Test shoots: your essential guide

Test shoots are an ideal way to build up your portfolio, while forging the relationships that will help further your career. Here are some guidelines for creating test shoots that are valuable, rewarding and productive.

What is a test shoot?

Creating test shoots, or just 'testing', (also referred to as 'time for print' or 'tfp') is a big part of the early stages of your creative career. It allows you to build your on-set experience, develop your professional network and plug gaps in your portfolio by creating more of the work you love, free from a brief.

Put simply, test shoots are photoshoots that are put together expressly to experiment and create new images. They're not commissioned by a client and there's generally no money involved; it’s just an opportunity for a group of creative people to get together and try out ideas.

Test shoots are a useful way to build up images for your portfolio, but it’s not just about getting new pictures. Testing provides you with invaluable set experience, opportunities for exposure and the chance to work with new creative teams too.

Tips and guidelines for successful test shoots:


Shoots need a concept and the joy of a test shoot is that you can choose any idea or brief that specifically interests you and your team. Think about your aesthetic, your values and the kind of work which you want to be putting out into the world, or which your portfolio is lacking. A test shoot is the ideal time to create the images that your book is missing, or to make a statement about something you believe in, free from the restrictions of a client brief.

Building your team

The Mastered directory is a great place to find a team. It contains the details of every hairstylist, makeup artist, nail artist, photographer, art director, stylist and brand that has been on a Mastered program. It can be hard to pull clothes when you're starting out, so working with brands can be a mutually beneficial experience, too.

Alternatively, use local Facebook groups or Instagram to find like-minded creatives – the Instagram location tag is handy for this. Personal recommendations are always great too. If you know a photographer locally, ask them who they work with and if they could put you in touch. Photographers usually pull together shoots, so they're often a good starting point for other contacts.

When you’re starting out, it can be tricky to attract more established creatives. People like to work with their trusted network as they know what they’re going to get and that they can work well together. However with a good concept, a professional approach and a strong moodboard, you can demonstrate how serious you are about working together. Remember to tell the rest of the team what you can bring to the shoot too; no-one wants to feel they're being used.

With regard to models, agencies usually have a list of 'New faces' – they're new models who need experience and shoots for their own portfolios. These models tend to be be more available for test shoots and it allows you to build a good relationship with agencies.

Create an agreement

Agree up front with the rest of the team what each of you wants and expects from the shoot. For example, if it's a fashion shoot, the photographer may agree to take some extra beauty shots at the end of the day for the beauty team's benefit, or a stylist could include some of a brand's shots in specific images so they gain valuable assets for their social media.

Discuss in advance what each member of the team wants to get out of the shoot, then be sure to stick to the plan on the day so that everyone's requests are met. Creating a test shoot agreement can help with this. Similar to a contract, they outline what everyone has agreed to and means you avoid issues such as images being printed without credit, or not receiving images. It doesn't have to be formal – just a signed document that says you're all in agreement. You can find a basic test shoot agreement here.

On-set etiquette

Test shoots are about much more than creating images. You’re building relationships with others and developing your skills. If you make a good impression, you're likely to work together again, and create more images for your portfolio. Likewise, if you’re impressed with someone and get on well, that’s someone you can call on when you have shoots in the future. That's how a creative network is built.

Remember that on set, you're all relying on one another. If you can’t make it, get someone to replace you and let the team know ASAP. You only get one reputation in this industry, so do your best to make sure it’s a good one.

These are the people that will grow with you and refer you for jobs in the future, so be sure to be polite, professional and respectful at all times. While being professional on set is important, personality is too – which is why post-shoot drinks or a debrief over coffee is always a good idea to build relationships and get feedback on your contribution.

Keep it up

There's no reason to stop testing once you're established. Many of the best-known creatives continue to take on personal projects for the express reasons people do test shoots – to work with friends, to try new ideas and create images that are true to them. Testing keeps your portfolio fresh, provides assets for social media, allows you to stay in touch with other creatives and is a great way of building your confidence and being proactive between commissioned jobs. 

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