How To Test Shoot With Agency Models

As a photographer, you have most likely been building your portfolio in a variety of ways. From seeking the aid of friends, capturing images of family members or using our platform, the Hub, to connect with models in your area – you’ve been shooting everyone and anyone who is willing to step in front of your lens. And even though these subjects have been great, you’re feeling inclined to take your work to the next level. The next logical step for many photographers is to start building contacts with modeling agencies in order to shoot with the women or men on their roster.

Before I discuss how you shoot with agency models, I want to note why shooting with a signed agency is the next step you need to build your professional photography career.

Photo by Shannon Ciricillo

Shooting With An Agency Offers:

  • A variety of models with different looks and styles for your projects. Being able to essentially choose what type of model best fits your idea will give your portfolio a more cohesive and identifiable representation of your photography niche and vision.
  • Agency models are more experienced and the content you produce will result in more professional images. We are all thankful for the friends who have played model and been our muses as we develop our career, but working with an individual who truly feels comfortable in front of the camera is a noticeable step up in your work.
  • Test shooting with agencies develops relationships for future work. Whether you shoot unpaid tests or eventually become a paid test photographer for an agency, building a relationship with booking agents can aid your career. Working consistently with an agency allows you to develop a reputation not only with them but within the photography community in your area – potentially leading to positive recommendations for other projects.
Photo by Shannon Ciricillo

The Process of Testing with Agency Models

Reaching out to the Agency

The first step to testing is to find model agencies within your area. If you are in a bigger city such as New York or Los Angeles, there will be a wide variety to select from. Smaller cities have agencies as well, so it’s best to do a general search “your city name, model agencies” – to get an idea of what options you have. Once you have found the agencies, you will need to do some searching on their site for the contact information of the model agent or booker. There will often be a general email for the new faces or development board, but finding a specific person’s contact is ideal – if the website yields no information, try giving the agency a call and inquire about who would be the best person to speak with in relation to model testing. Since this is your first time testing with the agency, you will be sent a woman or man from their development, new faces division. These are recently signed individuals who need images for their book and will work often with a variety of photographers when starting out.

Once you have the contact information, you will need to construct a well written, concise and professional email to the agent. Always begin with a proper greeting and then continue to introduce yourself. It is best to mention what kind of photographer you are, where you are from and a note to your specific style. Always include a link to your portfolio and even embedding a few sample images into the email is effective to allow a first look at your work within the message. Be sure to conclude by thanking them for their time and consideration. Now that you’ve conquered one, repeat with several other agencies to expand your reach. You will not hear back from everyone so be patient.

Once you have secured an interested agency, the agent will most likely send you a package of models available to test. From that package, you will rank your preferences and add any notes for the agent to view. They will take care of contacting the model and checking availability, so be sure to have several potential dates in mind for setting up the shoot.

Create the Mood board / Source a Makeup Artist / Find Clothes

Either before or after you have secured a model, you may want to find a makeup artist for your shoot. Some agencies require a makeup artist as part of the testing process, while others are not as strict. In my experience, it’s best to find a makeup artist looking to collaborate on test shoots with and build that relationship over a series of projects. In terms of sourcing clothes for the model, reference their measurements on the package from the agency. Either pull from your own wardrobe, find a stylist looking to collaborate on test shoots or even purchase clothing to then return after the shoot. Although you can find these elements after booking the model, I recommend having some details solidified prior to contacting the agency. Mentioning that you have a makeup artist and attaching a mood board of ideas will show professionalism and the agent will be more inclined to consider working with you.

Photo by Shannon Ciricillo

Creating a Call Sheet

Once you have all the details in order, you need to make sure you have a location of where you will meet for the shoot. This can be a “home base” and not necessarily where the shoot will take place, but a location needs to be determined for the agent to notify the model of where to meet. A call sheet should include date, time and location as well as contact information for everyone involved in the shoot. Create this document and send it over the booker a week in advance to secure and lock in your test.

Shooting the Project

Now that you’ve done all the legwork, you’re finally ready to shoot. Model tests usually last 1-2 hours and include at least two, preferably three styled looks. Make sure that you are personable with the model and engage with them – be professional, but also have a good time. This is the first impression the agency will have of you and your work, so whether the model enjoys shooting with you will form the basis for future test work with the agency. After the test, it never hurts to ask the team if they want to grab a coffee or lunch. Although shooting a test is a professional project, creating a relationship and spending time socializing with a team is the best way to continue to launch your photography career.

Delivering the Images

Once you have created the images from your test, make sure to start editing and delivering the images in a timely manner. I always aim for a week or less, as it shows that the shoot is a priority of yours and an opportunity you valued. For tests, it is best to stick to natural editing – infuse your style, but do not go overboard or use it as a chance to test out your latest presets. The agency hired you based on the style they saw in your portfolio, so stick to that for consistency and structure. Once you have edited the images, follow up with an email informing the agent that you will be sending them over. It never hurts to deliver more images, as the agent will decide which poses and looks are best suited for the model’s book.

Follow Up for Future Tests

After you have completed your test, wait a few days to follow up with the agent. Be sure to mention that it was great working with them and the model, adding that you hope you can work together again in the near future. The one thing to remember is that working with agencies requires patience – you may not hear back right away – but before you know it you’ll be sent new packages of models and setting up continual test shoots.

Photo by Shannon Ciricillo

As with all aspects of photography, testing with agency models takes persistence and practice. As long as you develop a strong, professional relationship with the key players of the agency and create work they value, you will surely be able to shoot and produce projects with a variety of models and agencies.  

What have your experiences been testing and shooting with agency models? Let us know below!

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