My career in photography started with my inability as an actor to find a good headshot photographer that didn’t charge an arm and a leg for a session. The reason of such a cost is that a legitimate headshot is the perceived reflection of how serious one is about their career. You can always have your friend with a DSLR take your photo, but the casting director or agent will know you tried to cut corners. It’s a superficial aspect of the industry that I am not too fond of, especially when the focus should be on one’s acting ability. But alas, a headshot is like a passport, and it’s one of the first things that will get you in the door.
Because of the necessity of all actors to have decent headshots and the market value of the product, many people have unjustly coined themselves photographers to capitalize on the demand. This has led to an over-saturation of the market and has left actors confused as to with whom to shoot. Headshots are an investment, but I personally don’t think they should cost upwards of $1000+ as the first few results of a google search would indicate. Word of mouth is hard to come by. So what to do?
5 Tips for Choosing a Headshot Photographer
1. Expose yourself to the market
If you are running on auditions, many casting offices will have boards where photographers post their adverts. Take a look, collect the ones you like, see if you notice any similarities among your favorite photographers. Otherwise, take a look here -
2. Have realistic expectations of price
On average, a good headshot session will cost around $400-$600, although the market value is slightly lower in LA. Anything above $600 and you are either paying for artistic branding (i.e. a stylized shot from a well known photographer) or a bunch of features (i.e. a headshot AND lifestyle shoot). Lower than $350 and you are likely dealing with a novice photographer and results will be a hit or miss.
3. Vet the photographer’s work
Consistency is one of the biggest indicators of a good photographer. When looking through their portfolio, do all of the headshots have a similar style? Do they all look like they were shot by the same photographer? Is the cropping similar? Is the white-balance the same across the portfolio (i.e. are some images warm when others are a bit cooler). Consistency will reveal what type of images YOU will be getting and you can trust that no matter how the shoot goes, you will be in good hands. Inconsistency is indicative of a photographer that is still experimenting, hasn’t settled into his/her own style, likelihood that you will get a hodgepodge of images that may or may not be useable in a professional environment.
4. Know what are you getting
a. Getting a properly lit headshot is only half the battle, you still need to retouch it! Retouching is a crucial part of the process. Regardless of whether or not you have flawless skin, the finishing touches on a headshot are what really make it special. Make sure that the photographer offers some sort of retouching service that is inclusive of the session price. If the photographer doesn’t offer retouch, he is just trying to nickel and dime you.
b. Will you be receiving the bulk “negatives”? (i.e. are you getting all the shots in full-resolution from the shoot) You paid for the shoot. You should be due all of the images, even in RAW format if you so desire.
c. Any additional features? - I personally back up all of my client’s images for an entire year. Make sure your photographer has your back.
5. Go with your gut
Browse the photographer’s site. Check out the descriptions of the packages. How does he/she present their services? Do you get a good vibe from them? Reach out. Ask questions. How do they respond? Is it warm? Or is it “just business”. Remember, a headshot is a BIG INVESTMENT and a key factor to how successful a shoot will be is how comfortable YOU FEEL on set. A typical session with me is mostly just casual conversation and joking around and then capturing all those naturally human in-between moments on camera. I’ve been shooting for long enough that a session feels like something second-nature. A headshot is a sincere enterprise and not everyone is capable of curating a safe environment. If you don’t click with the photographer from the get-go, I would seriously reconsider shooting with them.
Finding YOUR headshot photographer is a tricky endeavor. It takes a bit of time and perseverance. Word of mouth can be misleading as anybody who spent over a thousand dollars will surely tell you that their photographer is the best in the world, regardless of whether or not it is the case. If you do find someone who you really want to shoot with but can’t afford them, start a conversation and see if something can be worked out. Perhaps you can barter for services? Anything is possible. It’s a bit of an adventure, but once you find the right person, you will get the images that can open up some serious doors for your career!
If you have any additional questions, feel free to shoot me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always open to answer questions or give tips!
Keep the hustle strong everyone! ✌️
PS: if you're interested in headshots and would like to shoot with me, feel free to take a look at what I can offer.