The beauty in experimentation



The other day, I was invited to do a test shoot.

For those new to the industry, test shoots are usually venues for photographers, models, art directors, stylists, hairstylists, and makeup artists to play.

Photographers get to figure out new ways to light subjects and shoot things. Models practice comfortability in posing and get to build up their portfolio. Art directors get to physicalize the concepts in their heads. Stylists, hairstylists and makeup artists get to explore looks that are not exactly commonplace and hone their skills. All these artists work together to come up with output that satisfy all their needs and desires. You get feedback from colleagues and figure out points for improvement.

Test shoots are where you also get to meet new people and colleagues. It was the place to build contacts and connections. These may eventually lead to more work opportunities. So, play nice and don’t sacrifice the output of your work. Treat it as you would any other shoot. You still leave your mark on it, so do something you would be proud of.

Black and gold on Dia, which took about an hour and a half to apply.

When I was starting out, test shoots were something I did regularly. Almost every week, there would be one scheduled. It’s like how tests function in academics. You do get to see how much knowledge you’ve attained and how you apply them.

It helped me to be more comfortable with what I was doing. It was my venue to speed up my work and eventually learn how to do beauty makeup on autopilot. It was how that became my default look and comfort zone. It’s the look I can manage on no sleep and minimal brain function. It also gave me a chance to apply the things I learned from being an apprentice and build up on it until I could finally be confident with my work.

No-makeup makeup on Sarah, which took about five to 15 minutes to apply.

I haven’t done test shoots in a while. In fact, I rarely do so anymore.

Things have been busy with work and because test shoots are generally unpaid, I would prioritize clients and paying jobs over them. Although hair and makeup is about creativity, it is still a business to some degree. One needs to consider practicality, after all.

Most of the test shoots I would get invited to are also in Makati which takes about an hour and half to two hours for me to get to from where I live. The idea of using up that much time just for travel is not appealing to me. Even my friends have difficulty getting me to go visit them in that general area. I usually just say yes if rush hour is over and the drive takes just around 30 minutes.

Generally though, I think it is because work-wise, I’ve already figured out my default. I have the output that I get paid to accomplish and I did not feel the need to explore much further.

A few years into wallowing in my comfort zone though, I am itching to explore once more. As with any creative work, one’s comfort zone is not a good place to stay stuck in for a long time. It will pay the bills, surely, but it will also keep growth at bay. To be stagnant in a field that requires you to be highly innovative is not good. It is essential to keep on growing if you consider your work as art, too.

White and silver on Rhian, which took about 30 minutes to apply.

I promised myself I would devote this year to creativity. So, I found myself saying yes to a test shoot on the condition that I would be able to play around with looks instead of just the usual beauty makeup. (Also because this shoot was just a few minutes away from my house.)

It was my space to experiment and do things I would not normally get to do. This was where I could use new products, figure out methods too risky to try on clients, or just generally do out of the box thinking and application.

These were not the looks I initially had planned for the day. Prior to test shooting, I conceptualize and practice. I think of what I want to accomplish already and figure out the fastest way to do it. In my head there was a general idea of playing with color. I even painted my face several times trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

But, the thing with thinking out of the box is that when you are there, sometimes inspiration takes you a different route. Coming up with an avant-garde look can be a lot like free-hand painting. You start off one way and go a different way altogether.

In fact, I had to apologize to one of the models because I had already started on her face but thought of something else midway and had to erase what I had already done. Because I had two models, I wanted cohesive and complementary looks for them. I had trouble envisioning a second look for the first look I was working on so I had to start over.

The first look took me around an hour and a half to apply. There was a lot of lag time in my head wondering about what I would do. The second one kind of came by default after figuring out the first and only took me about 30 minutes.

The thing with creative work is that there is always something to improve on and work on. Output will always be dynamic because that is how creativity works. It banks on change and how you respond to it.

These looks may be too drastic for regular paid jobs, but they help train your mind to think out of the box. So much so that whenever something unexpected comes up with more regular looks, you can easily respond to them without worrying if you will be unable to do so.

So, although test shoots are generally unpaid, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience to be had from them. Test shoots are training grounds. Use them wisely.


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