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To get right to the point, the price of headshots can vary quite widely and there are a lot of factors. They can be as low as around $50 to as much as several thousands of dollars. But most will range around a couple to several hundreds of dollars. Why such variance?
There are celebrity photographers, and they probably command the most money. But generally, the more a photographer can offer, the more their rates will be. For example, a photographer might have a commercial studio with many background options. They might also have many lighting options at their studio and light modifiers.
These items provide customers with options. For example, more background options offer more opportunities to match or contrast your outfit or your eye colors. More lights provide the opportunity to light for things like drama versus glamour. Some photographers have just one or two background options and only one or two lights. The quality of their lights also matters.
Photographers that can offer studio and outdoors photoshoots might also cost more. However, that they have these offerings does not mean they will automatically be many hundreds of dollars or a thousand dollars or more. Shop around.
On the flip side, there are photographers that offer headshots for around $100 or less. They might not have a studio and only shoot outdoors. Or they do not have a commercial studio. They might have a home studio, but this is often limiting. An ideal minimum room size for headshots is at least 12×12’ of clear space and with ceilings of 10 feet or more. Anything smaller and you start to compromise technically.
Photographers that charge a lot less also often have less costly gear. They probably have a camera lacking a full frame sensor, for example, or with kit lenses rather than prime lenses. It’s not that a proper headshot cannot be had with such. But when you are forking over your money, most people want better results. And again, just because their rates are on the lower end does not mean they are inferior to someone costing $600 for a headshot. Do your homework by reviewing their photography and their online ratings.
Yes. If you are an actor or model, a headshot is a must. For other professions, they are important marketing tools but how much they are worth depends on the price, results, and experience you get from it. For businesspeople, if you are on the fence about whether to use a headshot or not, you are probably pondering this because you have seen colleagues do it, competitors do it, etc. So, if your colleagues or competitors see it as an opportunity to get a leg up on someone else, why would you not consider it in the same way?
Besides, there is a lot of research showing that professional headshots make all the difference. Profiles like LinkedIn get more views when a professional photo is used. People tend to visit those profiles longer too. Humans are visual learners and a good headshot can go a long way to proving you are a worthy recruit. But that’s not just based on thin air. Studies have been done showing that people draw a judging conclusion that sticks long-term when flashed a person’s face for even just a second.
In addition, remember that headshots are an investment that need only be made each 2-3 years or so, unless you dramatically change your look. Or unless you are an actor that needs refreshes more often. Furthermore, another reason you might be questioning if they are really worth it is because you have a thought that they are really expensive. But really good headshots do not have to be costly.
There are a lot of things to avoid in headshots. So, let’s cover the essentials. For actors, some of what is listed to avoid here is not necessarily the case, like this first one. Avoid looking sad or anything but happy. You should also avoid overdoing a smile. Practice in a mirror to create a smile you are comfortable with. A good smile goes a long way in a headshot. People sometimes tend to overdo their posture and then look stiff instead of relaxed. So, check your posture too.
Avoid coming to your session tired or late and stressed because you are late. Avoid being nervous about it. Again, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to stand in front of a well-lit mirror like in the bathroom and practice your looks. Pick a side and practice on that side and then the other. Nothing removes nervousness more than confidence. You can gain confidence by practicing.
Avoid wearing clothing not suited for a headshot. Generally, this means use solid colors and avoid intricate patterns that can cause technical issues with cameras. Sheens in clothing can also do this. Try not to wear tops with large logos that simply detract from the attention being on you. Oversized accessories can also do this, like large earrings, scarves, busy ties, and so on.
There are no rules to what colors you should wear. But there are general guidelines on what typically works over what might not work. For actors, many will turn to black or white tops. There is nothing wrong with it other than almost everyone does it. To stand out, an actor can turn to vibrant colors but keep them as solid as possible. For example a bright red shirt can provide a typical vibe or mood but if that same bright red top had loud white polka dots, now the top is competing with your face for attention.
For business suits, natural colors are good – grays, blues, browns, and so on. Try to stay away from colors that make political statements. For example, a solid red or solid blue tie can be affiliated by some with certain political parties. Unless you are getting a headshot done as a politician, avoid it in your own headshot. This does not mean do not use any red or blue, just be understanding about it.
