We often talk about the importance of self-assigned projects. Photographers need to constantly stretch their creative muscles by shooting what they love– whether or not it’s something they are currently being hired to shoot. Personally-driven work also helps show clients what kind of work a

photographer produces without a script, and how well they might collaborate with a creative director of an art department in the future.

One facet of self-assigned work is the art of the test shoot. For photographers who shoot reportage, travel, or similar types of work, self-assigned work requires a camera, two legs, and a lot of research. But for photographers who normally shoot in a studio, or work on sets that require a large crew, test shoots can be a vital part of maintaining relationships with food stylists, makeup artists, and even other photographers.

If everyone is on board and willing to collaborate, test shoots can be fun, creative spaces that lead you to unexpected places. Sometimes, if you want to work with a certain stylist or model, you’ll need to hire them the same way you would for a client-based project. But other times, test shoots are mutually beneficial, and everyone will donate their time to end up with a final project each of you can add to your portfolio.

There are different levels to test shoots, from a full studio filled with assistants, stylists, and models to a quiet kitchen with a few strategically placed lights and a close friend or two looking to collaborate.

It’s always a lot of fun but a little strange going from a commercial shoot to a test shoot. Suddenly there’s no product to sell, no parameters, and no art director to please - you are free to create. The flip side is it can be so open that you have to give yourself some direction or you can be aimless. Have fun with the exercise, and immerse your team in the fun!