Why Are Acting Headshots So Expensive?

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By The Light Committee

Recently, an actor was at The Light Committee studio. He told me how when he first moved to LA, he contacted some headshot photographers to start to get pricing. One photographer quoted him a rate of $1,300. The photographer went on about how the actors they did headshots for have worked on big productions. The actor told me the photographer was attempting to justify their rates. Do actor headshots really need to be that expensive? Does price correlate with getting cast on big productions? No and no. Let’s explore why not.

A commercial actor headshot of an Asian man in a studio near Burbank with a blue background
An Acting Headshot Like This One Can Be Helpful to An Actor’s Career But Does it Need to Be Expensive?

Success Requires More Than Just a Headshot

The acting headshot is important, and it should be good. But it is just one part of the equation to achieve success in the entertainment industry as an actor. There are a lot of things that need to be good. For example, an actor should be good at acting. Therefore, some form of education or lessons in acting are needed for success.

Experience will also be a factor. An actor will need a demo reel to showcase their best work. This short video is an important factor in having an agent or casting director take an actor seriously. Speaking of agents, having one helps improve your chances of success too. Getting an agent is not always an easy feat. Getting the right agent for your talent level or specific goals is even harder.

Being in the right place at the right time, or having a little luck, is also a factor in success. But, as the saying goes, luck is the residue of design. In other words, making your luck by increasing your opportunities for being lucky is also a factor. Get out there and work hard and make luck easier to find you. Besides, working harder and smarter usually means having better chances for success.

There’s much more to it than just this, and a headshot is one of the tools an actor will need to help them achieve success. But it is hardly the sole reason why an actor would be working on a big production. So, the price of a headshot is not tied to the level of success an actor can achieve.

A theatrical actor headshot of a woman in a jean jacket in a studio near Pasadena
An Acting Headshot Like This One Can Be Helpful to An Actor’s Career But Does it Need to Be Expensive?

What is an Expensive Headshot?

Expensive is a relevant term to what you’re getting and what you can afford. Paying $1,300 for a headshot if you are Elon Musk is probably not going to seem expensive to Elon. But paying $1,300 if you have just moved to Los Angeles and are just getting started as an actor is probably a huge expense.

As mentioned, expensive is also relevant in terms of what you are getting. If you are quoted a price of $1,300 for acting headshots, that seems pricey. But if the photographer went on to tell you that the price includes a new headshot session each six months for the next two years, a new slate video each year for two years, demo reel editing yearly for two years, and four self-tape recording over the next two years, now you’re getting a lot for that price. Maybe that’s still too much because you just want a headshot at the time. But relevant to what you’re getting, now to more people, $1,300 is not absurd.

So, what is an expensive actor headshot? It is one that is more than you can or are willing to pay for. It’s that simple. That’s all there is to it because as long as it’s a decent looking professionally made headshot (with a real camera and lens and real photographer), it is not likely to be the thing that is going to make or break you.

A colorful commercial actor headshot of a black woman in a studio near Los Angeles
Getting an Acting Headshot to Help You Get an Agent Does Not Have to Be Expensive

How Much Should You Pay for Acting Headshots?

You should pay what you can afford and are willing to part ways with in order to get good acting headshots. What does this mean? If you believe the photographer telling you that the actors they’ve shot all work on major productions and that this means you must get headshots with them if you want the same, then that is the price you must pay to succeed. But just about any headshot photographer in Los Angeles that has done acting headshots for many years can make that claim.

If most experienced headshot photographers can tell you the same or similar thing, should you pay the one that costs the most? Maybe not. Probably not. Go through the portfolios of many photographers, at least 10-20 of them. If affordability is paramount, start to eliminate the ones who’s price you are just not willing to pay. If the look or quality of their headshots is paramount, start to eliminate the photographers who do not showcase that they can get you the looks you want.

The Cost of Not Having Good Acting Headshots

Unless your best friend happens to be a studio headshot photographer, you are likely going to want to pay for headshots. Many actors just starting out try to make their own headshots for acting. Worse, they might just use a smartphone selfie. An unprofessional headshot will easily convey to an agent or casting director that you are not serious.

There are also levels to how good a headshot is. If you study some photographer portfolios, you can uncover that the faces they show are all different but the shadows, backgrounds, etc. all start to look very similar. This is often because the photographer is either limited in their capabilities or the equipment they have. This can be fine if that look is good for you but usually that is not preferred.

A photographer capable of pulling of a myriad of looks will showcase many faces and many different shadow depths, backgrounds, and even the use of studio and natural light for headshots. Some people might try to counter that having such variety lacks a clear style. But is a headshot photographer there to force his or her style on you or should they be able to get the shots you want for the style you want to showcase? After all, as an actor you will have your style – your own unique style.

theatrical jean jacket women actor headshot
Getting an Acting Headshot to Help You Get an Agent Does Not Have to Be Expensive

Finding Value in a Headshot Photographer in Los Angeles

One other important note about getting cheap headshots. Some photographers will argue that you need to pay several hundreds of dollars because if you get cheap headshots that are not several hundreds of dollars or near a thousand dollars, your current or future agent is going to make you reshoot those cheap headshots.

Again, cheap is a relevant term. If you are buying a car and need something cheap, you’re going to probably get something that is 20 years old for it to be “cheap.” And you are likely going to have to spend more money on mechanics. But if you found someone selling a low-mileage 5 year old Ferrari for $3,000 that has been garaged every day and your mechanic says it checks out, that’s not cheap, that’s incredible value.

Back to the argument of “pay up for your headshots or you’ll have to reshoot.” I’ve had many actors that went to such photographers that were told to reshoot. They came to The Light Committee and their agent went on to use their new value-oriented headshots to successfully get them roles.

There is value you can find in a city like Los Angeles, and probably in other major acting cities like New York, Atlanta, Toronto, London, and so on. But it might require a little more digging than just the first few you find listed on Google, or that someone recommends to you. You can find some of the best acting headshots with really good prices. But we have learned that a good price is a relevant term.

The actor I mentioned at the beginning that came in for headshots and said one photographer quoted him $1,300. He was able to get a headshot session with The Light Committee six months ago that provided him with two looks and two retouches for $150. He used those headshots to secure an agent and that agent has already sent him to a handful of auditions. He changed his hair style and so came back to update his headshots as a result. And that same agent can then use the updated shots to send him to even more auditions, resulting in a good return on his investment.