Where to find great photographers

I read a comment from the legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath recently; she was asked how many tests she did before she got paid work, and she replied “Thousands”.  Last week I wrote all about testing, TFP, collaborating… whatever you want to call it, doing makeup and/or hair for photoshoots in exchange for images that you can use in your portfolio, website and socials.  Testing is the best way to build your portfolio, get the images you want, and direct your career along the path you want to head along.

If you want to work in editorial, fashion or commercial, it’s imperative that you start to build a strong portfolio of professional images.  Just having an Instagram page with iPhone images or selfies won’t be enough.

But just how do you go about finding the right people to work with? Too often I hear the excuse from artists that they don’t know any photographers, they can’t get models to work with them, or they’ve reached out to photographers but nobody responded. Yep, I get that.  I was there once too.  And so was Pat!  But you know what?  We got to where we are today because we kept going!  We all start where we are.  For some of you, that will mean starting with zero contacts.  Nobody becomes an overnight success, its simply a matter of starting on the path.  Take the first step!

Here’s my Top 5 Tips for finding photographers and models to do test shoots with.

Editorial published on Last Daze fashion blog. Photographer: Justin Ma


Gosh I wish Facebook had been around when I started!  Back then, we used Model Mayhem (which I believe is still around) and the Brisbane Photography forum (which does not appear to exist anymore).  It’s much easier now.  Join those groups and check out the castings.  Apply for everything!  You probably won’t get hired right away.  People don’t know you and it takes some time to develop that KLT factor…  but once people see you around a bit, and become familiar with your name, you’ll start having success.

After you’ve worked with a few photographers and proven yourself by turning up, being on time, being professional and helping out on the shoot, you’ll develop a reputation in the community (no matter where you live, its always a small community), and you’ll find you get more people booking you.  Remember though, you can always say NO.  If the shoot isn’t what you want, and if its not the people you want to be working with, don’t feel obliged to agree to a shoot just because you were asked.  I’ve done a number of shoots where I wasn’t particularly interested in the concept of the shoot, simply because I wanted the chance to work with that particular photographer or model.

Editorial published in Ellements Magazine. Photographer: Eli Samuel


Jump on google and start doing some research.  You should have a list of photographers who you want to work with.  Obviously, if you’re just starting out, many of these photographers will be out of your league (for now).  If someone is shooting national advertising campaigns, they are probably not going to want to do a test shoot with a makeup artist fresh out of college. If a model has been travelling the world and walked for Victoria’s Secret, she probably won’t want to shoot a campaign for designer who can only pay her in clothes.  The key here is to find people who are at the same stage of the journey as you, so you can grow together, AND, find those who have slightly more experience, and who are a little further along the path than you. These are the people you ideally want to be working with (remember the “Test Up” philosophy I mentioned last week).

Once you have a list of say, 10-20 people, start reaching out to them.  Become familiar with their work, and send a PERSONALISED email, complimenting them on something in their portfolio, and tell them why you would like to work with them.  The key here is to establish a relationship with them.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply straight away.  Most people won’t reply.  Keep reaching out anyway.



I’ve spoken to many photographers over the years about the volume of messages they get from makeup artists wanting to work with them.  They always say the same thing.  A makeup artist reaches out, says “I’d love to work with you” and the photographer will respond with “Great!  What do you want to shoot?” and then… crickets…

Why should the photographer be expected to organise the entire shoot?  That’s not the way it works at all!  If YOU want to shoot, if you want to build your portfolio, then you need to expect to do some of the leg-work.  After all, its YOUR portfolio you’re looking to build here.  This is probably the best tip I ever received, and definitely how I was able to steer my career in the direction I wanted it to go. I’m not young and fashionable.  I was 40 years old when I moved to Brisbane and started  establishing myself as a commercial makeup artist (I’d only really done bridal before – and ONE TV commercial).  I knew that I wanted to work in lifestyle commercials, so I needed some of that sort of work in my portfolio.  I remember doing test shoots with models sitting at cafés with a coffee in front of them, wearing active wear jogging down a path, and those sort of non-fashiony type shots…  and it worked!  Lifestyle commercial is the bulk of my work now.

So, put together your mood-boards, and when you reach out to photographers, tell them what you want to shoot.  I always have a couple of moodboards on the go (Pinterest is great for this), and when I have some spare time, or I’m feeling the urge to create, I’ll reach out to a couple of photographers to find one who is interested in the concept I have.

Editorial published in Elegant Magazine. Photographer: Macushla Wells


Ask around.  Ask your makeup artist friends who they have been shooting with.  Ask models who they have been enjoying shooting with.  Check out other artists or models Instagram pages and follow the links. This isn’t “stealing” someone’s contacts or clients.  There’s no rule to say that a photographer can only work with one makeup artist. Everyone needs variety in her portfolio! You don’t want to just have the same model and photographer in your portfolio either.



There will always be a number of photographers who offer to shoot portfolio images for makeup artists. While there is an investment involved, this can be a great way to kickstart or boost your portfolio if you’re just not getting the sort of images you really want.  It’s important when you do this, to do your research though. Make sure that the photographer’s work is the same aesthetic as the sort of work you want.  I would only recommend paying a photographer to do good clean beauty work.  So you want to make sure their lighting is spot on, and that they don’t overly re-touch their images.  A few killer beauty images can really do wonders for your portfolio.

You should have a contract in place with the photographer that specifies the number of retouched images you will get and also the time frame for the photographer to supply the photos to you.  You want these in hi-res, not just lo-res for your social media.


If you want more suggestions on finding photographers to work with, you can download my free Top 10 Places to find Photographers here:



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