Steve Ellinger Sheds Some Light on Model Agency Testing


I am an agency testing photographer. As such I spend most of my time behind the camera working with a lot of professional models, agencies, stylists, and make-up/hair artists. Its team effort in every case. Assembling a competent team for each shoot requires thought and planning well in advance of the shoot date. I have been asked many times what exactly is an agency “test”? For whatever reason the basis of an agency test seems to be the most mis-understood aspect of fashion photography. Perhaps a better term might be “update”. To put it simply, a test is done to make sure the agency model’s looks are current and her photos reflect her appearance. Ideally these need to be done about every six months. The test should also be clean and simple, with natural looks. A test is much different from a high fashion shoot.


I typically do a very simple studio or location look, with minimal artificial lighting, often with only one strobe and a simple modifier. At the most, I might use two lights depending on the look that I want. A test should never lose sight of the purpose of the shoot, which is to show the model. For this shoot I used the services of a Texas agency model, represented by two of Texas most notable agencies. To round out the team I pulled in a notable MUAH artist and stylist. The agency typically sends me a “go-by” story board about three weeks ahead of the shoot to convey the looks that they need for the model’s book. I forward that to the stylist at that time so they can start the pulls from the designers or retailers.

On shoot day with the team in place we meet for about ten minutes to go over the days shoot, looks, and concepts. This is also a great way to break the ice with all of the creative team. Once that was done, the model was off to the dressing room for make-up/hair, and styling. While that is being done, I am typically in the studio making final adjustments on the lighting etc. The stylist has the wardrobe all scheduled, lined up, and ready to go from the agency supplied go-bys. The entire process runs like clockwork. With professional models I can typically get a look finished in about 15 minutes. I am known as a very fast shooter, which helps build a rhythm with the model and I.

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The model for this shoot was on-set after spending about 45 minutes getting ready for her first set. A really good professional model can typically be up to speed in no time at all, delivering pose after pose, and look after look. An experienced model will also know how to work to the light(s), and how to best pose to the focal length of the lens being used. I typically use a 85mm for most of my studio work. After each set, the model goes back into the dressing room for the next set, with the stylist already having the next wardrobe laid out and ready to go. There is very little downtime during one of my shoots.

If all has gone well, and the team does their part, then we have just created a successful agency test that will be used to update the model’s book, and agency website.

Melissa Rodwell