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Model Testing, TFP’s and Why You Need Them

by Catherine Schuller

In each issue, our Industry Liaison and Veteran Plus Model Catherine Schuller shares the ins-and-outs of the industry as well as what every aspiring (and working) model needs to know to thrive and survive in this competitive field. In this issue, Catherine answers…

What is a Model Test?

A few years ago I had a young model stand up at a model seminar and ask me a question which I recount here to illustrate a point.

“Do you have to take an exam at an agency to become a model? This agency said they were interested in having me test with them. What can I expect to have to study to pass this?”

My mind flashed through what questions would be on such an “exam” if there were such an animal?

1) Name three things in a makeup kit
2) Which shoes are in style this season?
3) Would it be an open book, and could that book be a magazine?

I thanked her for her question as I heard the wave of sniggers and snide laughter ripple through the crowd.

No, there isn’t an exam, not even a pop quiz that an agency gives you. Basically…

A model test is a type of photographic session. It is one paid for by the model to a photographer to take experimental photos for her portfolio, comp card or other promotional tool.

The sole purpose of a test is to capture several different looks and images to demonstrate how the model photographs. In the modeling world, testing is a way to prove you are work-worthy.

A photographer, whom the agency calls a test photographer, is enlisted by the agency for the purpose of testing their models to see how they project themselves, how they move and work the camera.

You aren’t getting paid for this test, in fact you pay for each test session. You bring at least four outfits from your own wardrobe to the session, which costs roughly $750 and will hopefully (it IS a test) yield four (or as many outfits as you bring) new and fabulous images for your portfolio and comp card.

A few years back, the test was for four rolls of film, but now with the advent of digital there are four looks usually and roughly as many shots that were on a roll (36) taken for each look.

The photographer sometimes hires a stylist to help you choose these four or five different outfits and also suggests a makeup and hair person to complete the professional look. The stylist and makeup/hair person cost extra. The stylist is usually $150 and the hair and makeup is $175, on top of the $750. Yes, some photographers who are building their book may charge less, but that is the going rate for a professional photographer.

You usually get to keep all of the images, but some photographers “blow up” the shots onto a contact sheet or transfer onto a disc which photos are the best and you are free to use them for your book and comp only.

Most things are done digitally these days, so many photographers also have PhotoShopping services available for an extra $25-50 to touch up any blemishes or dark shadows, wrinkles or inconsistencies on the actual shot.

What is a TFP?

Sometimes you see the letters TFP (Test for Photos) and this is because a photographer also needs to update his book with new shots and if he doesn’t have an affiliation with an agency who gives him paid tests, he has to solicit models whom he can use to hone his craft. He does these test shots in exchange for prints or photos.

These tests don’t cost anything, but the model may want to invest in a stylist and/or hair and makeup person to ensure that the session yields professional looking results. The photographer may provide this because he or she wants the model to look their best and will hire hair and makeup people who need photos for their books as well. This is ideal because the experiment doesn’t cost you.

Obviously, the more reputable and skilled the photographer offerrng the TFP is, the better your time will be spent and truly yield something you can use. There are no guaranties…even if you pay! So, meet with the photographer and see if you a) like them personally and b) look at their portfolio and see if they are doing good quality and high caliber work. Just because the test is for free, don’t compromise yourself in any way.

Testing is absolutely necessary!

The test is not only to show how you photograph, but to show your style, your ability to move and pose and how current and “of the moment” your look is. That’s why you need a good professional photographer, a good stylist who can assemble clothing, and a hair and makeup artist to really add that editorial “wow” edge to the shots.

Without real work to show the industry how you photograph, tests are important to allow clients to see your model potential and hopefully hire you for paying gigs. Even seasoned professional models often do tests to keep their books fresh and up-to-date, with new editorial shots to constantly show clients they keep up with their tools of the trade.

It’s a great way to get experience in front of the camera. Especially in the plus size field where a lot of work is catalogue with fashions which are less than contemporary looking, the test is imperative to demonstrate that the model is more than just a statue posing for polyester pull on pants for WalMart. Much of the work in plus size portfolios is not edgey and hip, and those pictures from WalMart flyers prove she is getting work, but the test shows she is capable of more.

For the really high end clients, the test reveals the true soul and essence of what the model can do. The test should show innovative backdrops and unique and stylish clothing and hair which helps brand the look of the model and mixes in with those boring tear sheets to really give a professional look to the models’ promotional materials.

Yes, a snapshot or Polaroid will show the agency what is going on in general (coloring, body shape, etc.) but the paid test with a professional, done on an ongoing basis, is something that keeps the model current and sells her to the clients.