It’s time this issue was clarified. Since the entry of the digital era, the meaning of what a TEST really is has gotten blurred over time and in some cases, state lines. Here is the INDUSTRY STANDARD definition:
“A Test Shoot (also referred to as a “photographer’s test shoot” and NOT the same as “Time For Prints” [TFP] shoot) is when a photographer wants to try out a new creative idea, test some new equipment or film, wants to build the photographer’s portfolio, or wants to “audition” a model for a prospective job, he/she sets up a photo session. The photographer does not pay the model and the model does not pay the photographer for services, so for mutual benefits, both get images for their portfolio and/or gain experience. In some cases the photographer might give you a couple of prints for your services, in other cases you may have to pay for prints. In all cases you will not get the original and don’t even ask to borrow them.”
Now, not every photographer follows this rule so it is always best to discuss the terms of the test BEFORE the shoot. Ask to preview the model release form. If the photographer hasn’t got one, don’t work with this one.
There are several problems you will find with testing or TFP. A beginning photographer may be eager to do test shoots, but he or she is still learning, so the quality of work may not be that good. You may end up with just so-so prints in your portfolio. In the case of seasoned professional photographers, they are often too busy with paying jobs or burned-out on doing new-model tests to do any test shoots. Thus it might be hard to find someone who is capable of producing good work and wants to do a test shoot with a new model. On the occasion when a seasoned photographer has a burning desire to do something new and creative, he usually turns to a model he already knows and with whom he enjoys working. So for your first goal of getting quality photos fast, free test shoots is not be the best route.
There are seasoned professional photographers that do “Portfolio Developement Sessions”. This is a service that is not free. The reason being is that you will be getting the best quality images for your portfolio. Most of these photographers (myself included) have a proven track record of what works on a national level for most agencies. Most agencies will advise against paying photographers in the beginning but on the flip side, they usually don’t end up using the test material as it doesn’t meet their standards of quality or market parameters.