A Beauty Shoot on a Bargain Budget

Test shoots are essential for the photographer and really help fill the gaps in a portfolio. On test shoots, everyone contributes for free. The photographer, makeup, hair, wardrobe, and model all work for free. Everyone is building on their portfolios on test shoots and if done correctly, it should fill the creative gaps in a portfolio.

I use test shoots to help potential clients see what I am capable of producing. For this shoot, both my makeup artist and I wanted more beauty images in our book. We also wanted something vibrant and colorful, to help them stand out. For me, test shoots have always been about photographing with an intention. I want more beauty photography jobs, and I needed another example to show future clients.

Keep Your Production Budgets Low

The first stop was my local discount store, and my goal was to create three different backdrops for under $10. The fastest and most economical option was purchasing foam core boards as the background. I found a nice shade of yellow, pink, and baby blue to work with and had a little extra money for the double-sided tape.

Our model has a beautiful tan and has blonde hair. We picked colors that would compliment her skin and be versatile enough to stand out for summer and spring looks. Once I purchased the boards, I took a photograph and sent that to my makeup artist for inspiration.

Less Is More (Gear and Wardrobe)

I used a Paul C. Buff head, one modifier (parabolic umbrella) and an older Canon 5D Mark II. The focus of this photo shoot is about the makeup and her overall beauty.

We decided against having any wardrobe or props that could take away from the main focus. Because we eliminated any wardrobe and props, it was imperative that her skin looks incredible. I asked makeup to give her some shimmer for that extra pop. Because the background had a matte texture, I requested more shine on her skin. This is a personal creative decision and you could decide to do it differently. 

You Do Not Need a Studio

The photo shoot took place at the apartment of my makeup artist, Cassie Lyons. The exact location was between the couch and table, barely leaving us space to fit one person. Photography studios and big seamless backgrounds are helpful but you can get the same for less. Use any chunk of wall and get color by purchasing cheap foam core boards. You can fix the imperfections later on in postproduction.

Photograph Selection Process

In the final part of the video, I take the viewer into part of my selection process. I'm not sure how many photographers allow their core team into this step, but I often do allow trusted creative partners. The shoot is about makeup and beauty. I find it helpful to get the opinion of the makeup artist during the selection process. When I reviewed the images with Lyons, she pointed things out that I initially did not see. That also saves me retouching time.

Being honest is important and because this is a private moment, the conversation seems far more candid. We argue back and forth but if the objective is to find the best photograph I welcome respectful banter.

Walid Azami's picture

Walid Azami is a Photographer/Director and creative consultant from Los Angeles. He got his start working with Madonna + Co by contributing to her many projects. It was then he realized his place in the creative world & began teaching himself photography. He has since shot Kanye, Mariah Carey, Usher, Bernie Sanders, JLO, amongst others

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Mac users, please, hide your doc! You lose so much screen realestate!

Right!? I always remember half way through it all.

Halfway through the life of your computer?

Sorry I dont understand​ that comment

It's just the first thing I do when I log into a new Mac. It just blows my mind that people don't get instantly annoyed that its taking up so much room down there.

If only I could find models like that willing to work for free lol

But you can! I did. You can too!

They're out there. My daughter did that to build up her portfolio. Now you'd have to pay her. :-)


Aren't you special.


your website is dead. your only photos are of an alpaca and someone on stage. OK man...

And both are blurry



Reach out to agencies.

They need tons of photos for new faces, or when a model dyes her hair, changes her type, ...

absolutely! I talk about that a lot. You are correct!


Jeff you're kinda nit-picky about everything, chill man its not that serious.


I like the comment, "why does she have a headache" LoL

Gotta fight back for the photos that I WANT! haha