Deciding How Much to Pay for a Professional Headshot or Portrait

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Header for "Deciding How Much to Pay for a Professional Headshot or Portrait" - Header Gallery of Headshots and Portraits

Why Spend the Money?

It can be tough deciding how much to pay for a professional Headshot or Portrait photographer. Photography prices vary. A lot. And this price range can be difficult for clients to wrap their minds around, especially if they view professional headshots and portraits as something quick, simple, and easy to capture. Many of these clients think of a professional headshot as little more than a slightly improved click of the shutter, not worth the expense. And professional headshot photographers recognize when clients do not value their experience or contribution. When a request comes in from someone saying they need “just a quick headshot” or “just a simple portrait” chances are the budget they have in mind is less than a starting rate. For me, one solution is to post photography rates on-line at janicednelson.com. 

Not all photographers do this. First, I do not want potential clients to be surprised during a consultation phone call. That is a waste of both a photographer’s time and a potential client’s time. Other photographers who do not post rates may prefer to haggle more – or capture email addresses. Overall, for me, it works better when clients know rates ahead of time, and we focus our actual planned consultation discussions on the photoshoot and what the client wants to achieve with images. It is also important for potential clients to know why they should still want to choose a professional photographer who might cost more. They need to understand what the trade off is. That said, here are three key benefits to consider along with a tip on when professional photography might not be necessary.

Three Key Benefits

First, one main difference between professional headshots and those by non-professionals is the lighting gear and equipment used to create images. Clients are paying for gear and knowledge of techniques setup specifically for them, in order to create optimal images. They are paying for professional photographers who have invested time and money in gear and in learning how to setup and tailor setups to different types of client photoshoots. For all photographers, the fruit of this training is evident in the photo galleries and portfolios. (I have a photography blog that details how to recognize different lighting setups, if you are interested in reading a little more about this.) 

A second difference is in posing. Here it is important to know that different photography specialties matter. Posing large family groups is different than posing couples. And not all couples are alike. The relationships they have are revealed through different poses. Posing siblings is different than posing an engaged couple. Choose a photographer who specializes in the type of imagery you seek and/or who displays images you like. Knowledge of posing is another skill you pay for. You see this a lot in snapshots. Many times, people are scattered all over the place and specific posing techniques for men and women are not evident.

A third difference lies in the consultation call. There is a reason professional images look different than snapshots. The photographer took time to discuss wardrobe, makeup, jewelry, etc. with a client ahead of time. Here professional photographers differ. Some instruct clients to wear what they would normally; others have more specific suggestions. I tend to have specific suggestions and even provide clients with a PDF that reviews what we discussed. (Not all clients adhere to suggestions.) For you, as a potential client, it means pay attention to the overall look of images in the photographer’s portfolio. Decide whether you like the results. If so, consider following the photographer’s suggestions. They will help you create a strong image you will enjoy for many years.

When Paying for Professional Photos Might Not Be Worthwhile

Recently I received a call from someone wanting to book a headshot session. After reviewing where the individual planned to use the image and how the image was displayed, I recommend using a snapshot from a phone. Why? Because the website only showed tightly cropped heads. In fact, people’s chins were cropped along with the tops of heads, ears, etc. Also, the images were converted to black and white thumbnails. Both of these factors made for little justification of spending money for professional photos. Very little of the image would be shown and the webmaster clearly had his or her own view of how to display the images. So always consider where the image will be used, the size displayed, and how it should look when stacked up next to its peers in order to fit in with a webpage’s style. Sometimes, a snapshot is just fine. You can save your headshot money for that time when you create your own website and profile prominently featuring your image.

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