When it’s GOOD to work for “free”

One of the most frustrating (and controversial) aspects of being a freelance makeup artist or hairstylist, is constantly being asked to work for “free”.  I see these discussions all the time on the Facebook groups.  I hear some artists who talk about doing free work for YEARS and who hardly ever get paid work!  What if I told you that even the most famous makeup artists, those you all look up to, still do a lot of “UNPAID” work?  It’s true!  The thing is, you need to be smart about what work you do say Yes to, and remember that nothing is for nothing, if you are not being paid in dollars, you should be receiving some other form of VALUE for your time and efforts.  And many artists get lured in by the promise of exposure; but remember, tags on social media don’t pay your rent.  They can, however, advance your career… IF done right, and if you know how to leverage your work and collaborations.

Today I’d like to help you navigate the mine-field of testing, TFP, collaborations and unpaid work. What should you be saying YES to, what should you be asking others to do for YOU, and when you should say a big, fat NO.



Remember, nothing is for nothing.  You should either be getting paid with money, or some other form of value.  Most of the time, this VALUE comes in the form of images for your portfolio.  Your portfolio is your business card, and your number one way of marketing yourself. Whether that is via your website, or social media (or preferably both), having fresh images, and BETTER images is key to building your portfolio and your career.

Editorial published in Velvet Magazine. Photographer: Daniel Sangermani, Model: Sapphire, Stylist: Tamzin Holland

It has always been customary for makeup artists, photographers and models (along with fashion stylists, hairstylists, designers and other creatives) to come together and “test” out their ideas, techniques, skills, products, and create images that can be used to promote each participants career.  These types of shoots were traditionally known as “test shoots” and you’ll still hear some old school artists refer to this work as “testing”. Some time ago, the term TFP was coined, which means Time for Print, or Time for Photos now that nobody really bothers with prints, and images are provided on a disc or dropbox link.

When testing, everyone is contributing to the end result of the shoot, and getting images for their portfolios.  Often this can mean models, photographers, and stylists who are just starting out, everyone is in the same boat, so to speak, and just looking to network and establish themselves in the industry.  However, it’s not just those who are starting out…  you’ll find very established artists still do “test” shoots, although more often than not, those with more experience will shoot with a view to having their work published (submission shoots).

Testing, or TFP is a fantastic opportunity for up and coming artists to build their portfolio or work, and for established artists to keep their work fresh and up to date.  As an artist who works primarily in lifestyle, commercial and bridal, I don’t often get the chance to “play” and be really creative in my day-to-day makeup jobs, so when I come up with a great idea, or get approached to collaborate on someone else’s idea, I often jump at the chance… and there is no thought of payment.  Getting great images for my portfolio, and the chance to get those images published in a print or online magazine is payment enough!

Testing should definitely be a part of your strategy in developing your business and career. Testing is not only the best way to get more “killer” images for your portfolio, it is also a great way for you to build your network, which will lead to greater opportunities and paid work. I recently read a Facebook comment from an artist who had been invited to attend one of the big shows at Fashion Week. She attributed that invitation to testing work that she had done.  I’ve been following this artist for a while now, after we had a coaching call around a year ago, and it’s been a joy to watch not only her skills progress, but also the type of work she is doing.

Photo: Just for Love Photography

I often talk about how PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE are two of the most important ingredients for a makeup artist who wants to have a successful career.  There’s no such thing as a BIG BREAK, where all of a sudden, an amazing job drops out of the sky and your career is set.  Success is really the culmination of lots of little steps, taken consistently.  One of my early mentors Tania Russell always talked about “testing up” which means that every test shoot should build on the last, and you should always be looking to work with better photographers, better models, better stylists and hence, getting better images.

Of course when you start out you are not going to have the opportunity to work with the best photographers or models from the top agency.  I didn’t, nobody does! But you start where you are.  And if that means student photographers, and new faces, well, that’s where every successful artist started.  The key is to start, and keep going, keep building…



When you are starting out, say yes to (almost) everything.  I can remember days (and nights) when I would be in some dodgy guys garage (or maybe his mum’s garage) while he took photos of a girl in various states of undress…  While I have the greatest respect for photographers and models who do “art nude” shoots, or boudoir, I don’t think there was much “art” about many of these shoots.  But my point is, you start where you are.  I learned a lot, about what to say yes to, and who I should be working with.  I also learned that even if I was doing a shoot where I didn’t like the styling (or lack thereof!) I could always ask the photographer to take a couple of close-up head shots of the make-up that I could use in my portfolio.  I eventually learned to ask for these shots before I even agreed to do the shoot.

As your career progresses, you don’t have to say yes to everything, and you shouldn’t.  The yardstick to measure a potential shoot by, is whether it has the potential to provide you with images that are better than something that is currently in your portfolio.  In short, will this shoot improve your portfolio?  Is it the chance to work with an agency model for the first time?  Is it an amazing model who has been working overseas for the last decade and who is just in town for a couple of weeks visiting family?  Has the photographer been published in a lot of magazines? This is what Tania was referring to when she encouraged me to “test up”.



Did you know that actually DOING makeup or hairstyling is probably only about 20% of what goes into being a successful makeup artist or hairstylist.  A big part of the other 80% is researching the industry, your local market and networking with other industry professionals.  Of course this takes time!  I hear from a lot of artists who say, “Oh, I reached out to 10 photographers and never heard back from any of them”.  Yes, I get it.  I remember those days too!  Remember that people don’t usually make a buying decision on the first touch-point, it’s the same for people you are wanting to work with… you have to be persistent (without being annoying or a stalker!) and patient…  see my next blog for my top tips on finding great photographers to work with!

Photo: Elizabeth Maleevsky, Model: Gemma, Hair: Shannon Williams, Stylist: Karmyn Thomas


There are definitely times to politely decline a test shoot.  If the concept is not one that interests you, if you have worked with that model or photographer several times before and already have a whole lot of their work in your portfolio, if it is going to cost you money (maybe taking a day off your regular job), you need to weigh up the benefits of doing the shoot. The shoot should definitely benefit your portfolio or your career in some way.

The other time you should say NO is when the shoot is a commercial job, masquerading as a test shoot, or collaboration.  If there is a client involved, if the PURPOSE of the shoot is for someone to make a profit from the resulting images, and if you are being directed in the style of makeup/hair you are being asked to do, then you should say NO.  Often these opportunities are presented as a great chance for EXPOSURE, and I get it!  It can be really tempting to say YES to an opportunity to have a nationally recognised brand shoot in your portfolio, but remember, exposure and social media tags don’t pay your bills, and what’s more, doing these jobs for free is just bringing the industry down.  We need to all stand together and say NO to commercial jobs that don’t pay.


I hope you’ve found this article valuable.  Please feel free to share this on your social media pages, or drop a comment below letting me know what you liked best.


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