If this is a free/TFP test, the images will need to be something both of you can use, so be prepared to work with the photographer collaboratively.
Can or will this photographer be able to achieve what you need? Most photographers have a particular style or look to their work. If you present something that is very editorial/high-fashion to a photographer who is used to catalog shoots, expect some resistance. Even if they agree to try what you are looking for, the results may not be what you are after. If you are paying for the shoot, probably best to find a photographer who specializes in that style. If this is a free/TFP shoot, you have very little to lose by giving it a shot.
If you work with an established photographer who is testing, prices work three ways: price per roll (film) or number of shots (digital) plus hair and makeup, flat price for photography plus hair and makeup, or flat test price including hair and makeup.
Hair and makeup
If you’re spending money on a test, spend money on a hair and makeup artist. $50-$150 is the going rate for an experienced makeup artist. Do not spend more than $150 for a makeup artist; if that’s the asking price they’re just taking your money. If it’s a TFP, split cost or $25 a roll or less, try beauty schools. Call to see if they offer cosmetology classes. If you find someone at a school, don’t pay. You have no guarantee that they know how to do makeup for photography. Offer prints at cost so they can begin to develop their book. You can also try cosmetic counters in department stores. This is not standard practice but I realize that a lot of readers live in areas where they don’t have access to the professionals found in metropolitan areas. If you find someone in a department store, chances are you will have to pay something. Do not go above $50; start the bargaining at $30.
If you are working with a professional photographer, they should know makeup artists. The makeup artist should supply all of the makeup, although I do suggest you bring your own foundation, powder and mascara. For ethnic models always bring your own foundation to every test and every booking.
What not to wear
Stay away from props; no sunglasses, roses or flower bouquets. Avoid bold stripes, polka dots, velvet and crazy prints. For black and white photography look for textured wool, terrycloth, ribbed tops, or knits like sweaters. They come across well. If you want to minimize your size or your bust size, avoid shiny fabrics like satin.
If you’re just starting out go basic and clean with clothing. For styles, think the Gap, Banana Republic, and Limited. Make sure you have the right sizes. Make sure everything is pressed and clean.
Occasionally, you will find it’s beneficial to hire a professional stylist. A stylist will puchase clothing for you that fits the mood and objectives of the shoot. Stylsts can be tricky. A bad wardrobe choice can ruin the best photograph. Be sure you see a full range of work the stylist has done before hiring her.
If you don’t want to spend money on a stylist, do what the pros do – buy and return. This is a practice that causes some controversy in the industry, but most stylists frequent stores that they know have generous return policies to purchase clothing and accessories for shoots. It allows you to buy higher-end clothing or styles that you would not normally wear.
Should you go this route, take EXCELLENT care of the clothing. If you stain or soil a garment in any way, be prepared to keep it. Do not cut tags off (tuck and tape) and watch special occasion items as they will sometimes have tags in obvious places to prevent returns. Wear garment shields to protect the underarm area and do not wear any kind of perfume or scented lotion. Tape the soles of shoes with masking tape so you can do minimal walking without scuffing or damaging the soles.
For all models
Take the time to put your best face forward. If you need to get your roots done, get a haircut or get waxed, do it. Don’t waste your time or the photographers by not being physically prepared. Look at yourself and make sure your eyebrows are tweezed, your skin is clear, any extra body hair is removed and your nails are done. Also, stay away from salty food or anything you find that bloats you for 24 hours prior to the shoot.
You found a photographer, a hair and makeup artist, shopped for clothing and you have taken care of surface beauty needs. Get a good night’s rest and lots of luck!