So, you need a headshot and you don't know where to start? There are either too many or too few photographers to choose from? The one you like is really expensive? The one who charges the least isn't very good? What should you do?
I want to help you choose your next headshot photographer, even if it isn't me. My job is to provide you with images that make you look your best. My goal is to provide you images that people can connect to, that, when they look at your photograph, they instantly feel as though they understand who you are and what you value.
I've outlined a number of things you need to consider when choosing a photographer to take your acting headshots, your corporate headshots, business portrait, etc. I've also included information about my recommendations, my pricing strategy, and insight into my decisions.
However, you need to understand what all of your potential costs are going to be before you even begin to consider which photographer is right for you. In addition to a reasonable expectation of cost, you also need to determine the value of a professional headshot to your personal or company brand.
Your headshot is an investment. Do as much research as you can before you even think about picking up the phone or sending an email. Spend some time looking at portfolios, checking market rates for headshots, figuring out what your upfront and post-session needs and costs are going to be. Once you've done that, you'll have a good understanding of what you need and how valuable your headshot is to your professional life.
I want to prepare you for something many people find surprising. The actual costs of getting a headshot. There are many factors that affect all the costs associated with your headshots, including some you likely will not have even thought about. Let's take a closer look.
Anticipating Your Costs
What the costs associated with your headshots are going to be is ultimately going to be determined by your needs. Basically, there are upfront, session, and post-session costs. You may or may not need all of them.
DEPOSITS: Most photographers require a deposit up front in order to book your session. This is due to the nature of people to either forget, or a propensity for people to just not show up for their appointment. When you book with me, I require payment in full up front due the expenses I have to incur on my end. I have to pay makeup artists (MUAs), studio fees, travel expenses, insurance, etc. When you don’t show up, I still have to pay those expenses.
GROOMING: If you dye your hair, you should get it updated or get your roots touched up. I recommend getting a fresh hair cut about one to two weeks prior to your shoot. That way you can live with and figure out how to work your new style on your own. Many ladies like to visit their aesthetician a few days before their shoot to take care of any unwanted facial hair and shape their brows. I highly recommend this if you find these are problem areas for you.
WARDROBE: If you're getting acting headshots taken, you'll want to make sure you have a few different looks. For professionals, business people, artists (authors, designers, etc.), make sure your wardrobe reflects your personal brand.
PHOTOGRAPHER FEES: The fee you pay to the photographer usually covers a few different variables, and how the photographer prices his or her sessions is based on those variables. The photographer fee typically covers the session time, the licensing fee, the online proofing gallery, and a set number of final, retouched images, usually two or three.
These variables are all determined and set by each individual photographer in order to differentiate herself from her colleagues in the market. Some photographers offer four images instead of three as a unique selling point. Others might offer more time or unlimited looks. Some photographers don't include retouching. Others offer carte blanche usage rights in their licenses.
The session itself affects my pricing in two ways: the age of the subject and whether or not they've shot with me before. Regular session rates are for adults aged 16 years and older. Kids 15 years or younger usually demand less time (read: can't stand still as long). Also, I currently provide a substantial discount (40-50%) for previous clients updating their headshots. I also provide a $50 referral credit to anyone who refers a new client who books a session with me, whether or not they've previously shot with me, to no limit, applicable only to photographer’s session fee and licensing (i.e. cannot be used towards MUA fees or printing).
Finally, as with any business, pricing can often vary around seasons and market demand.
HAIR AND MAKEUP ARTIST (HMUA/MUA): The terms hair and makeup artist (HMUA) and makeup artist (MUA) are generally interchangeable, and the short form MUA is industry standard for someone who does both. A professional MUA does so much more during a shoot than simply apply makeup. MUAs are trained to watch for flyaway hairs, smudges, and even wardrobe malfunctions while the photographer is shooting. (Two sets of eyes is better than one.)
Ladies, it is highly, highly recommended for you to use an MUA that the photographer is familiar with and works with on a regular basis, even if you've got 20 years of experience applying your own makeup, a professional MUA who works on headshot sessions on a regular basis will make a world of difference in the quality of your final images. An experienced MUA who does headshots on a regular basis is worth his or her weight in liquid eyeliner.
It should be noted here that while you might be paying for “hair and makeup,” it does not mean you are paying for a stylist or that the MUA is going to spend a lot of time doing your hair. Prior to your shoot, you should consult with your photographer’s website to see if he or she has that info online. I send a digital brochure to all my clients prior to their headshot session that outlines how they should prepare for their session. (Photographers: if you're not doing this, you should start doing this right away. Education is the best form of preparation.) Working with me typically requires having an MUA on hand during all sessions with women, and is always optional for sessions with men.
