Go Behind the Scenes of a Beauty Test Shoot

For a photographer to continually grow and shape their portfolios, a test shoot is the most ideal way of creating a style. Test shoots ought to happen at every stage of your career if you want to grow, and find new challenges. For those wanting to enter the commercial arena for photography, get into the habit of testing. 

3 Ways for a Test Shoot

1. Good Test Shoot: Any photography session can be good. If you are contributing to your skills, this is wonderful. Shoot and be happy! Create for the purpose of having fun, growing, trying new methods, and because you love to create. There is no harm in this type of photo shoot.,

2. Great Test Shoot: The better way is to photograph with intention. For example, shoot the type of jobs you hope to book in the future. Those hiring you need evidence that you’re capable of handling their needs. Many that hire are not a creative type. They cannot visualize the end product. Showing samples of what you have created increase your odds of getting hired.

3. Awful Test Shoot: Lately big companies, including many record labels, lower the rate of photographers by saying it’s a test shoot. By mislabeling it, they are saving a lot of money by paying a smaller fee to the photographer. Since they call it a test shoot, they can pay below your standard rate. If they like the images, they’ll pay a little extra for usage rights. If they don’t like it, the record label lost a small investment only and your images are dead.

Beauty Photo Shoot

Image by Walid Azami

Photographing with Intention

In this case, I am looking to build more beauty images that will impress future clients. In the next couple of years, I hope to consult more for beauty brands, as well as help create their branding assets. What do we need more of? I need more stylized beauty shoots, more in my style and a little more experimental than the traditional clean beauty shoots.

The goal was to keep the photo shoot at the lowest cost possible and keep it to a skeleton crew. Both Cassie (glamour model) and I need additional beauty images in our books. I also wanted to keep my personal style alive, which is more dramatic and the usage of shadows is very important. In a test shoot, the photographer has full control. With a paid shoot, your creativity is often watered down to please multiple figures. This makes it more difficult to demonstrate your creativity to future clients. Test shoots give your portfolio the creative edge that it needs. 

What I Used

The lights that I used were one Alien Bee/Paul C Buff head, an 86” parabolic silver umbrella and then Lee Filters for the colors gels. My camera is the Canon 5D Mark II body. I am OK with not always grabbing the latest and greatest and quite comfortable with the gear that I currently have.

I used an $11 background found in Downtown LA, in the garment district. When I shop for photo shoot backgrounds, I’ll buy in one sweep if they’re having a sale. I might not even use anything for months, but I’d rather have it and fold it up nicely. I had this denim backdrop already and have used it on many photo shoots. It’s been a gray background (the back of it), a dark blue front. I've also used it to create shade and even a picnic blanket on set. Shop early and fold them nicely for future usage.

beauty Photo Shoot

Image by Walid Azami

The Process 

A current trend in photo shoots is the usage of gel visors. They give a pop of color and cast a strong shadow over the model’s face. I’m a fan but I’ve seen it many times over. I wanted a slightly different variety of the colored gel aesthetic. As you can see in the video, we held the gels either very close to Haley’s face or near the light source. Putting it closer to the model threw color on a particular side of her face. Holding the gel closer to the light colored the overall light, in a less powerful way. It gave a general orange light or any other color. The video shows how we did this more.

For my post process and narrowing down of images, I did ask my makeup artist to help join in that conversation. For paid jobs, it’s ultimately my session alone and then I will send that gallery to the client. For test shoots, we do this back to back. The first half of my day is the photo shoot and then we go over everything later that night. It's a long day, very tiring but it's one day only.

We sit and battle out the selections to see what images make the final cut. Yes, I said battle it out. I debate with them, hear their thoughts, get frustrated and stand firm on other points. I like the makeup artist’s point of view. They can see makeup in a way that I am not capable of, and she can see things that could increase retouch time. Because she’s the master in makeup, I defer to her for the notes on proper color and blending. 

It is also important to speak honestly during the sessions. You need everyone’s honest point of view to select the best photograph for the goal of the shoot. Do not forget, the final choice on the test shoot is with the photographer. You’re the director, the crew relies on you to make that decision. Seek their input but rely on your gut feeling for the final decision.

Creative Intentions

Beauty Shoot

Image by Walid Azami


By always asking the WHY behind the photo shoot, it helps us make better selections for the final images. Why did we plan this particular test shoot? Why did we use the colors for the gels, the makeup, why did we pick that model, why are we shooting it this style and more. It’s easy to get distracted. I always review the WHY behind the shoot as it keeps me on track.

The red rose is from my front yard! I photographed it on my iPhone, with a little mix of natural light and flash. The same rose is in every photograph as either a mohawk, hat, hair or just some part of the image. 

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4 Comments

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Brilliant stuff here. Reminds me when I used to work with Annette Navarro(google the lawsuit she's involved with P&G...). Years ago she was holding the most random objects in front of the models face getting insane light/color effects. She was also pulling 2-300k per job. Yeah... those days are gone.

Walid Azami's picture

Thank you, David. About the former days of pulling in more money, controversial topic but I blame photographers for that. We are the only occupation on the planet racing to the bottom of the barrel, fighting each other for the ability to work for free. Why would anyone respect that or us? The good news is, I'm seeing that happen less.

Steven Elliott's picture

Commented on YT but bravo man. While this does't have the production of whats typically posted on here. I'd love more shoots like this. Love BTS, love seeing how people process on set, their tools, teams... It's all good stuff.

Walid Azami's picture

Thank you! Saw the comment and thanks for that. Yeah, it's a bare-bones production but that's my agenda...tell people you don't need a lot to create something good. I appreciate you watching and the feedback.