You get what you pay for. It is a cliché that has a lot of truth when it comes to how much a headshot costs. When someone opts to try and use their smartphone or have a friend with a fancy camera try to take their headshot, results are often wanting. Thus, paying for professional headshots will often prove to deliver noticeably higher quality. But how much should you pay for actor headshots or corporate headshots?
It is complicated to specifically answer how much does it cost for headshots. There are many variables. For example, getting headshots in Los Angeles or New York can cost more than in Austin or Nashville. Then again, some photographers in LA or New York might also be less than in Austin or Nashville. But are there common price ranges and other expectations to consider?
Part of the reason figuring out headshot prices is difficult is because many photographers do not list pricing on a website or other public place. This can be for many reasons. Perhaps they customize pricing per client. Maybe they want to get a lead on the phone to close the deal. Maybe they are priced too high and do not want to scare off customers or priced too low and do not want to concern customers.
Still, based on pricing that has been seen publicly throughout Los Angeles, headshot sessions are often priced in the hundreds of dollar ranges. In some cases, a session might start at around $100 while in other cases it might mean several hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, there have been prices listed near $10,000 for a headshot session – no typo here. While it can be difficult to find pricing online, many photographers do have headshots pricing online.
It is important to note that higher pricing is not necessarily assurance of higher quality and better customer service. In addition, really low pricing can mean several shortcuts are being taken by a photographer. Buyer beware. So, anyone in the market for headshots would be well-served to shop for rates to suit their price range as well as to carefully review a photographer’s portfolio for quality. So, what should buyers beware of, both to avoid a bad experience and to understand why some headshot sessions are higher priced?
In most major metro areas, it is possible to find a photographer that can do headshots for cheap. But how might they be pulling off such good pricing? Have you made sure you really are getting a great deal?
First, a photographer might be an amateur. This might mean they can only pull of a limited number of looks or use only certain camera settings or equipment. For example, they may only do natural light, no flash, in a specific location and specific time they are used to. This might be perfectly okay if that is the specific look you want.
Furthermore, they might not have the same quality of gear as more professional photographers. This might mean they use a more affordable crop-sensor style camera instead of a full frame or medium format cameras. Pricing differences can be low thousands to more than $10,000 in just the camera bodies.
They might have a limited number of lenses that are lower quality compared with numerous prime or zoom lenses a more professional photographer might have. Lenses are an important element in headshots as is lighting. If a professional photographer has a studio, they probably have strobe lighting and lighting modifiers. Here too there are varieties in quality for strobes and modifiers.
Removing such equipment and understanding of using such equipment is often how some photographers can cut corners to lower prices. Again, if you have reviewed their work and professionalism in service and are comfortable with it, a low-cost photographer might be good enough. Or is it? Remember, the point of a professional headshot is often more important than people realize.
Many people understand the point of getting a professional headshot is because the quality difference stands out. There are many reasons for this. And these reasons do lead to higher costs, though they do not have to be outrageously beyond low-cost.
Professional photographers will often have higher-quality equipment. This will include the use of full frame camera bodies that average a cost of $3,000-$4,000. Crop sensor cameras previously mentioned can be well less than $900. Medium format camera bodies can be around $20,000.
Then there are lens choices where pricing is similarly different. Really good lenses can be several thousands of dollars while kit lenses can be a few hundred dollars. Higher end studio strobe lighting can also be several thousands of dollars. Putting it more succinctly, a high-end professional photographer can have invested tens of thousands of dollars on gear.
Then there are continual costs that a commercial photographer is paying monthly. They can include a lease on a commercial studio, business licensing, business insurance, application subscriptions, accounting costs, marketing, and advertising, and more.
So, what can you research to determine why one photographer might be offering you a $50 headshot and another is offering a $200 headshot? There are a few things.
Ask where the headshot session will take place? The lower-cost photographer will likely say outdoors. If the session will take place in a studio, ask if it is a home studio or a commercial property location? Photographers should be upfront with customers if they are having them arrive at a residential location for a photo shoot. A home studio can be more limiting in capabilities and is one reason why they can lower pricing.
While it is unlikely you will need to print your headshot – actors still might – ask the photographer if you will be able to print your headshot in high quality. Furthermore, ask what would be the maximum print size? The larger the print size, the better the camera quality is being used. So, this can help you determine a quality difference.
As an example, today’s higher end full frame cameras can average a print size of around 27×18” in high quality. Meanwhile, a lower end crop sensor camera can do around 20×13” with slightly lower print quality.
Furthermore, ask the photographer to show you their portfolio. Be sure to check it out while on a large screen, not while on your phone because almost any picture can look okay on tiny phone screens. Do not fall under the false impression that most people will view headshots on a mobile phone. At least half the time, people are viewing digital content from desktops. So, large picture quality matters.
When reviewing their portfolio, pay attention to the details. Are the pictures sharp, particularly the eyes? Are the exposures and colors accurate and consistent? What about backgrounds used? Are there plenty of options to suit your needs and are they too busy or too simple?
Finally, find their listing online, particularly on Google. Check out reviews and read a few of them. In addition to Google, see if they have other reviews like on Yelp or awards won. You want to find a good photographer that also has good customer service.
Depending on the level of importance you place on a good headshot, they can come across as an expense you have to consider or an important investment you must make. More and more, they are a necessary investment, particularly as employers turn to increasing numbers of online profiles to find you. Thus, making a good first impression with your headshot online is only growing in importance.