It’s probably happened to you before: you pick the first service provider you come across and leave feeling disappointed with the final outcome. Perhaps you ended up with bad headshots, or your headshot photographer took too long to respond to your emails. Neither leave you feeling very good. Furthermore, no one really likes being in front of the camera (except perhaps actors, celebrities, and influencers). All these situations can understandably make you delay updating your headshots. However, you’re off to the right start by figuring out how to choose a headshot photographer.
Choose a headshot photographer: start by assessing your priorities
One person might need a photographer that provides hair and makeup services, and another person might need a photographer that can take photos of their staff at multiple locations. As you’re doing your research, write out a list of your priorities and criteria to help you determine what you need. This will help save time by eliminating photographers that can’t meet your biggest priorities. Equally important is coming up with a budget you’re comfortable spending. If you have no idea what headshot photographers in your area charge, you can skip this step for the moment.
What should I look for in a good photographer?
It is easy to get duped by a photographer’s Instagram account when they show a few good photos that have been heavily edited with nice filter applied. In order to weed out the bad photographers you’ll want to:
- 1. Stick with professional photographers
- 2. Choose a photographer with the right specialty
- 3. Browse their Portfolio: Quality and Consistency in Work
- 4. Choose a headshot photographer: Look at their editing style
- 5. Check out their fees: easily accessible pricing
- 6. Equipment doesn’t make a photographer
- 7. Find a well organized and prepared photographer
- 8. Ask if they can meet your deadline
- 9. Look at their ability to connect with clients
- 10. Read through their reviews
- BONUS: Ask for Recommendations
1. Stick with professional photographers
While it may be tempting to save some time or money by hiring the CEO’s landscape photographer son, or by using an employee with a nice camera, this inevitably leads to disappointment and resentment surrounding headshots. Just because someone has a nice camera doesn’t guarantee they will be able to speak to people in a way that results in good headshots. Furthermore, resentment could build in the office when there is more than one photographer on staff and you’re choosing one employee over another. When the photographer is related to an employee, especially if that person is related to senior management, you could be accused of practicing nepotism.
By hiring a professional photographer outside of your company, you avoid the appearance of impropriety and favoritism, and ensure high quality images. Professional photographers will almost always have good quality gear, have worked with established businesses in your area, and know a thing or two about interacting with subjects to bring out the best in them.
2. Choose a photographer with the right specialty
Beyond hiring any professional photographer, you’re best off looking for a photographer with the right specialty. While an architectural photographer will have an eye for angles and symmetry, they probably aren’t used to adjusting lighting to make sure your face is properly lit for headshots. Similarly, while a pet photographer is fantastic at capturing the perfect action shot in the blink of an eye, they probably aren’t used to looking for personal details to adjust, such as a visible necklace clasp that needs to be hidden in your headshot. A Headshot photographer’s talent lies in finding the perfect angles in your face and body, however they shouldn’t be your first choice when looking for a photographer to capture candid moments on your wedding day. When you choose a headshot photographer with one or two specialties that include your needs (ahem headshot needs), you ensure that the person you’re working with knows the nuances of capturing the perfect shot in your situation.
3. Browse their Portfolio: Quality and Consistency in Work
Part of finding the perfect photographer involves looking through their portfolio. When you’re looking at the portfolios of many photographers, it can become hard to differentiate or know how to weed out the less experienced photographers. Keep the following items in mind to assess the quality of work:
A photographer’s portfolio showcases the best of their work. If the best work they can show you are blurry images of people, they probably shouldn’t be your first choice. It is common and usually desired for the background of your image to be blurry, however your eyes and face should be sharp and in focus.
Well lit images
The photographer’s work should be well lit as the image was taken. When this isn’t the case, the photos will be dark, or grainy, or have a slight green tinge to the shadows. Unless the photographer is aiming for Rambrandt style lighting, the subjects’ faces should be evenly lit.
A large enough selection of headshots
When you see the same few people featured over and over in a portfolio, perhaps in different outfits or locations, the photographer might not have taken headshots of many people in the past. This can be explained by inexperience, or else by the photographer not owning the copyright to the images due to working for another photographer or company. Reach out to the photographer if you’re worried they might not have much experience before committing to booking with them.
People of various ethnicities, ages, and genders
Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a photographer’s portfolio through people that look like them. When a photographer has photos of people of different ethnicities, ages, and genders, it tells us a few important things. Firstly, it tells you that the photographer can adjust their lighting and camera settings to properly expose for different skin tones. Secondly, it tells you that the photographer is able to make everyone look good regardless of their genetics or age. Finally, the varied portfolio may give you a sense of whether the photographer is welcoming to everyone regardless of their subject’s genetics.