If you are not wearing a suit, pastel colors are good. Whether you opt for vibrant or pastel can depend on your profession. For example, a real estate agent or creative director can lean into vibrant colors whereas someone in finance or HR might opt for pastels. Why, simply because of differing levels of seriousness expected in certain professions over others.
Certain colors complement other colors too. So, if you have red or blonde hair, consider colors that might help. But beware because picking the wrong colors to go together can throw things off.
Not always but usually. Retouching can depend on the photographer, the customer, and their profession. There are some photographers that choose not to do retouches. This could be for, among other things, artistic reasons, because they do not know how to, or to control their studio costs. So, it is a good idea to find out or ask ahead of time.
Also ask the photographer what their philosophy is on retouching. There are some powerful retouching tools that can do almost anything. Some photographers want to full on make a person look plastic-like just as with filters on iPhones or Android phones produce. Others are minimalists and only do obvious things like a stray hair.
One thing to make clear is that retouching can be helpful. In most cases, you do not want retouching to the point where it starts to not look like you. But almost all headshots can be improved via retouching. Generally, stay away from things that change your essence – leave a mole or scar, for example – but things that would not be there next week can be fair game – some acne or stray hair, for example.
Also, some photographers include retouching while others charge extra. So, be sure to ask about their retouch pricing.
Some people find smiling difficult to pull off in a headshot. It is natural to find it difficult and there is a lot of psychology to the power of a smile. After all, a smile should typically be spontaneous. When it is not, it can come across forced and can be evident. For example, we typically smile with our whole faces – our eyes, lips, cheeks, all get involved. But in a forced smile, people often only use their lips. But should you smile at all, and with teeth, in a headshot?
Yes, in almost all cases some level of smile is preferred in a headshot. There are rare cases when not, but they are typically for specific types of shots. For example, it could be an actor in a theatrical headshot. It might be a lawyer with a serious-face headshot used on a web page about the negative consequences of not seeking legal help. But mostly, a headshot should be inviting, and a smile is paramount to this.
Whether you should smile with teeth can also be dependent on your profession as well as whether you typically show teeth when you smile or not. In some professions, a big smile can go a long way. For example, a dentist or real estate agent can usually benefit from such a smile in their headshot.
In other professions, where there are usually more serious matters at hand, a balance of an approachable smile while not going overboard can be better. This can be professions like accountants or certain doctors.
Whether you need a big smile or a subtle smile, what is helpful is to ponder a happy moment you recently had and then attempt to smile. This is better than just trying to conjure up a smile without thought. And do not be afraid to practice your smile in a mirror so you can get a feel ahead of time.
There is a lot that can go into this and you can read much more about what to wear for headshot. So, here, let’s keep things brief and generally into two categories. First, the creative like actors and dancers and models. Then, the business-like such as entrepreneurs or businesspeople. There can be some similarities between them and there are no real rules, just best practices.
For creatives, vibrant colors are a good place to start. This does not mean the entire palette needs to be vibrant, though it can be, but at least one punch of color. It can be that brilliant red under a leather jacket or that vibrant blue top matching your eye color. Next, stay away from busy stuff. Think polka dots, large stripes, and such. The reason is so the photo does not become about what you were wearing, thus diminishing the time spent looking at you.
For businesspeople, natural colors are often a good place to go, as are pastels. Think of primary and secondary colors as accents to a suit, like subtle reds, yellow or blues, as well as green or orange. Such colors can go well with dark-colored suits. If you are not wearing a suit, the subtler the color is, the better. If you are wearing a suit that will dominate your wardrobe, a little more vibrancy in colors is okay, like in a tie.
Now, how much do you dress up and what’s the difference for a creative versus a businessperson? For a creative like an actor, keep things a bit vague. For example, an actor’s headshot should attempt to imply you can be cast as a doctor without having to put a stethoscope around your neck. There is nothing wrong with getting a specific shot with a stethoscope in your headshot but as additional shots not as your primary ones.
For the businessperson, dress how you would if you were going to meet your most important client. Another thought is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. But, as with most things in life, moderation is best.