Jan 2, 2010

What is "Testing"?

Let's think of this as "one from the mailbag".  It comes up a lot on community sites and message boards, via email, in my workshops:

What does "testing" mean?  I see it referred to a lot in reference to fashion shoots and I'm a little confused.

One caveat: my answer is in the context of a major industry market (New York City, in my case) and may not apply the same way in smaller and local markets.  In general, the major markets (NYC, LA, Chicago, Miami...London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Shanghai) all behave in the same way...but all bets are off in the smaller markets, where every agency and client and photographer is reinventing the wheel.

Let me start with what "testing" doesn't mean:

It doesn't mean "I'm shooting a proof-of-concept for a commercial/client project and I'm going to use a model to stand in for it so I can try out a technique and show the results to my client before we pay the real talent."

It doesn't mean "come stand in for me while I test out new equipment."

It doesn't mean "a model agency is going to have a model do a dry-run photo shoot in order to decide whether he/she is worth signing."

It doesn't mean "you're going to model for me for free for a quick shoot in order for me to decide whether you're worth paying to model for a longer shoot."

So what does it mean?

Generally, it's the process of photographers shooting for model agencies to develop the models' portfolios.  For the photographer, it's a way of updating their portfolios, building relationships with agencies, making sure their portfolios are full of images of working models with "current" and modern styling and generating imagery that might be different than what their clients are hiring them to shoot.  For models, it's a way of gaining modeling experience and building out their portfolios - keep in mind that your average major-agency model will probably have a portfolio consisting of 4 photos when he or she is signed: standing in front of a white wall in the agency, taken with a point-and-shoot camera, a series of straight-on, profiles and full-length.  That's it.  They're referred to as "Polaroids" and they're the only images most models start their careers with.

A test shoot generally involves a "team" - hair and makeup at the minimum, usually a wardrobe stylist as well.  It will mean shooting several different "looks", whether on studio or location.

There is both paid testing and unpaid testing, but most photographers will only experience the latter.  The reality is that only a very select few photographers establish such a strong relationship with an agency that they become an agency's "go-to" for developing their models - and there's rarely a shortage of photographers lining up just hoping to get a foot in the door.  Even being selected for unpaid testing with a major agency is a testament to the quality of one's work and that agency's appreciation for it - being hired for paid testing is the product of years of networking, proving oneself and building a reputation.

Even some of the world's most-renowned photographers continue to test - it's not something that's only done on the upswing of one's career.  Basically, testing is an opportunity to shoot something with notable and significant talent but without a client attached.  The editorials that you see in major fashion magazines often are created on spec as test shoots.

In the online world, people use terms like "TFCD" and "TFP" in a way that approximates testing, but those terms really don't exist in the brick-and-mortar industry any more than "port" and "tog".  Testing is a process and concept with a long history in fashion and modeling, something that's understood and done in every major market - "TF*" will mean something different to every person you speak to.

Later - the process and contents of a test shoot!


pat said...

Lost you at "tog". What does that mean?

Shatterkiss said...

Apparently it's British slang for "photographer". Drives me, and a lot of other people, crazy.

Gate.City.Scoots said...
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Sid Ceaser said...

Fantastic. I was actually thinking of asking you about this soon anyway, 'cuz you mention it a lot.

I've already got your blog bookmarked. I love reading about your profession.

Michael Plaxico said...

Thanks for the insightful post, Simon.

dave wright said...

"The editorials that you see in major fashion magazines often are created on spec as test shoots."

you might want to explain what "on spec" means to those who aren't familiar with the term - just a suggestion.