It always surprises me a little when I read online profiles saying “Paid work only”. Obviously we’d all like to make as much money as possible from what we do, but most of us get started because of a passion for photography (or modelling, or make-up, or any creative discipline), & day-to-day work, however much fun it is, can get repetitive, as clients & customers want similar things from you.

It’s very easy to get out of the habit of testing new ideas as your days fill up with paid shooting, retouching & admin, but I’m always more excited about my work when I’m trying new ideas out, & the successful tests filter through to my paid work & give me more options.

What I’m looking for in a test is someone who’s also still passionate about their work. If I approach someone & they’re only looking for paid jobs, it makes me feel like they have no interest in being creative, & that makes me not want to work with them. (I should point out that not liking my work or my creative concepts are perfectly valid reasons for turning me down!)

I guess what I’m trying to say here is twofold. Firstly, I took up photography because I felt passionate about it, & it’s important to me to keep hold of that passion; it guides me through the long hours & lean times. Secondly…

How to get me to test.

1) If you’re approaching someone (particularly me) about a test, come bearing ideas. A test has to benefit all parties; it’s no good for me to shoot you in exactly the same way as I shoot everyone else, I appreciate you’ll get nice new photos but I need something different to help me grow as a photographer.

2) Don’t make me have to hunt around for your portfolio. I charge a lot for shoots; if you want me to give it up for free, always include a link to your work in the initial contact, & ideally attach at least one photo of yourself. I have to look through a lot of emails, it’s really helpful to have a face attached to each one.

3) Give me a reason to shoot you. I get a lot of emails saying “can you test with me, I need new pictures”. That’s a reason for you to do it, not for me to.

4) Be positive, polite & friendly. If I’m going to spend half a day with you, & another one retouching you, I’m generally going to pick people who give the impression that shooting them will be a pleasant experience for me.

5) Don’t phone me! I can’t say yes to you without seeing your work, so phoning is just a waste of time.

6) Include contact details. I may have a cancellation & need someone at short notice, so giving me a variety of ways to contact you increases your chances of getting a shoot.

Edit: The next three points were added Sunday Feb 19th.

7) At least appear to appreciate the photographer’s work. I’m sufficiently ego-driven that I’d rather work with people who *get* what I do. Starting your email “Dear Photographer” & copying in 87 other togs doesn’t really help with this.

8 ) Somebody pointed out on twitter that photographers can be rude when approached for a test. Hopefully anyone who is asked politely will turn you down politely, but the reason it happens is this: You’re approaching a professional, & asking them to do their full-time job, for you, for free. It’s just like asking the plumber to fix your pipes for free, or your dentist to fix your teeth for free. If you have no online portfolio, no experience & only camera phone pictures to show, & you send an one-line email to someone well-established saying “wanna shoot tfp coz I’ve dyed me hair, innit?”, it is a bit insulting (the same applies to newbie photographers approaching well-published models). So, appreciate they’re giving up their time & show that in your email. (I know you’re giving up your time too, but you’re making the approach here).

9) A quick note on terminology; Testing, TFP (Time For Prints), & TFCD (Time For CD) all mean the same thing i.e. nobody pays anybody, everybody gets pictures for their book. However, & I’ve no idea why this is, TFP sounds a bit like what amateurs do, & testing seems more grown-up & professional, so that’s what I call it.

I stress that all the above is my personal preference; other photographers may well be completely different. Also, if you’re paying me, feel free to contact me any way you like 🙂

Finally, I don’t have as much time for testing as I’d like, & I get asked to test a lot, so don’t be mad if you get a no. It’s more a reflection of my current needs for my portfolio than of your ability as a model. There is another way to shoot without paying me, have a look at