Choosing a headshot photographer can’t be that complicated, right? Well, the answer is part yes and part no. Headshot photography is its own niche of photography. That being said, even headshots themselves fall into different styles for different purposes and categories. I’m going to break down some of the basics here when choosing headshots for professional or business purposes.

Understanding your own headshot needs

The first question you want to ask yourself is, “Why do I need or want professional headshots?” Most people would be inclined to answer that with the platform or places where the headshots will be used. “I need a headshot for LinkedIn”, might be the statement going through your mind. Perhaps you also need a headshot for speaking engagements and keynote addresses. I would consider these the functional reasons for needing headshots.

However, I ask that you dig just a bit deeper into that “why”. In the context of LinkedIn, of course, we want people to see what we look like so we’re not a faceless profile but we also probably want to be perceived a certain way as well. If we really only cared about documenting our appearance you would see selfies or any other kind of personal photography being used as the primary profile picture style. Many people do use personal photography, however, the most valuable headshots are the ones that actually say something about you in the professional context. I would consider this the deeper underlying reason or reasons for getting headshots.

Are you worried that your potential clients won’t take you seriously? Are you worried that you’ll lose out against competition for jobs because you won’t come across as credible as you would like? Is there a stiffness in your existing photos that you’re trying to ditch in favor of something that shows an authentic version of yourself?

All of these concerns and many more can be tackled with headshot photography. The real value in a headshot is not to simply document your appearance but to promote you professionally. Combining various aesthetics, garments, lighting, and body language and facial expressions allows us to say some specific things with our headshots.

Both the functional uses of the headshots as well as the various things you want them to say should be the top things to consider and the top discussion points you take to a photographer as well.

What kind of photographer?

One of the biggest mistakes I see when choosing a photographer is assuming that anyone with a camera can shoot any style. They can but that is sort of like saying any doctor who uses a stethoscope can effectively practice any kind of medicine.

Sure, there is a baseline of photography knowledge across the board but if someone primarily shoots architectural photography are they really going to be able to pick apart the human element required for headshots? Moreover, is a wedding photographer who excels at capturing a day as it unfolds in an artistic and beautiful way going to be able to deal with the minutiae of directing facial expressions and body language in a marketable business context? Maybe they can, but I would definitely choose someone that shows headshots in their portfolio.

There are, however, photographers like myself who specialize specifically in headshots. We’re used to guiding people who have no clue what to do in front of a camera and more importantly may not want to be there! We know how to both analyze and leverage your best features while at the same time being an impartial third party in helping you minimize the things you might feel insecure about. This could center around guiding you on the facial expressions that work best for your face and nudging you through them or even using a tool such as retouching to reduce wrinkles or dark circles under the eyes.

Related: 8 Things I Learned As A Headshot Photographer

Choosing the style and aesthetics

Photography generally speaking is an art and can be quite subjective. Even something like headshot photography can vary quite a bit aesthetically.

Look across the portfolios of various photographers and simply take note of what you like and why. Are they using lighting that is a bit more edgy and will make for some harder shadows? Are they using neutral backgrounds? Are they doing only outdoor headshot work? Is the retouching either too much or too little for your taste? Do any of their clients have headshots that say some of the same things you want to say with your headshots?

This is where you get to choose what it is you like and what fits your needs. While there are some objective ways to evaluate the effectiveness of headshots, you have to live with and use this headshot at the end of the day so you should look for a style you prefer.

One thing I will say is that if a photographer is showing only one type of headshot style in their portfolio that is probably what they are most proficient at and most comfortable with. For instance, I myself do not show any outdoor shots on my website simply because I never shoot outdoors for a variety of reasons. However, if someone was really set on getting shots with a forest or cityscape in the background I would recommend they use someone who does that work.

Being Able to Connect with the Photographer

A huge part of headshots is feeling some sort of comfort level around the process as awkward as it may seem. I say this because we’re not actors. We can’t always make facial expressions on command, we’re not used to looking at ourselves up close nor are we used to being in front of a camera for an hour straight.

This is where having a photographer you feel comfortable with makes a huge difference. Whichever photographer you choose has the job of not just pressing the button on the camera and setting up the lights but creating a relaxing environment where you can collaborate together to get the best results. They’re going to want to help and actually direct you into your best headshots. It’s essential that you both can communicate well together and feel comfortable doing so. Since most of us are not actors, our visceral reactions and facial expressions are tough to hide and any apprehension is going to show in the resulting headshots.

I would recommend calling the photographer and just feeling them out and seeing how well you two connect. If the conversation is terse or tough to get going you two might not be the best fit.

From my standpoint, those early consultation calls are essential for me to get to know the person I’ll be working with and try to understand their needs before I even get them in the studio. From the client’s perspective, it gives them an opportunity to know that I’ve got their back and will work with them even if it’s a slightly daunting process.

Considering Budget and Packages

Everyone has a budget and headshots certainly fall into different buckets there too. As I mentioned prior, there are photographers who specialize in headshots and those who merely dabble in headshots. Someone who is a headshot expert will probably get you the best results but perhaps be higher on the cost spectrum too.

Another factor to consider is the downside of not having something of higher quality. If you are working at a level where you are getting invited to speak at conferences or guesting on podcasts it is much more important to have a higher quality headshot than someone just looking for a job out of college.

The one question you might want to ask yourself is, “What opportunities, potentially monetary, am I missing out on by not having a proper headshot?” A college graduate can get by with a tailored cheaper suit for a job interview, it’s almost expected. However, someone looking to lead their next company needs something far more refined and potent. Those two caliber of workers are different as are the leagues they play in. That should also be considered when investing in a headshot.

The actual cost over time is a consideration that can be overlooked too. If you’re a female who goes to a salon to get her hair cut and colored, which might run a few hundred dollars. That lasts a few months at best. A great set of headshots might cost 3-5 times that but they are useful for several YEARS.

Choose Your Headshot Photographer Wisely

To wrap it up, choosing your headshot photographer boils down to understanding what you need, finding a pro who gets that, connecting with them, and considering the long-term value over cost. Think of it as an investment in your professional image that pays off big time!

If you would like to know more about how my headshot process can help you, please contact me.

Ready to take control of your headshots?

Jason Ranalli Philadelphia Pennsylvania Acting Corporate Business Headshots Photography

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