When A Test Shoot Produces Something So Much More Than A Test Shot

When A Test Shoot Produces Something So Much More Than A Test Shot


I wanted to share a fun story from yesterday’s impromptu photo adventure, and perhaps an inspirational/motivational one for you photographers out there. Most of our shoots here at Matty Photography are highly conceptual – we know the exact location and composition we are shooting, the look we are going for, the styling of the subject(s), and how it will be lit. All of this doesn’t just manifest out of thin air courtesy of dumb luck when it comes time to picking up the camera when the clock strikes “shoot time.” A lot of leg work goes into planning and prep. All said and done, each one of our clients’ shoots get no less than 20 hours of our time – from consult to delivering their gorgeous prints. Often times we blow well past that 20 hour average when we go deep into prep and testing.

The shots featured here are such an example of some more in-depth testing. We have a shoot coming up this next week where we’ll be creating an entire dress, with train, out of one piece of light weight fabric. Something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time. We’ve had the fabric for months now, just waiting for the right shoot to come along. I’m not going to spill the beans on the shoot details yet, and will wait to reveal the story with the photos from that shoot. What I can share are the “test” photos that we create in preparation for the upcoming shoot.

On my drive into the studio yesterday morning, I saw some city construction equipment laying dormant by the roadside, with it being the weekend and unguarded it was mine for the photographic taking. As a photographer and always on the lookout for rare locations and opportunities to use in my work, it was too tempting to pass up. Confident that it would be gone after the city workers’ weekend off, I needed to act fast. Sure, I had the day planned for editing, it could wait a couple hours. We needed to test the fabric dress idea, so I had Alice come in to model. We could have simply played with the fabric dress idea in the studio and left it at that, but we spent 30 minutes figuring out the wrap design and I had this short-lived photo location/opportunity window consuming my mind since I saw it that morning.


I don’t know how many times I’ve felt regret as a photographer. Those moments when you come across something special, whether it be access to a fun location or simply passing a random person walking down the street who has an interesting look. I’ve failed to pull the trigger on so many, failed to pass out my card to those who I want to say, “give me a call if you want to model some time, I like your look.” I try not to think about the missed opportunities, somehow I was able to justify why I didn’t but in hindsight I feel like a lazy ass. So often we have to create opportunities, work to make them be something halfway unique. So when an opportunity falls into your lap, practically wrapped in a big red bow begging you to take advantage, well… you have to. The added incentive here was that we got to kill two birds with one stone – take advantage of the impromptu location and get our dress testing out of the way.

I expected it to create photos a little more impactful than our typical quick in-studio test shots, which are usually more about lighting details. Again, here we were really just concerned with the look of the dress, mainly the flow of motion in the train to give it some dazzle. Usually Alice is there to assist, but with her in the shot, I was sans assistant in this last minute shoot idea. Luckily, as we were walking out the door to shoot this my business neighbor, Charity, owner of Frinj Salon, was walking out the door with her husband. “Uh, hey what are you guys doing for the next half hour? Would you like to help us by flipping a makeshift dress train around for a couple test shots.” I’m sure when I walk up to someone like that out of the blue and immediately ask them to help with something like this I often sound like a coked-up man on the run from a recent escape from the loony bin. “Here’s what I’m doing right this second and I need your help, but it’s gotta be now! We gotta go, we are losing our light, go, go, go (following by nervous neck scratching and bodyweight shifting)!” I think Charity is getting used to it and is onboard to help with her hair styling expertise, or… you know, shaking the back of a dress in a construction zone. All kidding aside, Charity (hair), Dorothy-Inez (makeup) and the rest of her crew at Frinj Salon are a great team, and we have started a fantastic partnership. They’ve already styled a number of shoots for us and they do great work.


I can’t stress enough to all the other photographers out there how important it is to keep shooting. Shoot often and shoot different. Test shooting often spurs some fun work as there are no set expectations. A moment where you can have fun, learn, and grow as a photographer with no pressure (and this is thee perfect stress-free environment for creativity to roam free and make dynamic work). More often than not, you’ll add another feather to the cap in a number of ways. To quote everyone’s favorite bodybuilding terminator, “Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” So true, Arnold, so true. This isn’t another way to give you that cheesy line, “the best camera is the one you have on you.” No, I’m not saying you should be towing your inconvenient DSLR with you like your wallet and cell phone, quite the opposite. Pick up your camera when you have a purpose, when you want to tell a story beyond, “hey that looks cool, I’ll take quick snap shot.” Work at it, set aside time every week to accomplish something. Before you know it, you’ll look back a year later and you’ll have a fantastic set of images you would have otherwise never made.

Even though this was a test shoot, we did go that extra step to toss Alice into a fun environment, and it all the sudden became something much more special than just another mundane test shot that will never be revealed to the public. We got our dress test out of the way too, boom. Opportunities often have to be made, and in those rare occasions when you identify one already made for you, just waiting… take it.