Test shoots are a misused term but valuable creative asset, as a photographer looking to do test shoots for portfolio work is becoming increasingly difficult. I've spoken to quite a few creatives who have had bad experiences with others looking to "test". I put test in quotations because often times during the said test nothing is put together, it's more of "bring your clothes and let's shoot" it's no real organization to it. It's so simple, test shoots are developed to express creative freedoms or new methods for all participating parties. They are especially important because they help update the participants portfolio's, if these are creatives who are working for the first time it helps build relationships. Weirdly enough depending on the person or level of person you are working with, paying on the first go round may or may not impede relationship growth. Since iv'e been doing photography there is one similarity I have seen through out the years its free work disguised as a test shoot. This factor is what makes so many creatives cautious about doing test shoots with other creatives based solely upon previous experiences.
Remember the comment about "just bring your clothes", that's exactly how i used to put together test shoots. After listening and learning through webinars and assisting on set with other photographers my work flow is growing in a different direction. Just like putting together a paid shoot a call sheet and mood board are still required, pre-shoot preparation is a must; you want all participating parties on the same page. On my call sheet I construct a time table of how I want everything to go, that way the team expectation is set and we work hard to stay on a time table. Selecting models for test shoots has become increasingly easier as I build relationships with different agencies, don't forget to include said agency in at least the mood board. Agencies are more likely to send over new faces/developmental models in need of images if you have a clear and concise vision for what you are trying to do and what you are looking to offer. In my experience and conversations with makeup artists, it seems that they get the short end of the stick. Whether it's through inexperienced and/or unprofessional photographers, they will run from the word "test". From my understanding with makeup artists the biggest struggle is receiving images back from the photographer, what we have to understand and celebrate is the importance of a makeup artist. The last thing that you want is an unhappy MUA who works with leading industry professionals not highlighting any positive points in their experience with you, not a good conversation starter.
What I've learned is that wardrobe stylist seem to be the most difficult to find, but I also feel like I may not be looking in the correct places to secure one. Wardrobe Stylist are an effective part of your team whether unpaid test or commissioned work, they double as a creative director on set and watch out for the naked eye adjustments that we as photographers may miss. Wardrobe Stylist just starting out are probably the best to seek out when building a team, i say this because building with people from the time they break ground to when the house is built is such a beautiful thing to be apart of. With being there from the start you learn the creative habits of this individual and they learn you as a creative you work in tandem. Let's not forget about the hairstylist, because without an amazing and passionate hairstylist you cannot maintain the cleanliness that is highlighted in Fashion Photography. I am not going to spend too much time on the TEAM breakdown and the importance of that, i will save that for another blog post entirely.
The term "test" commonly disguised as "TFP" which means time for photos doesn't have to be a dirty word at all, but in order to readjust the way this word is perceived is by being better prepared. Having a team already in place for a test is a lot more ideal than trying to secure different people for every test that you do. Organize your work flow so that when you are pulling your team together for the test shoot they know that what will be put together is magic.