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What is a Model Test Shoot

As a model, your portfolio is an essential part of your career, and it’s important that you have a well-rounded portfolio to showcase your skills. If you’re a new model, you probably don’t have a portfolio; if you do, it is perhaps not as diverse as it needs to be. If you’re a model that has signed to a new agency or expanded to a new market, you may not have the right images in your current portfolio needed for your new representation.

This is where model test shoots come into play. Many models will hear this term tossed around but don’t fully understand what a test shoot is. In this post, I will go into more detail about model test shoots and their role in model development.

Female model at a photoshoot with photographer and lights.
Test shoot behind the scenes.

So, first things first- what is a test shoot?

In short, a model test shoot (sometimes referred to as an agency test shoot) is a photoshoot that an agency sets up to see if a new model they’re interested in representing or one they’ve recently signed can work well in front of the camera (hence where the term “test” comes from!). It’s not uncommon for new models to have more than one test shoot, and after each shoot will receive feedback from their agent, which aids in their career development. Agencies will also occasionally set up model test shoots for experienced models when they plan to send them to a new market with a different style than what the images in their current portfolio show.

The purpose of the shoot is specifically for the model’s portfolio, so the photographer has little to no creative freedom with these shoots and takes all direction from the agency. However, these shoots are usually mutually beneficial, and the photographer often uses the images in their portfolio as well.

Typically, model test shoots are not free photoshoots, but the agency will sometimes cover the expenses. If the agency doesn’t cover the cost, the photographer will charge the model directly, usually at a discounted rate worked out with the agency. Hair, makeup, and styling teams may also be involved in these shoots, which can be quite costly. When an agency offers to cover these expenses, it’s essential to clarify if they are covering the costs entirely or if they’re putting it on your ‘tab’ that you will have to pay back later. Some agencies have in-house teams that they use, and others have “go-to” photographers that they refer models to. Not all photographers are good at shooting model portfolio images, even if they’re extremely talented, so it’s best to follow your agent’s guidance and use the photographers they recommend for your model test shoot.

Photographers also use the term ‘test shoot’; however the type of photoshoot they’re referring to when they use this term is different than a model test shoot. A photographer test shoot is when a photographer wants to test out new equipment such as lights or lenses, flush out new lighting techniques, or get practice photographing models. Typically, the images captured during a photographer’s test shoot aren’t usable for a model’s portfolio, so the model doesn’t pay the photographer for this test shoot. Instead, the photographer would pay the model, or the model would volunteer their time. Occasionally the “test” is successful, and the images end up being useful for all parties, so it can be worth volunteering your time to model for these.

Test shoots are not to be confused with TFP (Trade For Photos/Time For Prints) photoshoots- they are not the same!

A TFP photoshoot is a collaborative photoshoot between models, photographers, and sometimes hair and makeup teams. These shoots are unpaid for all involved and are typically used to create social media content or execute a creative/themed project, not for a model’s specific portfolio needs. In most instances, the photographer has complete creative control in TFP shoots, and the images are often too overdone in terms of concept, styling, lighting, or editing to be usable for a model’s portfolio, but they are often used for a photographer’s portfolio to showcase their creative abilities. Even though the images from TFP shoots are sometimes usable for a model’s portfolio, agencies typically have no involvement in setting up TPF shoots for their models.

I hope this helps you better understand what a test shoot is and its role in a model’s career!


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