How to Make the Most from a Test Session


Setting up a test session can be as easy as taking a friend to a park — if it’s the right friend and the right park.

A test session is for the purpose of trying out a new technique or piece of equipment, or to shoot something that you hope will end up in your portfolio.

But just because it’s a test, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adequately prepare for it. The better you plan, the better images you’ll get.

Try to think of everything you’ll need in advance.  I brainstorm until I have five to 10 good shot ideas, then I ask myself which are the three best. I plan on shooting those and making them worthy of my portfolio.

Location, Location, Location

Your first step is to find a location that fits your vision. This may require you to get permission from the property owner.

Think of how you can make this a win-win. I have traded shots of properties for permission to shoot there. This worked great for a builder I met who needed shots of a home he built. I’ve also traded interior shots of a great restaurant for letting me shoot there.

Be creative and be respectful. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If they say no, you may have to come up with a new idea. Keep in mind there have been a lot of great shots made at public parks and streets.

When scouting your location, look at the light, and take shots at the same time of day you plan to shoot and from the same angles. Is the available light right? Is there room to set up lights? Scouting will make you aware of issues you need to control before you have models on set looking to you for direction.

For interior shoots, I also recommend taking shots of everything in the room beforehand, so you can make sure everything is put back in place when you finish. Ask the property owner if there is anything of great value in the room and if possible have them relocate it. Bring along boxes and packing material if you need to. Bring cleaning supplies and clean up after yourself.

If you don’t have insurance, check into short-term insurance for the day or week.  It is pretty cheap in comparison to what it could cost if something goes wrong or someone gets hurt.

If something does get broken, bring it to the proper person’s attention and pay for it or give them your insurance information. If it’s a really great location, chances are you will want to come back.

With Models, Go with the Pros

This brings us to models — and to an old adage: “You get what you pay for.”

Whether it’s a paying client or a test, professional models almost always are worth it. I have shot client jobs where we used non-pros to model for us and it has worked out great. But that is the exception rather than the rule.

I am established enough that I can call local agencies and get models for test shots, but some of you may be left working with amateurs or wannabes. Before you plan an elaborate location shoot with someone with little or no experience, meet with them and do a little test at a park. See how they do in front of a camera.

They should be comfortable, relaxed and take direction well. This is a good time to practice your direction. Give your model clear instructions; and give them from their perspective, not yours.

Your model needs to be part of the whole look you are trying to create, because when it comes to lifestyle shoots, it’s all about the right person and the right park.


3 Responses to “How to Make the Most from a Test Session”

  1. i totally agree with what you've said.

  2. I am a wedding photographer and I've actually been wondering what exactly a "test shoot" with a model is. Now I feel sheepish. =)

  3. Words of wisdom, great ideas also of how to approach property owners for the use of a location.

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