Last Updated on 01/23/2023 by Mark Beckenbach
I’ve been working with developing models for over ten years. While many things have changed, there remains one constant: agencies are expecting more for less. Unfortunately, Covid only exacerbated the issue. The fashion world became victim to shrinking budgets, and virtual sessions made it easier to cut photographers. So, it’s essential for photographers to cash in on paid opportunities whenever they’re available. On the flip side, I still find value in model tests when I want to try new techniques or if I need to feed my creative soul. Whatever the motivation is, below are some tips for a successful model test.
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Set Clear Expectations With The Modeling Agency
It used to be that a test consisted of up to three looks within the maximum of a two-hour sessions. Now, it’s common for agencies to push for full editorials comprised of at least six looks. And they want this on a non-existent budget. For many, this goal is unrealistic and nearly impossible, and it’s vital to communicate it as such.
Tell the booker you can only guarantee up to three looks with a time constraint. Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s a budget for the larger productions they’re seeking. Ask if a creative team will be made available if there isn’t a budget to allocate one. Additionally, most agencies are very hands-on when it comes to their model. They want to see a mood board, and they also want to know the team’s credentials for the models’ safety.
Take Care Of Your Team
Models often arrive to set with an empty stomach, and food is an afterthought. Make preparations for everyone on set. Access to water is crucial, especially when working on location during the hot summer months. It’s also a good idea to bring snacks. Many models will only eat snacks that will not cause bloating. Fruit is never a bad idea. A good rule of thumb is to ask if there are any dietary restrictions and do your best to accommodate them.
Many new faces are under 18. In the United States, implied nudes are out of the question, and this includes bare shoulders. It doesn’t matter how tasteful the image is. Instead, opt for a more commercial approach with fashionable items covering the model. A camisole is great. Think lifestyle and toothpaste commercial ads with lots of smiling, as that is where their paid work will take root.
The industry is again adapting to the idea that it’s ok for men and women to bare more skin. Take note that objectification and hypersexualization are still out. Focus on sensuality over sexuality for more timeless and powerful fashion portraits.
Agencies want to see variety. Make sure the creative team makes subtle changes to hair and makeup for each look. An easy way to do this is to start simple and build as the session goes on. It’s much easier to work up to a dramatic smokey eye with a bold lip than to tone it down.
Take the time to capture various close-up, three-quarters, and full-body crops. Also, direct a variety of moods with each look. As an added challenge, keep it true to the mood board if attempting to shoot the entire editorial. Continuity is essential if you plan on submitting the photoshoot for publication.
Production value is key to a look that appears expensive to produce. There are a few ways to do this. The most obvious is to find a way to acquire the costly fashion labels that appear in major ad campaigns. Learn to accessorize clothing in a way that makes it look expensive. Use locations like hotels or a stylized apartment as studios. The common thread is to make it look like it was expensive and find a way to do it for as little as possible.
Build Their Confidence
I found model development by mistake, and I stayed for our common bond at the time. Many models have battled a lifetime of insecurity. They were told they were too skinny, too tall, too plain, too something. Modeling was the first time they found acceptance, in their opinion.
Let them know they look fabulous in a way that isn’t objectifying. Sensuality is always a better choice than sexuality. It is imperative when working with the opposite sex. Reach for words that are uplifting instead of hyper-sexualizing. Amazing, beautiful, handsome, and wow are all great choices. When a model feels like a million bucks, they will give you their best work.
Give positive feedback during a model test and choose words wisely. If something isn’t working, communicate it in a way that doesn’t make them lose confidence. I like to show them the back of the camera and convey that I know we can do this better together. Let them know when they are knocking it out of the park. If you have a repeat model, tell them you see how hard they have been working.
Communication is key. Sometimes it makes sense to show them the framing on the back of the LCD screen just to give them an idea of the scene they’re working with. At other times, it’s a great idea to work with them more on posing and such.
Make It A Positive Experience
A model’s experience carries as much weight as the images you deliver to the agency. Focus on consistently providing a positive experience with quality images. It will foster relationships and open the doors for more opportunities within the industry. Once you learn to master the high demands of a model test, you can successfully navigate any other area of portraiture.