By Natalia Zurowski
When you get into modelling, any reputable agent will tell you that you don't need to pay money upfront to build a portfolio. If an agency sees potential in you, they will find photographers who will want to shoot you to help build your book without you having to pay a cent. But once you have been in the industry for a while, your book will need an update every so often; or you'll need specific photos in order to appeal to agencies and clients in a market you wish to work in.
Some agencies might suggest you do a paid test with a photographer or you may find one yourself that you wish to work with. But is a paid test really worth it? We answer some of the questions models may have about shooting a paid test.
If a photographers likes me, wouldn't they shoot me for free? - If a photographer is still working on boosting their own profile in a market (even if they're very good) or if they really like you then yes, there are instances where they won't charge you. But as they progress in their careers, even photographers who do like you will expect to get paid for prints at the very least - especially if they've been in the business a long time. They have paid their dues, worked with respected and reputable clients, and made their mark in the market. People need to get paid, it's that simple. Photographers spend a lot of money on their equipment and on postproduction. It can take hours to get a photo right, adjusting the colours, and making sure it comes out perfect.
How much does a test usually cost? - Rates for photographers vary depending on their experience and market profile. Some agencies also have close relationships with certain photographers so deals are sometimes possible. Standard practise in Toronto is $200 CDN and anywhere between $25-50 CDN per print. A makeup artist is usually present.
In Miami, a test shoot can range between $300-600 USD plus. When you're paying anywhere between that amount, you should at least be getting 4-10 prints (depending on the price), and a hair and makeup artist should be on set. Anything on the shy side of $600 USD should also include styling, and anything above $600 USD is slightly ridiculous. If you have the money then go for it, but there are plenty of good photographers charging lower rates that can help your book just as much.
How do I know if it's worth it or if the photographer is reputable? - Google is your friend. Go online and look at their portfolios, and even their Instagram for recent shots. Look at the image credits to see what other agencies, models and clients they have worked with and have relationships with. If you are investing money in a paid test, you should make sure that you're getting your money's worth by shooting with someone who has industry experience and reputability.
Are they someone you would like to shoot with? Would their style benefit your book? Who are the other photographers in the market? Check out the competition to see what other photographers are in the area and compare their styles to see what you like best.
Do I have to do a paid test? - Of course not and no agency should force you to do so. If you know enough good photographers and have a great book already then there's no need. But if you feel your book could use a refresher or you could use a certain style of shots it's something to consider. Remember, your portfolio is what you show to clients and the stronger the book you have, the more likely you'll be able to book jobs. So long as your appearance doesn't change much, you can use those photos in your book for a long time and get booked from those photos. It's a small one time investment for potentially large returns. You want the photos in your book to be the best representation of you so it's important to work with good photographers.
Also, if you're making money and working then go for it! If you aren't working well just yet or are a new face, of course you're likely to be more hesitant. Wait! There's no rush. First build your book with as many creatives and unpaid tests as you can - experience and comfort in front of the camera is more important. Once you can afford it and you feel you could still use the photos, go for it.
Quick prints - The best part about a paid test is that you're guaranteed to get the photos shortly after the shoot with a maximum wait time of a couple weeks - although it's usually less. As many experienced models may know, sometimes you wait months before you see the results of a shoot when you could have really used those images earlier.
Could a paid test help my career? - Maybe, maybe not. Chances are if you shoot with a good photographer then yes, the images you shoot could benefit your modelling career. The greatest benefit to test shoots is that you you can achieve very specific images that suit your desired image. With creatives and jobs, you're usually shooting images that the rest of the team envisions, not yourself. With a paid test, you get creative control. You can tell the photographer and make-up artist what your goal is for the final images and that is what you will get.
International agencies and clients will want to see you have specific shots in your book before they sign you. Although in some instances an agency will help a model develop their book, with the huge numbers of models, it's rare for an agency to have the time to develop a girl if she's from out of town. After doing a test shoot or two, agencies may then be able to see your potential even more and actually take you on board.
For example, say you're in Miami and you've never done a bikini shoot but you want to work in the market. With a paid test, you can shoot the images that you want and need to showcase your potential to book those kind of jobs. That way, you can better sell yourself to those type of clients, increase your chances of being booked, and appeal to agencies in markets like Miami that cater to those clients.
Bear in mind however, that the fashion and modelling industry is unpredictable and there's always some risk involved. You never know how things will work out, but if you think a paid test could benefit you, then talk to your agency and make a decision together - you should both be on the same page in regards to your career.
Doing a paid test can help your career if you shoot with a reputable photographer whose vision you admire and want to see in your own portfolio. Paid tests are not necessary to have a portfolio but as time goes by, it can be a good idea to invest in some good, solid photos that can help you work in a specific market. Although the initial investment may seem daunting, it can pay itself off time and time again.
If you're a new face, don't rush into doing a paid test just yet! Take your time to ease into the industry and learn about how it works. More importantly, always discuss your thoughts with your agency and have them help you make the right decision for you and your career.