Testings and Creatives

Dan Grant, Publisher

Toronto is a city where models can spend as little as bus fare to begin. A good set of digital snapshots taken at the agency (reputable agencies don't charge for "digitals") can usually create a lot of interest in a new face and lead to a string of creatives (free photo shoots), et voilà, a career is launched. Quite simply, a new model should not have to pay her/his way into the industry.

Photographers, on the other hand, have enormous expenses. Most of my friends - both in Toronto and Montreal - are photographers and I hear their frustrations probably as much or more than I do the models'.

Twice last year I organized meetings to give Toronto photographers a forum where they could learn from each other. "How do I get an agent?" "When do I charge for prints?" "Which online magazines are worth my submissions?" "Should I ever show images that haven't been touched up?"

Most discussion was civil, but one item that fired up quite a bit of debate was the politics surrounding test shoots. "Why would I want to work with an agency that doesn't send me paid tests?" It's a good question. Considering the cost of photo gear, lighting, studio space and everything else, photographers aren't getting rich doing tests, but every bit helps.

But consider this: When an agency sets up a paid test, they aren't really the ones supporting the photographers. It isn't their own money they're playing with; it's the model's. Agents can send a model on ten paid tests without risking a dime of their own, and some agencies are pretty careless in the way they manage their models' accounts. Some agencies are pretty careless in the way they manage their models' image.

Honestly, it's heartbreaking seeing some models' portfolios and learning of outrageous amounts they've been charged to build books that are essentially worthless. It isn't merely the cost of the shoot, but also the prints.

As a model, you need to know from your agency ideally before you choose an agency how many, if any, paid tests you will be required to do. As I said, good agencies can get free shoots arranged just from digitals (well, that and their good reputation). If you have the potential to be successful why can't your agency build your book without spending your money?

The empowering thing about a paid test is the amount of control that rests with the agency. Whomever arranges the shoot is responsible for dictating the look and feel, so they should be thinking ahead to the intended results, then working backwards to make sure all the right pieces are in place. Do you need a photographer that is good at giving direction? Do you need more colour in your book? Do you need non-studio shots? These are things your booker should figure out before they pick the photographer and commit your money.

What's frustrating and I've heard this from numerous photographers is bookers that arrange paid tests, but don't know what they're asking for. They'll give vague instruction like "we're marketing her to Asia," then get upset when the team doesn't do what they... errr... asked for. If the photographer delivers poor results your agent is entitled to demand a reshoot, but they are in a bad position to do so if they weren't clear about their expectations in the first place.

Also, because it's your money being spent, the agency gets to see every shot, unlike a creative where the photographer retains some control of what does and does not get seen. You're still left hoping the agency has the sense to know good from bad when they make the selects, but at least there should be a vast gallery from which to choose.

Typically in Toronto, tests run around four hundred dollars. Two hundred of that goes to the photographer, one hundred to the makeup / hair artist and a hundred to the stylist. That generally gets the model three separate looks. This hasn't changed in over a decade.

Invest in a test if you need one. Good results will pay you back many times over if they build your client base and make you more interesting to foreign agencies, but beware if your own agency:

  • requires you to shoot with their own photographer, and charges you for it. That shouldn't ever happen, and is usually only done by agencies that make their money off photoshoots instead of bookings.

  • takes money directly, for a photographer that lives in the same town as they are located. Chances are they are also skimming some of it for themselves. Generally, you should be paying the photographer directly.

  • have a wall of comp cards that look like they were all taken by the same photographer, in the same studio, in the same clothes. If an agency is sending all their talent to one photographer, they are either:
    • getting a kickback from the photographer
    • aren't being approached by other reputable photographers that want to work with them
    • have made little effort to get to know what other photographers are available

    Stay Safe,

    Dan Grant

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