“Testing” in the modeling industry is a term with a few meanings. It can be used to describe a photo session where a model uses pictures obtained by a photographer for their own promotion in their portfolio or composite card. Testing may be recommended by the modeling agency to go to specific photographers that they prefer to work with. In this type of “testing” the model usually pays the “test photographer” for their service. Whether or not the money is paid up front by the model or the modeling agency depends upon a variety of factors. What is the policy of when their new models need testing? This is a question that may only be answered by each individual agency.
The location of the modeling agency, how many models they represent, the types of clients and models that they use, and some other financial policies are all factors in whether the agency will pre-pay for a model’s testing. Learn this lesson, now, that only a very, very small amount of modeling agencies are willing to use their own money when paying for a model’s testing “up-front”. They want to be absolutely confident that the model will work for them, be a strong earner of money/prestige for the agency, and then the agency will deduct the testing fees later from the model’s first paycheck. The money for testing is ultimately paid for by the model sooner or later.
Some good news is that there are times when a photographer hires a model for their own testing. Sometimes they may “test” to either experiment with new equipment or photographic techniques. The photographer may even just want to test a new model or experiment with their own artistic freedom without working for a paying client. Depending on the experience and financial situation of the photographer, a model may or may not be compensated with any money, but maybe just prints for their portfolio. This type of testing may be referred to as TFPs (a.k.a. Time for Prints, Testing for Prints) or TFCD (a.k.a. Time for “picture” CD). Many of these opportunities are found on the Internet through social networks for models.
Most likely, though, the model is the one paying the test photographer, so the model must ensure that they are investing their money properly and wisely for their services when they are required to pay. Not all “testing” photographers are reputable, so always ask area modeling agencies which photographers they recommend or if there are ones that you should avoid. Some photographers may be new to working with models, so their rates should be equivalent to their experience. If you are paying a photographer to give you “Commercial” looks and they seem to have only fashion looks in their portfolio is an indicator that you should have them show you examples of their commercial work. You’ll be wasting your money if you are in a smaller, commercial area and you only have high fashion or editorial looks in your book. Commercial clients want to see specific types of “looks”. It may be very vague when you are going to a go-see, so even with commercial looks you should keep working to build you book with photos of a variety of commercial looks. Testing is exactly that…testing. Testing how you photograph, how you move in front of the photographer, or if you take direction well is part of this “test”. It’s not about sitting and posing and not being inspiring.
You need to clarify whether it is high fashion or commercial looks or else you are wasting your money. If you want to model with intensions of making money you have to find where your “type” fits the mold. There is an investment of money in a model’s career, especially in the early stages, so the investment should be a worthy one where the photographs will qualify by the industry’s standards and get the model hired to their appropriate type of work suited for the model in the market area that they will work. It’s one thing for a new photographer to need their own experience with working with models to negotiate the terms where maybe the model pays for some of the prints, but paying hundreds of dollars for a service from a photographer who may not necessarily provide the appropriately needed kinds of photography a model really needs in their book is a costly mistake on the model’s behalf.
Not all photos are the correct quality and type of print that may be needed for a particular model. For example, a commercial-type model really has “no use” for editorial-style photographs in their portfolio when they are not an editorial fashion model. The photos may impress the model, their friends, and even that photographer, but it won’t get them hired commercially at their agency. Not all models are high fashion models. Not all models are catalog models. Models must remember that there are so many people who want to be models and the industry has its’ scammers and less scrupulous individuals who just want your money or really are just clueless to what the modeling industry is looking for. They are the type of people who are like salespeople and just say what they think a model wants to hear just so they can get their money or to just meet and be around many young models (even when they know they’ll probably never get the kind of work the new model desires (ex. Victoria Secret caliber).
