Fashion Test Photography

Written by: Joe Jenkins

Photo Testing 

It’s generally safe to say that fashion photography is a competitive field. It isn’t competitive in the sense that photographers are winning magazine covers by offing one another in the streets and engaging in various other forms of gangland violence (though I’d imagine there are some scorned individuals shuffling dejectedly about), but it does have colossal number of residents and, while we’re all fairly cordial with one another, we’re all as well really going after the same set of things. While there are a million different articles covering a billion different topics on the matter, this one is going to revolve around one particular area of it that’s constantly overlooked on the subject and is, without a doubt, far and away one of it’s most important (while simultaneously misunderstood) areas. 

Enter: The Test (also known as the fashion test). 

If you look up the meaning of a photography test on the internet, you’ll get a number of various definitions on the matter; the vast majority of them defining a test as a collaboration between a photographer and a model in order to achieve photographs for both his or her respective books. The vast majority of definitions will as well go on to state that these collaborations are simultaneously exploring new ideas and concepts between the aforementioned model and photographer and boldly striking new ground in the achievement of aesthete.  This being said, while I don’t dispute the fact that a test is a great place to explore new looks and break new ground, I think that it’s a misguided definition and offers a warped view on the reality of what a test really is. 

To begin with, let’s go ahead and examine why models are (typically) sent out on tests. Modeling agencies are broken up into divisions; with larger agencies containing more divisions. The top level divisions are men and women, and below those divisions are sub-divisions known as boards.  Boards can range from main (the agency’s primary and top models), classic (30+), curve (plus size) and new faces (models newer to the agency and what today is going to be of the most interest to us). When an agency signs a model, that model is added to an either men’s or women’s division and then included in that division’s new faces board. Once he or she is added successfully as a new face, the agency will then reach out to various photographers it keeps around on file and send that model out, for the purpose of building his or her book, on a series of test shoots . 

The shoot schedule of the new model is, to put things lightly, relentless. Many models when they first enroll with an agency are sent out to multiple shoots a week, with some days scheduling multiple shoots over a one day period. The reason for this is that that model needs, outside of experience, as developed a book as humanly possible. The agencies as a result subscribe zealously to this philosophy and welcome with open arms competent photographers driven to break career-ground. 

The reason I’ve been speaking up until now of the model’s shoot schedule and how relentless it is, is that if this is an industry you’d like to make it in, you too should be testing just as relentlessly; with this being where I disagree on the vast majority of articles and their accepted definitions on what a test is.

Test, test, and test. And when you’re done testing, test some more.

I once watched a Q. and A. with Bryan Cranston and someone asked him what advice he would give a person for developing himself as an actor and advancing his career. Cranston’s response was ‘To act. Act all the time. Act any chance you get. Act in community theater.  Act off broadway.  Act in the bathroom-mirror. Just act, as much as you humanly can, whenever you can, and all the time.’ I quote Cranston because this also applies to your test-work (and more likely to any other skill you’re attempting to develop); only with shooting rather than acting. You should, if you’re a nascent photographer looking to further yourself, be testing all the time. You should be testing at every chance you get and as many models as you humanly can, with this idea clashing, of course, with the conventionally held idea of what a test shoot is. 

Google’s snippet answer to ‘What is a test photo shoot.’ 

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.

The first thing to take note of this: 

It is absolutely not possible to test at a high frequency and have a makeup artist, hair stylist, and wardrobe stylist present for every shoot. In fact, it’s not possible to shoot at a high frequency and to have one-third of those people available for every shoot, or at least half the time. Additionally, it is absolutely ok if you don’t, so long as you can produce images that the agencies can use for the models books.

There. I feel better. I’m not trying to speak disparagingly of others, but every time I look at definitions like these I can’t help but feel they’re written by people that are simply rephrasing the definitions of others and not speaking directly from experience. 

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