4. Choose a headshot photographer: Look at their editing style
Depending on which package you selected with the photographer, editing may or may not be included – especially if you chose the cheapest pricing option. However, most photographers will include basic post-processing to optimize contrast, color temperature, color saturation, and shadows. Be careful with overly stylized headshots because these can quickly look dated after a year or two – especially if that style of editing didn’t stay in vogue.
Under or over editing
When the images of each subject in the portfolio are airbrushed as heavily as a magazine feature, you lose the personality of the person in the photo. While it is fairly standard in the headshot industry to offer to remove breakout blemishes and stray hairs, editing can go too far when you’re removing all skin marks including freckles or changing the shape of people’s body during post processing.
A consistent style of editing
Here is where consistency comes into play. You might see bright and airy, dark and grainy, super saturated, or tanned to the point of orange skin styles of editing all in the same portfolio! When a photographer’s portfolio contains 2 or more distinct editing styles, it means the photographer can’t pick a style and might not be consistent with the quality of their images either. While every photographer deserves to find an editing style that they and their clients love, you as a client deserve to know ahead of time which editing style to expect for your images.
5. Check out their fees: easily accessible pricing
There is nothing more odious having to reach out to a service provider to see if their prices fit within your budget because it isn’t listed on their website. Unfortunately, photographers are more guilty of this than other service providers. When a photographer knows they can deliver high quality photographs and isn’t afraid of losing business to the lowest bidder, they’re confident in listing their service prices on their website.
It may be tempting to save a few dollars by going with the lowest bidder, but the cheapest photographers are usually priced this way for a reason. Quality of equipment, number of years of experience, the location, the cost to rent out a studio space, time spent editing (and more) all factor into pricing. The cheapest photographers want to get as much business as possible to earn a living so they may be extremely busy, or they cut corners which results in poorer quality photos. If you manage to find a photographer whose work is just as good as a more expensive competitor, count yourself lucky that this photographer isn’t charging their full worth.
6. Equipment doesn’t make a photographer
You shouldn’t necessarily aim to go with a photographer with the top of the line equipment, because that doesn’t guarantee they know how to use that equipment. One photographer may have more disposable income to spend on expensive camera lenses and lighting gear when running their business than another photographer, but that doesn’t make them a better photographer. A good photographer can take high quality images with an entry level camera. A good photographer that charges their worth will eventually update to higher quality equipment.
7. Find a well organized and prepared photographer
You deserve to work with a photographer that is going to be on time and have everything they need on the day of your session. Furthermore, you deserve a response to your inquiries within 3 business days or less. If you do not hear back from a photographer within a reasonable time frame consistently, they are either extremely busy or their priorities lie outside of their photography business.
8. Ask if they can meet your deadline
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to plan ahead, you need your headshot photos back ASAP. Reach out to your short list of photographers to see if they can get your images back to you quickly enough. If they can’t, they might not make the cut this time around. However, do expect to pay a premium if you need your photos back within a short period of time, because you are essentially asking to jump to the front of the line of post processing..
Don’t take it personally if a photographer cannot get your images back quickly enough. They have many other clients to photograph, photo editing to complete, family to care for or other personal commitments between your session date and your deadline. Photographers try their best to satisfy as many people as possible, so if they could help you, they would.
9. Look at their ability to connect with clients
This is, in our opinion, the most important quality when you choose a headshot photographer. If the photographer cannot find a way to get you to open up to them, your headshot will lack personality and life, something that no amount of editing can fix. A person looking at your headshot should feel a sense of connection with you, like they’re glimpsing a little piece of your soul. To get this, you’ll need to be a little bit vulnerable with your photographer, sharing a little bit more of yourself than you typically would with a stranger. Rest assured, at Art of Headshots, we’re not looking for the imperfections within you or your life, but we are trying to find the people and activities that spark passion and life into your eyes.
10. Read through their reviews
Here is where you get social feedback from other people who’ve worked with a photographer. Reviews can be found on Google, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, and even on the photographer’s website. It is easy to look for a photographer with the highest number of Google reviews in your area, however the content of the reviews is equally, if not more, important than numbers. The content is where you’ll learn how the photographer made clients feel, how happy clients were with the images, how quickly they responded to emails, how soon they received their images, whether they were treated with respect etc.
Reviews from a neutral source like Google maps or a social media platform are going to paint the most complete picture of a photographer’s quality of service. Keep in mind reviews printed on a photographer’s website may be carefully filtered from a larger list of reviews to show the photographer in the most favorable light. Not all photographers encourage their clients to leave a review on one platform, let alone all of them, so if you’re not seeing reviews on Google, check for them in another location.
Bonus: Ask for Recommendations
If you’re still struggling with choosing a photographer, ask for recommendations from a local business whose headshots you love. They’ll be able to give you first hand knowledge of how good that photographer was. You’re most likely to trust the opinion of people you already know, so start asking for recommendations there.