LICENSING: Here in Canada, the photographer owns the copyright on his or her work the moment the shutter is released. At no point does your hiring a photographer put him or her into a work-for-hire relationship with you. Photographers maintain copyright on their images and provide you with a license to use that image for a period of time outlined in the license they provide you.
I provide my acting clients with unlimited promotional and collateral rights. This means they can use the images for such things as promoting themselves (headshots, business cards), submitting to newspapers with press releases, to use on their websites and comp cards (if they use them). They are not issued an advertising license, which means they could not use or sell the image for use in an advertising campaign. If this is confusing, you should always check your license first and consult with your photographer.
ADDITIONAL COSTS: Photographers might offer options that could lead to additional costs during the session. The most common ones I can think of are location shoots and additional studio time. You might want your preferred photographer to come a fair distance to shoot with you. Photographers might opt to shoot anywhere you want to shoot. There will likely be fees associated with this to cover the photographer’s travel expenses and additional time. Other photographers might offer a limited amount of studio time and charge a premium for longer studio sessions.
PRINTING: For actors, while most of the casting world has moved online, actors still need a small amount of physical headshots, especially actors who are shopping around for new agents. You are still expected to bring your headshot with you when you go to an audition. Most photographers do not include any prints in the session fees, and those that do, are not likely using high-quality printers.
If your photographer simply hands over the file and allows his clients to choose their own printer, he is risking that client taking their headshots to an inexpensive printer (like Walmart or Costco). The printers may produce colour shifts in skin tones and there is no guarantee of consistent quality. One bad scan/print can damage the professional reputation of both the photographer and the client.
When you shoot with me, prints are not included in the fee, but if you do need prints, you are agreeing to order your prints through me. I do this in order to control the quality and standard of your headshots by printing at professional labs that I have vetted. It’s in both of our best interests that your photos looks amazing. If ever the quality of the print isn't up to par, I will advocate with my lab on your behalf and make sure the quality is top shelf. I stake my reputation on it.
EXTENDED LICENSING: When shooting headshots, I provide unlimited promotional and collateral licensing in perpetuity. This only makes sense to me because you need to update your headshot every two years at a minimum. Since I believe strongly in the quality of my work, and because I also offer a discount for returning clients (40-50%), I believe you will come back to me to get your headshots updated. So, I don't worry about you using the image for the rest of your life.
Other photographers -- myself included when it comes to images to be used for advertising, and occasionally business collateral (annual reports, websites, etc.) -- will issue term-limited licenses, typically in one to two year terms. Clients may wish to purchase additional licensing terms or durations, but those will result in additional licensing fees.
The Value of a Professional Headshot
Let’s get down to why you really came to this blog post, finding and selecting the right headshot photographer for you. Now that you have a realistic understanding of what it’s going to cost, you need to set that aside for the moment and figure out how much value your headshot is going to add to your professional life, and which photographers can provide that value for you.
No matter what your chosen profession is, a professional headshot adds value.
Putting a Face to Your Name
Nowadays, almost every website we use requests or requires a profile photo. Whether it's your LinkedIn profile, your Casting Workbook profile, your personally branded Facebook page, or even your OkCupid profile, you need an image that conveys exactly who you are on first glance.
For actors, great headshots reflect your type(s). For business professionals, your professional headshot establishes and reinforces your personal brand and/or your company brand values, such as competence, reliability and trust. For artists, your personal headshot helps to establish your confidence and approachability.
Unquestionably, you want to find a photographer who knows what he or she is doing, who has experience taking professional headshots, and who is able to understand your needs as a client and capture the kind of image that will increase your value perception as a professional. Noted New York acting headshot photographer Peter Hurley describes his job as "90% therapist. 10% photographer."
Your headshot is your visual handshake. A great headshot add priceless value to your professional life. A bad headshot can tarnish your image and reputation. Are you willing to stake your career or reputation on a mediocre or sub-par headshot?
Experience is Important
PORTFOLIO: The first way to determine if a photographer has the experience you need is to check their portfolio (or "book"). A photographer whose portfolio consists mostly of food and product images might have the technical skills to take a good headshot, but likely doesn't spend a lot of time working with people to be able to help your personality shine during a headshot session.
ARTIST BIOGRAPHY: The next thing you need to do is read the bio ("about me") section of their website. A bio will usually indicate how long they've been shooting, why they became a photographer, and whether or not they've received any awards or are accredited members of any professional associations (PPOC, CAPIC, WPPI, PAA, etc.).
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS: Photographers who are members of professional associations usually undergo a peer review process before they can claim to be an associate member of the organization. A photographer who has gone through accreditation to become a member of an industry association has shown a clear commitment to their professionalism.
