What is a Test Shoot?

Test Shoots are going to be the lifeblood of your portfolio.

No idea what a “test shoot” even is? No worries, We’ve got you covered. A test shoot is simply industry speak for “a shoot where a team come together to produce work for everyone’s portfolio.” Simply put, a bunch of creatives come together, make beautiful images, everyone (most of the time) works for free, and gets to use the images to build their portfolio.

That’s why I say that these shoots really are the lifeblood of your portfolio. Without test shoots, you’ll never have any work in your portfolio which is truly your vision.

So how do you go about planning a really wonderful test shoot?  

Let’s break it down. 

1. Come up with an idea:

Before you can do anything, you need to have an idea for your test shoot. You might have a bank of ideas that you’ve been wanting to create for a while. Maybe you keep them written down in a notebook, or somewhere like Trello. I personally love Trello for this! Take a look at your ideas list and choose one to focus on. 

2. Create a moodboard:

Once you’ve decided on your idea, time to gather a moodboard together. I do this on Pinterest, but you can do it anyway you like: in a Word Doc, on Photoshop, or even physically if that works for you. I’d recommend keeping it digital if you can, because you’ll want to share it with people soon. 

Spend some time on this step. Don’t rush it. Make sure you’ve got visual prompts covered for: styling, lighting, make up, hair, locations, and posts. 

3. Find a team:

This can be where some people get discouraged, but you don’t need to! I encourage you to push through any fear and resistance. You can find team members very easily these days. There are all sorts of Facebook groups which are full of fashion professionals looking to collaborate or ASK YOUR LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL.

You can also browse Instagram hashtags for make up artists, hair dressers, stylists, set designers… whatever it is you’re looking for.

A good tip is also to look at the team members featured in magazines. See if there is anyone on these images that is in your area, and message them. 

I’d also recommend browsing agencies of make up artists, hair stylists and clothing stylists, and getting in touch with the bookers. Sometimes these artists have time to test, or they have up and coming creatives on their books who need more work. It’s always worth asking. 

There is no quick way to find a team, but once you’ve found a good one, it can be the start of something really amazing.  

4. Discuss with the team: 

Once you’ve got your team, it’s time to plan. Chat to them about your idea. Tell them what you’ve got in mind and make your vision very clear. They will have ideas of their own, so listen to them. Sometimes they’ll bring great value, other times the ideas won’t be a good fit. It’s up to you as the photographer to decide what will work and what won’t. If something isn’t going to work, be open about it. 

5. Meet the team before the shoot (if you can):

This is super important if you can make it happen, because sometimes, not everyone gels! It’s quite important for teams to work well together in order to get good results. I’ve not always been able to meet people before a shoot, especially if I’ve had to travel far and won’t have a lot of time in the shoot location. However, if you can make it happen, do it. It will only make the shoot day go smoother! 

6. Decide on a location: 

Are you going to shoot in studio, or on location? If you’re going to be on location, do you need a permit? How will you manage changing your model if you’re on location? Do you need a “base camp” location, or can she get changed in cafes/restaurants/behind a sheet in the street (top tip, always have a big blanket with you to use as a changing room!). What time of day will be best? Do you need to check the location out before hand at different times of day to be sure of the light? It’s a lot to consider, but it’s better to plan and be ready for anything, than to get there and be stressed. 

7. Find a model:

You can find models in many ways. Either approach an agency and ask them if they have any new faces that need portfolio images, or you can search for models on places like Instagram. There are also websites like Model Mayhem, which can sometimes be good (but not always). If you’re just starting out, browse your Facebook friends and see if there is anyone you think who would be a great model.

In the early days, I photographed mainly my friends. I built up my portfolio, and eventually began to reach out to girls I saw on Instagram/Facebook. Then, I approached agencies. I still do a mix of all of these things, depending on what I’m working on. 

8. Shoot: 

Well done! You’ve done it. You’ve planned your test shoot, you’ve seen it through, and now you’re shooting. Enjoy it! Get creative. Make something beautiful come to life 🙂