So, testing is very important for a new model that wants to be hired for photographic work, and it’s important to test regularly to keep portfolios updated especially with multiple photographers, but guidance or research is necessary if a model isn’t as experienced with what they need in their portfolio or on their comp card to be hired. A picture may appear great to the model and their family, but it will perhaps be critiqued more objectively by the modeling industry or potential clients. Granted, many pictures are subject to different opinions even within the modeling industry, but let the professionals be the guide. This is where the modeling agency is the “model’s guide” provided that the modeling agency is reputable and not solely affiliated with just one photographer where they both make money on new models (a.k.a. getting kick-backs).
Photographers are artists, but they need to make money, too. That’s the business. It’s the decision that they choose about how they make their money that can lead to crossing the fine line regarding what is ethically in the best interest of the model. Ideally, the photographer and modeling agency get a large portion of their income from “clients” who use the models and pay them…not money from the models. Unless there is a really great explanation of why a full-time photographer affiliated with a modeling agency has few clients in their portfolio the model should beware. Where are they making their money from? Is their income from fees and photo sessions from models only? (Hope they can help you make money, too.)
Legitimately, there can be a collaboration of people with different artistic skills that may be looking for print work for their own portfolios, too, (ex. Stylists, Designers, Make-up Artists, Hair Professionals, etc.) to show other clients their range of work especially if they are new or have been limited to the types of jobs that they have been getting. For example, a landscape photographer may be looking to make some extra money, so they know that taking on some commercial work or selling some stock photography using models may be the answer. They may not enjoy that commercial side of another specialty as much as other types of photography, but they may need the work and pictures to make additional money. To get more commercial clients they know that they should have a portfolio to show that they are capable of photographing/styling for commercial clients. So, their collections of Fine Art landscape, wedding photography, fashion photography, etc. may not market their range of talent, but they can add new photographic styles to their book. When they are trying to build a specialized book that shows that they can photograph “commercial” work, too, they may hire or use a model just for their own book’s usage to market themselves, not to sell any specific product, nor be used for any fashion or story editorial. So, the model’s work for this kind of booking is not 100% commercial print because it’s not promoting any other product or service except the photographers’, designers’, stylists’, etc. own portfolio (and possibly the model’s book, too).
Technically, one could say that if the model is photographed for the purposes of promoting the services of another (even within their own profession) then it IS a form of “commercial print”. If the intentions are for the photographer to make money in the future off of a model’s participation in testing resulting in prints for their book then it is like a “commercial” booking. Confused? Some unethical photographers may also not see it that way in regards to how they compensate some models versus taking their money for a model’s testing, but that is cleared up quickly when the model signs the photographer’s photographic release form. That’s why a model and agency should know the intended usage of the prints before signing any photographic release.
Most professional photographers are very clear and consistent about the usage of the photographs that are agreed upon as being used simply for their testing purposes where both photographer and model are working together for that sole purpose. It gets more complicated of course when both don’t communicate or misunderstand the terms of usage. The photographer assumes that the prints from their shared testing experience with the model will be used for the “model’s promotional purposes” only in her portfolio, on a composite card, personal model’s website, modeling agency’s website or book, etc. The complication arises when the model uses one or more of their photographs in a commercial way that benefits someone else that is not part of the normal model’s promotion without the written permission or even knowledge of the photographer.
Photographers know their rights legally, so learn the laws that affect models. Models may pay for the service of being photographed, as well as the finished product of the print to place in their portfolio, or even may get them “free” in exchange for their service with the photographer, but the models do not own the rights to reproduce (make copies) or use in any other way that is not part of their promotion as a model without permission of the photographer. It is considered to be the property of the photographer. Some photographers will supply a letter with their signature that allows them to make copies at a photo shop as needed for distribution, but other photographers want to be the only ones responsible for copies, therefore getting re-paid again. That is part of their business reputation and livelihood, so you’ll learn which photographers are the easier ones to work with professionally. Each photographer may have different model releases, so make sure you clearly understand what you can do with your copy of their work. They should be able to tell you what their procedure is regarding your self-promotional tools and making copies, if necessary, of their work. Copyrights of photographers may appear on individual prints to identify their work, so be aware of illegal usage and the making of copies.