How to Get Paid for Shooting Model Tests

Getting paid to test usually comes about after you’ve been working with an agency for a consistent amount of time and have been producing images that the modeling agency likes. It’s rare these days when a young photographer can start insisting on getting paid before the agency tries him or her out over time.

Video by Stephanie Rogue from Rogue Media

The amount one gets paid for a test varies between agencies. I’ve heard $500 is top end for a photographer to get paid for a model test. I don’t do them much anymore. But occasionally I will do one for a friend who’s a model agent or booker. I thought it would be interesting to break down what makes for a good paid test, though, so I used a test I did this past summer as an example of the do’s and don’t’s of paid testing.

First of all, the model agency or booker that has hired you to shoot a test for pay has now become a client. Therefore, as with all clients that hire you, you have to follow their guidelines when shooting. The agency will have specific needs from this test: perhaps they need very strong, clean images of their model. Or maybe they need more body images for their book. It can vary in range of needs from the agency. Your job is to follow their instructions and shoot a test the agency will be happy with but won’t necessarily land in your book. This isn’t about testing some new lighting now or to get a stylist involved to shoot an edgy, European styled editorial shoot, unless of course, the agency is asking for that. Nine times out of ten, though, I promise you it will be more about keeping the images clean, natural and strong so the model is the most important element in the photograph and not your interesting lighting or crazy styling.

And this isn’t to say it won’t land in your portfolio. Agency testing is a very good way to build up a portfolio, especially in the beginning. But when you’re being paid to shoot a test you have to pay attention to the criteria that the agency wants. In other words, it’s about them and not you.



On this test shoot, I shot with Karina and I brought in my team from Breed! Everyone who worked on this shoot with me is working nonstop in the industry here in NYC. And all team members are Breed ambassadors who teach at a high level the skills they’ve learned over 15 + years. Rachel Wood was the make up artist on this shoot. A good make up artist will see what assets a model has and focus on them to bring them to life. Same with the hair stylist; Damian Monzillo saw that Karolina has lovely hair but he crimped it to give it more texture and more weight. And Eryka Clayton understands that an agency isn’t looking for labels and crazy couture! They need a beauty shot, a body shot, a lookbook/sportswear shot and a dress shot. She brought all 4 looks with her and focused on what would read simple yet strong on our model.

I kept the lighting simple as well. I used a background I have used in the past on editorials but I used much cleaner lighting than I did on my editorials. What I mean by that is that yes, I used a beauty dish but I also used a nice fill so that the model wasn’t too lit on one side, thus becoming a moody, artistic shot. I also used a sock on the beauty dish with no grid so she had clean, soft but directional light on her.

A good team, including the photographer, will look at the model and see what needs to be accentuated and what needs to be hidden. That’s why we say it over and over again how important it is to work with a great team. One bad team member and the entire shoot is a fail. And this is especially true when it comes to money gigs. No egos can be involved here. Maybe you wouldn’t have chosen the particular model the agency has hired you to shoot for a paid test. Again, it’s not about you, it’s about the client.

I give the agencies an assortment of black and white and color shots. Of course, with digital, you have both easily. I give them 4 looks and about 20 shots all together. When I was young and an emerging fashion photographer, paid tests were how I paid my rent. And I’ve met a few test photographers here in NYC who are doing the same. However it is good to keep in mind that they paid their dues for awhile before the agencies starting paying them. But they’ve also built a body of really great work doing paid and non-paid tests.

Melissa Rodwell