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How to Choose a Headshot Photographer

Most of use don’t like having our photo taken (myself included!). It can also be easy to think of it as “just a photo”, but we miss the opportunities (and pitfalls!) if we aren’t careful. Perhaps we’ve realised that it is best to use a professional to get a good result, but still don’t know where to turn. There are many photographers out there – how do you choose which one to work with?

This article takes you through some of the key factors to bear in mind when choosing a headshot photographer. Good preparation helps to ensure you get a result that you are happy with. This all starts with doing a little bit of research to help narrow down who will be a good fit for you.

Business Portraits aren't Family Photos

While there are some obvious similarities with family portraits, business portraits are slightly different and can require a few additional skills. A headshot forms part of a brand. Whether it is a corporate brand or your own personal brand, it is important to realise the role that your headshot will play. It will often be the first time people “meet” you and see your likeness. This is a key moment for a brand and an individual. First impressions count. So, I would advise using a headshot photographer that has a strong understanding of branding and knows how to create an on-brand image.

Branding can include various things such as colours, the clothes you wear, the mood of the image, the background, pose and more. Ideally, a headshot should fit in well with other aspects of your brand. We want to make it easier for the viewer to make the connections and to make you memorable. This is true if you are establishing your own business, looking for a new role or helping build the brand of the company you work for. Don’t underestimate the power of images in communication.

Have a discussion with your potential photographer to see how they suggest bringing your brand into the image. Does it resonate well with you? Are they open to incorporating your ideas or just intent on keeping to one style they always produce? The photo is about you, not the photographer. So, it should say something about your brand and not just be an advert for the photographer’s style. 

Do you like the photographer's work?

It should go without saying that you like the kind of images that your photographer produces. If you want something that isn’t currently in their portfolio then ask if they have any sample images along the lines of what you are looking for. If you need a studio portrait and all their images are outdoors then make sure you see some of their studio work before booking an indoor session with them (and vice versa). With very unusual bespoke images, it is possible that nobody has something like it in their portfolio. In this case you need to satisfy yourself that the photographer has the necessary skills to produce what you want. Their portfolio should give you a good idea and then a conversation will help further.

Beware of falling in love with images of a certain style and then asking a different photographer to re-create that. Sometimes it is possible. But often, each headshot photographer will have their own strengths and styles. Find as good a match as you can between what you envisage and the  portfolio of the person you hire. 

If you aren’t clear what type of image you need, take a look at people or businesses whose branding you might benchmark yourself against. It can help the photographer if you can show them some images that inspire you and equally the kind of thing you don’t like. See if you like anything in the photographer’s previous work. Perhaps they can do a version of it for you.

Testimonials & Track Record

As with many other purchases, it can be helpful to look at testimonials or reviews from previous customers. For example, I publish various customer testimonials for potential customers to view. Find out what it was that they enjoyed about their experience. Why did they choose to work with that particular headshot photographer? Are you a similar type of customer?

As well as reviews, the track record shown in the portfolio can be helpful. Have they worked with people like yourself before? For example, I have worked with a variety of people from entrepreneurs in various sectors to Bishops and their staff. It may be helpful to know that your photographer can be comfortable around people like you.

Get to Know Your Headshot Photographer!

For many genres of photography, it doesn’t matter so much how well you click with your photographer. Yes, you always want to have a good relationship. But, for headshots it is even more important. Why? Because creating a good portrait requires a rapport between the photographer and the subject. If there is friction between the two then it becomes very difficult to get a natural, good image. Both parties will have to work harder and stress levels rise. However, if there is a good relationship in place then it is much easier for your personality to shine and the photographer to get an image of you looking your best.

So, I would suggest that you always speak to a photographer before making a booking. See if you feel comfortable or not. Sometimes, for whatever reason, personalities may clash or people might not easily get on well. If the conversation leaves you with doubts then call someone else and compare the two. Your choice of headshot photographer should be someone that isn’t going to be intimidating or frustrating to work with. If you want an image with a natural smile, you need there to be a comfortable feeling in the room. Stress doesn’t create good photos! We may be able to mask aspects of how we are feeling. But, our body language can often give us away. This, of course, will be clear to see in your final photo.

How Much is it Worth to You?

We did, of course, have to get to the cost eventually! I have deliberately placed this section at the end as I don’t believe that prioritising cost is a wise move. Yes, we all have budgets to work with. But, if the photographer isn’t a good match for all the other key aspects of your shoot then the price is basically irrelevant.

Are you hoping to generate business or get a new job using your image(s)? How much difference will it make if you look on-brand? It can be well worth spending a little more to get something that does the job better. You want a return on your investment and rightly so. A suitable image could have large financial implications for you. You may be more likely to get your foot in the door if your image speaks to your target audience. That selfie taken in the pub is unlikely to have the same impact! 

So, what is a fair price for a business portrait? Headshot photographers vary quite a bit. Indeed, any service or product you buy has cheap options or high end versions. Photographers are similar, so you need to decide where on the scale you want to be. Do you need your image to work hard for you and help generate income or brand awareness? Then you should consider investing more. If your visual identity doesn’t have any impact on your future work then you may be able to get away with something on the lower end of the scale. Get price information from a few photographers that fit with your goals. Or, do a search on several local photographers to get an idea of the average price before speaking to the person you’d like to work with. That way, you can judge how much value you would be getting for your money.

Summary - Choosing Your Headshot Photographer

Choosing a headshot photographer can feel daunting when you are faced with a long list of search results. But, if you can be clearer in your mind what you are after and what sort of photographer is likely to be able to provide that then the process becomes easier. Try to get a feel for what role your images would play. Think about how many people are likely to see them and what impact you want them to have. Check out the work of several photographers to see if it looks as though they could meet your needs. Talk to them and get a feel for whether it is likely that they are a good fit.

  • Find a photographer that understands branding
  • Make sure that you like the kind of work they produce
  • Check their portfolio and testimonials from previous clients
  • Talk to them and see if you get on
  • Understand the value you want from them and the value they can give

Other Considerations

Beyond this, there may be other considerations such as where they are based and when they are available. Are you willing and able to travel or pay expenses for a photographer to travel to you? If this is outside of your budget then go for someone local. Similarly, if you are in a rush then you may be limited by people’s availability. But, I would suggest that it is often better to wait to get a better product and service than to rush (unless there is a very important reason).

Posing and styling is something that I would encourage you to discuss when making a booking. Most people aren’t used to having to pose for the camera. So, ask your photographer how they might help you with that if you have any concerns.

© Joe Lenton, May 2021

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