Testing is essentially a portfolio shoot for everyone involved with a shoot. The model gets experience and images, the photographer can experiment, and the entire team walks away with updated work.
Sometimes tests can be very extravagant and conceptual. Other times, they're restrained and very basic. I had the opportunity to assist photographer Ashton Hugh on three test shoots. His approach to testing is usually very simple: minimal make up, basic styling, simple posing.
In a smaller city such as Dallas, we tend to go more conceptual and artistic with our test shoots. I feel that this is because we don't have as many job opportunities that allow us to "play" or really be artistic. The UK modeling agencies want those clean and simple images because that is how the models book potential jobs.
Ashton's work consists of a lot of test shoots. His style is very current, he is efficient on set, and knows how agencies want their girls to look. I asked him if he ever goes more editorial on his test shoots and he said usually no. His primary purpose with test shoots is to make a small amount of cash on the side and takes on magazine jobs to feel more creative. Traditionally, editorial jobs will have better production, higher quality styling, and more experienced models.
When I work in Dallas, my tests are usually well thought out. If the agency or model is paying me, I try to shoot in a style they desire, have 4-5 outfits, and changes in hair/make up. This usually takes a few hours for prep, driving, and shooting time. Ashton's shoots were fast. We did about five outfits per model in under an hour each. This comes with experience. He usually shoots 5-10 girls a week from various agencies throughout London and has to have a formula to not only deliver a consistent product, but not become burned out creatively.
After working with Ashton, I understand better how test shoot content is created in major cities. The overall purpose of these images is to market models and build their books, so why over-complicated that?