What is a Test Shoot and Why Do We Have to do it?
I realised that I haven’t written, in-depth, about one of the most common things that new faces come up against in the early days of their career: testing.
When I started, I genuinely thought that a ‘test shoot’ was just that: a test. The agency testing whether or not I was photogenic, and whether they’d be keeping me on.
Sounds silly now, but if no one really explains to you what you’re doing, and you tell a 16 year old who is still at school that they’re going on a test…It’s actually not that silly an assumption!
The agency laughed at me when I told them I was worried they’d be dropping me after my first two tests were SO abysmal that they actually gathered round one computer and zoomed in on the dire make up and styling to have a good ole laugh at me. Add onto that my acne was getting worse and worse each day and I felt like I was going to be laughed out of the agency! (Premier at the time).
I actually love this pic though. Those teeth were freshly train track braces-free and smiling felt so goooood.
Then the new faces booker gave me a big hug and said, “No way are we going to get rid of you we love you! Tests are just for you to get practice!”
So let me explain to you all what a test is, why we do it, why they are horribly annoying but massively necessary for a model’s career.
So tests are shoots which aren’t for publication or payment. It means that there aren’t any clients demanding that the bags are seen ‘just so’ in every shot. To make a shot commercially viable, us models often have to look quite mainstream and relatable to a wide audience…which means a standard, unadventurous, beautiful picture showing off the clothes and make up that most folk would like to achieve.
On a test shoot, however, there’s no client to appease. The photographer can test out his or her new lens. The make up artist can go wild with the colours in their new palettes and the hair stylist can shake themselves free of the ‘loose wave’ or ‘casual up do’ of a commercial job.
And as for the model, well. It means that we get experience in carrying out a wide variety of creative visions. It means we get pictures for our portfolio, practice at posing, we learn how to stand and move (and breathe) in high fashion garments and adapt to the behaviour and conduct expected of us on a shoot.
Some of my favourite shoots were unpaid tests, where I got to act and be free and experimental. During the week I’d be studying for my AS levels, and during the weekends/holidays I’d head off to bizarre locations to test, where I gained confidence and saw how my face could be transformed, realised that on shoots I was treated like an adult and how to get over my shyness and make an impression. My portfolio grew and I started booking editorial jobs off the back of the fantastic pictures I was getting.
However, that was probably 2% of the tests I did. When a team is allowed to go wild, it means the photographer might just test out the most unflattering lens that he or she has no idea how to actually use. It means that the make up artist may be inexperienced and not very good, and go for yellow and green colours on your eyes and black on your lips. You might get an awful hairstylist who doesn’t care what you like, they’ve just wanted to try out a new styling tool and start weaving bizarre creations into your hair that make you look like Marge Simpson. You’ll probably be really, really cold because no one can afford a decent studio so you’ll either be on a hovel in Zone 4, in someone’s shared house’s garden with their housemates looking on or getting changed under the arches around London Bridge at midnight, breathing in the scent of tramp’s urine and flashing your bum at passing buses.
When I did a very literal test based on being an inmate at a mental asylum…
Tests are often unglamorous, and the pictures are often laughably bad. But I’m afraid that’s the gamble with a test, and I can tell you that two or three incredible tests elevated my career, booked me the big jobs and gave me the sort of experience that I could take onto shoots for iD, Vogue and Marie Claire to make a good impression and get rebooked and recommended.
This was in a playground in Hertforshire after school on a Friday. No hair and make up. Booked me loads of beauty campaigns.
Tests are both the best, and the worst, part of modelling. You’ll either be unpaid, cold, unhappy and dressed up as a clown and never see the pictures…Or you might and the shots’ll book you a shoot for Harpers…OR you could be styled by an assistant to a high profile celebrity, who dresses you in their Givenchy gowns and results in pictures you’ll treasure forever. Sometimes the tests get placed and published so you get tear sheets for your portfolio.
The tests never stop, either, but you do start to have more choice. As you get older, you do more and more commercial pictures and your book can become a bit tired. Tests give it a bit of energy, and can give a commercial model a bit of a kick up the bum. I remember this test with Samin Ghiasi getting me out of the rut of e-comm posing and getting me back into the sort of energy and movement I used to exude when I was a New Face.
So basically: tests are a necessary evil. You probably won’t get paid, or even get decent pictures – but you’ll gain experience and there’s always that outside chance of the right shoot sending your career into the stratosphere!
Tomorrow I’m gonna suggest a great photographer to test with but in the mean time I would LOVE to hear some of your stories! What have been your worst and/or best experiences on a test?!