A photographer's membership in a professional association can be an important indicator to consider, but it's not the most important factor. I know a number of great, very professional photographers who are not members of any professional associations. (As of writing this post, I am not a member of any professional association.)
WARNING: A lot of people who classify themselves as professional photographers don't actually work full-time as photographers. Some of them might be working a full-time job, trying to transition into photographer but haven't made the leap. Others might be weekend warriors who love to shoot but don't want to make a career out of photography.
That being said, do your research and balance all of these factors against their body of work, then factor in cost and value. While a lot of photographers may not be doing it full-time, it doesn't mean they should be discounted from your search. You might find out the niece of a family friend is the perfect person to shoot your headshot. Just make sure the quality is there.
Quality is More Important
You've started your research, you've looked at portfolios and read bios. Now you probably have a sense of which photographer(s) you'd want to shoot your headshot. You like their work. You like what they wrote about their approach to working with you. You've also likely found a few photographers whose headshots all look pretty much like the next guy's headshots.
GOOD vs GREAT: What differentiates a good photographer from a great photographer, is being skilled at capturing who you are, not just what you look like. A good headshot is a great photograph of your head and shoulders. A great headshot is an excellent photograph of your personality, your types (for actor headshots), or your personal brand (for business and executive headshots).
You might be thinking, "How can I tell the difference?" The answer is easy. Look at the portfolios of the photographers and ask yourself, "Do I get a sense of who this person is or is it just a photograph?" There's usually a very immediate, instinctive response when you look at a great headshot that makes you want to know more about the person in the image. Do you get that response or do you just think, "That's a good photo?" It's the photographic equivalent of leaving a movie and thinking, "Wow, what a story!" versus leaving a movie and thinking, "The cinematography was good."
RETOUCHING: You might think retouching is a sin, but an image that doesn't look like it's been retouched, probably has, and probably by a great retoucher or photographer who is also a great retoucher. Beware of photographers whose images make the skin look plastic or eye unnaturally white. Your headshot should look like you. It should look authentic and real and not try to present a fake, cleaned-up version of you. That's the fastest way to lose trust and respect.
That being said, if you have a skin breakout the day of or a few days before a shoot, don't freak out. It's likely that the makeup artist will be able to cover it up and any blemishes will be retouched out of the final images you receive.
Value is Most Important
The main reason you're even thinking about getting a professional headshot is that you either need one for your career (actors, real estate agents, musicians, etc.) or you've come to the realization that a professional portrait (executives, lawyers, bankers, etc.) helps to bridge the gap between business and personal and can convey a sense of trust and personability that a business card cannot do on its own.
In this sense, a headshot is one of the best ways to add value to your professional profile. You need to find a photographer who is going to add the most value to your career and capture your unique, individual personality. Does he or she understand how to convey your unique personality and brand/type? Can you look through their portfolio and see a consistency in their ability to capture other people's personalities? If so, that's someone you want to shoot with.
BALANCING COST AND VALUE: If the photographer you really want to shoot with is $120 more than your second choice, ask yourself if saving $120 on headshots, that are going to last you about two years, is worth the extra $5 per month or not. How much added value does that extra $5/mo bring to your professional career?
You might be better off spending the $120. If you need to, take a couple of weeks to save the balance. It could mean the difference between good, technically proficient headshots that people barely give a second thought to, and people wanting to work with you because they can see that you are a trustworthy, reliable, and friendly person, just from your photograph.
DON'T LOSE VALUE: Never use a headshot if it doesn't add value to your image. Never feel obligated to use a headshot someone took, that doesn't add value, just because you paid for it, or even if you didn't. If you got a quick headshot done at a studio for $50 but it looks like crap, that could cause significant damage to your reputation. Likewise, if you pay $500 for headshots and your personality isn't present in the shot, request a reshoot (find out about reshoot policies beforehand). If it still isn't there, go somewhere else and get them done again.
Some Final Advice
Most photographers are happy to help you emulate a style that you like. For corporate clients this is very common, as we might have to match new employee headshots with existing headshots on the company website.
Almost all professional photographers have also had at least one person come to them asking them for shots in the style of another local photographer. If you really want that photographer's style but it costs $200 more, your best bet is to go to that photographer you like, pay the extra $200 and get the shots you really wanted in the first place.
Take your time. Don't rush in. Look at all your options and figure out which photographers you want to work with. Call them up and have a conversation with each of them. Headshot photographers shoot portraits because we like working with people. My extensive improv comedy background helps me have great conversations with my clients and allows me to bring out the best in people during our sessions.
Feel free to call me, we'll have a great chat and figure out what will work best for you. Like I stated at the beginning of this article, it might not even be me.