Top 10 Things to think about when you’re shopping for a great headshot photographer

Katherine on Teal background which was actually grey in the studio with an octobox camera left

When you’re shopping for a headshot photographer there are few things that you should really consider before you book a photographer.  Here’s my top 10 things I wish all my clients new before they ended up with a terrible shot from another photographer.

1.  There’s a huge difference between a headshot and a portrait.

I know it might not sound like the two are different but they are.  One is designed to sell you.  A headshot is all about the sale.  Who are you marketing yourself towards.  A photographer should understand your ‘client base’ and be able to create an image that really sells you to them.  A portrait is great, but it’s not designed to sell, it’s not marketing material.  Your photographer should know the difference, and if they don’t you might have gone with the wrong person to do your shots.

2. Who is your market for this headshot?

Think through who you’re going to be marketing yourself towards.  A fortune 500 company is going to want something completely different than a casting director, or an agent.  These are all important facets to getting a headshot that will properly sell you to your clients.  Any photographer should understand these market demographics, and be able to create something that’s pleasing, and interesting for these segments.  This is why my work doesn’t all look the same.  Some of my work is editorial headshots for magazines, some of my work is corporate, some is for models, and some is for actors, or singers.  Each has a unique personality which I try and capture.

3.  Your friends and family all want you to look your best, but they’re not your booking agent

I know it can be hard to not listen to all the people around you who love you and want you to succeed, but you need to remember that they’re not the ones paying your bills.  They’re not your clients.  I know it can be hard to listen to them when they say things like ‘I like the ones where you look super happy’.  And they’re right, to them you look your best when you’re super happy.  However, if you want to get a role on the next season of breaking bad, the casting director won’t be looking for a super happy person to play the role of the new drug dealer.  Most casting directors are looking for range, can you hold a dramatic look on your face, and not look goofy?  I try and work with my clients to give them as much variety as possible so that they have a ton of options to choose from.  You can still pick the super happy shot if that’s the one you like the best, but I at least know what it takes to get a few interesting looks out of people as well.

4. Be careful about cropping

A traditional headshot is from the collar bone up.  With very little room at the top.  When you shoot things for magazines though, you have to give them space for text.  When you shoot for large corporations, they typically want something that has a bit more space in it, so that it’s not just the CEO’s face in the shot.  When you shoot for casting directors you should have some variety.  Especially with the men, as they really want to see what kind of body shape you have.  Whoever you hire should be able to do all these styles with ease, because as you can see, no two clients have the same requirements.

5. Please don’t overdue the retouching

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen what could have been a decent shot, completely ruined by the retouching.  Whether it’s too much, too little, or just bad retouching, there’s a million things that can go wrong in this phase of the shoot.  Very few people who shoot headshots have the skills needed to actually retouch an image so that it’s magazine worthy.  Ask your photographer if he’s ever shot for a magazine, and I think you’ll be surprised to find out that most of them haven’t.  Being good both behind the camera, and in photoshop is not something everyone can do.  It takes a lot of time to get good at both.  One thing to quickly eliminate bad photographers is to look at the skin in their portfolio.  Skin should have texture to it, and if it doesn’t that means that they don’t really know what they’re doing in photoshop.  You don’t want a casting director to laugh at your headshot because the photography is so bad, that they don’t even consider you for a role.

6. You have invested so much in training and school, don’t cheap out on your shots

I know it can sound like a good idea to save a bit of money on getting a good headshot, but this is going to be one of the first things that people see, and you want them to have a stellar impression of you before going on to look at your resume.  It’s not great to think about, but you’re going to be judged a lot on your headshot, and making sure that it really captures your personality, and it catches someones eye.  Standing out in a see of comp cards can be hard unless you hire someone that has a portfolio that stands out.  It’s easy to find a million photographer that all do the same lame thing, but that won’t help you stand out from the crowd.

7. Don’t over think it

I’ve had people come to me with an exact shot that they wanted to do, down to the way the hands were posed.  While I can do this, it’s not usually the most comfortable shot, and it usually comes across in the film.  It’s important for you to be relaxed, and if you’re trying to hard to mold yourself into a pose that you don’t easily go into, it can really come across in the shots.  Come with some ideas on what you want to have, but be open to different ideas, because if you’ve hired the right person they might capture a side of you that you’ve never seen before.

8. Time for some new clothes!

Yay, new clothes.  Seriously though, I would highly suggest going and getting some new clothes for your shots. New clothes aren’t as faded, they don’t have that faint stain from the spaghetti and meatball’s you had a few months ago, and the colors are more vibrant.  This really adds to the shot in the end.  It might seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference.

9.  Hire a makeup artist

I can’t tell you the difference a trained makeup artist can make on a shoot.  Literally night and day.  The way you do your makeup every day is actually very different from the kind of makeup that you want to have when you’re under studio lights.  This is the same reason that you put on stage makeup.  Studio lights have a similar effect of washing some color out, and you want to make sure that there are nice even transitions between all of your skin tones.  Along these lines make sure you get your face waxed a few days before the shoot.  For two reasons, one the redness that happens the day after your get things waxed is not fun to try and cover up, and two because it’s actually really hard to retouch facial hair for men or women.  Bleaching works for day to day, but because a camera picks up every little detail, and because the light hitting you will be more directional than normal, you’ll be able to see all the peach fuzz.

10.  Have fun and relax!

Seriously I can’t stress this enough.  You should be able to collaborate with your photographer.  Get some tunes playing, and lighten the mood.  If you’re all stressed for your shoot it will show in the shots.  Have you ever heard a photographer say ‘relax your shoulders’?  That’s because all too often people get really stressed when they’re having their picture taken, and it totally comes through in the shots.  Our brains are trained to read body language, and stress is a really easy one to read.  Your photographer should put you at ease, and make sure you’re going to get something you love.  I don’t approach every headshot session the same way.  I try and get what my client is after, and not add to a portfolio of extremely similar images.

Again if you’re looking for a New York Headshot Photographer you can check out my portfolio here.

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