Before you hire a photographer to test with or agree to a TFP (“time for prints,” i.e. free) shoot, it’s important to understand a few key things.
First, it goes without saying, you’ll want to understand if this will be a paid test or TFP. The quality of photographer who is willing to do TFP will vary largely. Most people working on TFP will want the others involved to be at the same skill level as themselves or better so you’ll find those who are very new or perhaps switching focus are often more open to shooting for trade. Sometimes even very good photographers who normally don’t shoot TFP will do so for models that are represented by the bigger agencies or those they feel have exceptional potential of being signed to one of those agencies. TFP is also used frequently to create a specific image/photo the photographer specifically wants for their portfolio.
While the quality of photography you’ll get from people who are charging will vary as well, you should expect a certain minimal level of skill and professionalism with a paid shoot that isn’t always guaranteed with TFP. The difference in experience and/or talent can often be reflected in pricing, though more expensive isn’t always better. You will want to make sure that anyone you pay is more experienced than you are and/or has a portfolio of work that matches their rates.
What are some ways to determine if the photographer you’re considering is right for you? Look at their website, portfolio, etc. Do they understand lighting—this is especially important for beauty shots (a type of model’s headshot), body angles, and have good composition? Do they have a mix of studio and location shots? If not, does what they have match what you want to shoot? What kinds of work are they doing? If all of their work is super high fashion editorial and you are more of a commercial type model that may not be the best fit, even if they are a great photographer. What kinds of models are they working with? Do the models look relaxed and well posed in the photos they’ve taken? Are they professional and responsive in your communications setting up the shoot or a bit flaky or hard to get a hold of? Try to talk to them on the phone prior to the shoot if possible to make sure you feel comfortable with them. If you aren’t, the tension/discomfort is likely to show in your photos.
* If you are looking for actor headshots, you want to make sure the photographer works specifically with actors doing headshots. There are industry standards technically that differentiate a portrait or model headshot from an acting one and not all photographers understand these difference. Also, it isn’t just about looking your best in actor headshots. It is about matching your physical appearance to your energy and having that match what your cast-able “type(s)” are–Capturing your unique personality in the images is key. A good photographer will know how to get you to relax enough to truly allow your genuine energy to come through in the shoot.
With TFP, everyone is working for free so each person involved will likely want a say in what kinds of images are being created. Or whoever organized the shoot will have a specific idea they are looking to create and will find the appropriate talent to help them execute that vision. It’s important to make sure that the concept is one that will serve you/your portfolio, or at the very least, not work against your image/brand. Remember, even if you decide not to use the pictures, everyone who worked on the shoot will have them and the ability to put them out into the world.
When you are paying for a test shoot, generally you should be looking for a more seasoned photographer. Some will expect you to come with a concept or idea of what you are looking to get out of the shoot in mind. Some will do all of that for you and you just have to show up ready to work. It’s important to understand what you need to contribute and what you are getting from your photographer.
You’ll want to understand what is included in the shoot for your time or money. How many “looks” will you be shooting? Hair/makeup: for TFP are you expected to do your own, find an artist who is willing to work on the shoot or does the photographer haves someone lined up? (If so, it’s a good idea to look at their work as well). For a paid test, is hair/makeup included in the price quoted for the shoot or will it be extra? Does the photographer have a specific person they use or do they have a few that you need to choose from? What about wardrobe? Do you bring/buy your own clothes? Do they have a stylist? How many options does the stylist provide? Are you required to bring shoes/accessories or do they provide everything needed?
It’s also very important to understand what you are getting and what you are agreeing to in terms of photos. Will you get all unedited, high-resolution images shot or will the photographer edit it to include only the images they feel reflect them best before delivering the images to you? Will you get high-resolution images at all or will you only receive low-resolution proofs from which you have to select what you want to have retouched and delivered in high-resolution format at that point. Are a certain number of retouches included or do you have to pay for every photo you want separately? What is the cost per image?
You should also be clear about who has what rights for usage. Though you should be able to use your images for your own portfolio/website/social media at a minimum, the photographer usually retains the copyright or ownership or the photos. This does not permit them to sell the image without a signed release from the model it just means that the model can’t do so either. In some cases the photographer may be willing to give up the copyright to the model but that requires specific legal agreements. I’ll cover photo releases and agreements in more detail in the future.