Headshot Photography - Are you being ripped off? Here's how much it should cost

We recently posted an article - Models & Actors: 4 Things to Consider before hiring your Headshot Photographer - designed to help aspiring and established models & actors get the most of their headshot photography. We wanted to help them maximize their chances of impressing those elusive Casting Directors.

Shira Weitz, an actress based in Los Angeles, CA

Shira Weitz, an actress based in Los Angeles, CA

While this proved helpful to many, a lot of people asked us how much they should be paying for a headshot photographer. So we decided to write up the below headshot photography price cheat sheet.

Note - the costs aren’t hard-and-fast. Different regions will have different pricing, of course. A headshot photographer in rural Wisconsin is going to charge a lot less then a New York City based photographer. But hopefully it should provide some direction...

Free - $100

If you’re not at a point where you’re ready or able to invest in more professional headshots, you can start by finding a photographer who is newly breaking into the business. Be warned, they are green. These photographers are most likely building their own portfolio while honing their craft… but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad option, it’s just a little risky.

Ask for samples first, and if they don’t have many and you still want to take the chance, just make sure there’s plenty of communication throughout the shoot: ask to see pictures as you go and give feedback. If you’re in this price bracket, it’s best to aim for 2 looks max. You can likely find photographers in this price range through craigslist (keep an eye out for creeps), word of mouth, or groups geared towards actors on facebook. Also, you will want to go hair and makeup ready, and bring anything you may need for touch ups!

$100-300

This is the price- bracket for most struggling actors - juggling classes, headshots and a social life on a waiter/waitress’s salary. You can expect fairly-experienced photographers with good technical knowledge; although headshot photography may not be their speciality. You should be able to capture 3-4 looks with this budget.

You can rest easy that the shots will meet your expectations - you looking good, in great light. Make sure you ask the photographer if you should come hair and makeup ready. Some photographers may have experience doing both themselves.

If you are getting a basic corporate headshot or something for an online profile, then you should find something fairly suitable at this price.

$300-500

These photographers know what they’re doing; and may possibly have shot some up-and-coming models or actors who they will be hoping can propel them into the next price bracket.

Here, you get what you pay for - a headshot that you’re very happy with and that should last for a year or so (assuming you don’t bleach your hair or get a face tattoo.) Not only will you get an accurate portrayal of you on your best day, but the photographer will be able to bring out a glimpse of your personality. The photo should feel a little special.

Definitely expect 4 looks. Photographers at this price point are likely to have a hair and makeup artist they prefer to work with (possibly for an additional fee,) or have experience providing both themselves.

$500-800

At this point you can expect a very professional experience. These headshot photographers will be working with a lot of established actors and models, and may have a handful of celebrities in their portfolio too.

They will have multiple bookings every day - with most of their jobs coming from either referrals or via their rep agency. You can expect top hair and makeup artists as part of the photographer’s team. Likewise, the retouching or post-production work should be top of the line.

$800-3000

Now you are paying for the best headshot photographers. We’re talking shooters like Peter Hurley, who has a studio on both coasts, hosts workshops and was invited to speak at a Ted Talk. And this price may not be all inclusive, with additional hair and makeup costs being added on. Consider this an investment piece - be sure you’re hydrated and looking your best. If you’re not 100% committed to being a model or actor; or you think there’s a chance you might have to shave your head in a month, then this is probably an unnecessary cost. You might as well get something in the $500-800 range.

Be warned, at this price point the Casting Directors may be able to recognise the photographer from the work. While this might show your dedication to getting the very best possible image; it could also work against you, with the conversation being more about the photographer than you...

$3000+

You’re into celebrity photographer territory. Or you’ve managed to persuade a photographer (e.g. a fashion photographer) who doesn’t normally shoot headshots for a living. This is as much about being able to say you had X take your photo, as it is about getting a great headshot.

A Couple of Tips:

  • Always discuss retouching with your photographer ahead of time. In any price bracket, you should expect your photographer to touch up at least 2 of your favorite shots. If this is not the case, there are third party resources that specialize in retouching headshots. Companies like Reproductions.
  • Make sure you factor the additional cost of printing your headshots when budgeting.
  • If you are shooting multiple people (e.g. corporate headshots for your website) then ask for a group discount. You can probably save 15%+ here.
  • Most likely, you’ll be heading to a photographer’s studio/space to shoot. If you want a specific background, talk to them beforehand and make sure they can accommodate that need.
  • Alternatively, if the photographer needs to travel somewhere then they will most likely charge for travel time - so be sure to ask.
  • Headshot photographers might charge 10%+ more if you’re looking to get shot outside. This is to cover the increased variables of not being in a controlled studio environment (and may or may not cover travel too…)
  • Make sure you ask how much time is allotted to you and that you’ll be able to get all your looks in.
  • Check the portfolio or website before you hire anyone. It is critical you see a style that you like, and that the photographer has shown they can replicate it consistently.
  • When deciding on a photographer, be sure to look for positive feedback from other satisfied clients
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to bring in references of shots you like or to ask to see a photo or two as you go! Remember, communication and comfort are key.

Let us know what you think, and more importantly, how you get on!

TL:DR

Headshot Photography Costs:

$0-100: Risky. Ask for samples

$100-300: Aspiring actors and models

$300-500: Good photo that should last at least a year

$500-800: Really good headshot, you’ll definitely stand-out

$800-3000: Top headshot photographers

$3000+: Celeb photographers