Which Business? – Headshots
This is going to be a “Which Business?” series, covering most photography business types. I’m going to cover family portraits, weddings, sports, pet portraits, real estate, branding, and any others that I think you’ll find interesting. Today I’m going to start off with Headshots.
So what is a headshot?
You’re probably thinking it’s a portrait, well I guess it is, but it’s really a subsection of portraits. The head and shoulder photo is used by business people, actors, and actresses all over the world as a promotional tool. Just think how big that market is…. Every business needs headshots for its sales force and managers. What about all the realtors that crave your attention, the mortgage professionals, bankers, car salespeople, in fact, anyone.
Headshots can easily be taken with an entry-level camera body. You need a good lens though. A focal length of 85mm is best, I saw New York headshot photographer Peter Hurley using a 70-200 f4 and I have an f2.8 version so I use that. An 85mm f1.8 is good and the 85mm f1.4 is amazing but expensive. These images need to be tack sharp so buy a good lens, you won’t regret it.
If you use a tripod you will eliminate any soft images, just make sure it can take the weight of your camera and lens.
Lighting can be speed light flashes, studio strobes, or LED panels.
Speed lights are the cheapest option, 2 or 3 would get you started.
Studio strobes will give you a bit more power but they are bulkier, more expensive, and need to be plugged in.
LED panels are a great way to go but they are the most expensive option.
Light stands, umbrellas, backdrop, and a flash trigger are also needed. Keeping your kit as light as possible is good if you don’t have a studio and shoot in the customer’s office.
Next time you see a headshot, zoom in 100%, if you can, and look at the eyes. You will see catchlights, this will tell you what type of light they used. You can see the umbrella, softbox, or LED panels in the eyes, and the position of the lights.
To give you an example of this I want you to check out Tony Taafe’s website. Tony is one of the best, he is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is a great example.
Go to https://www.tonytaafe.com/ and check out the examples on there. I’m looking at it now, Oct 23, 2021, and the first image you see is a woman. Look at her eyes and you’ll see three LED panels. Now go to his pricing page, the first image is of his setup. Three LED panels are positioned to remove any harsh shadows. Now some photographers shoot with one or two lights and use the shadows to sculpt the face. That is their style, but Tony has his style, and it sells. He still produces images with shadows, but the majority of the images he shows are fully lit. I’ll mention his pricing later on.
The Westcott LED panel setup he uses costs around $5000. There are cheaper options if you decide to go with LED lighting, I’m not an expert so you need to investigate. If I was starting out shooting headshots I would use LEDs, just for simplicity. Yes, they can be expensive but having them allows you to produce a consistent quality of work.
Check out the eyes in this image you can clearly see a softbox. It is positioned to the left of the camera causing the opposite side of the model’s face to have more shadow. If you want to try and copy someone’s lighting setup just look at the eyes and the shadows.
If you are seriously thinking about shooting headshots you really need to get on LinkedIn. This is business networking on steroids. It’s the world’s largest professional network with over 774 million members in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
So join LinkedIn, it’s free but you get more options if you pay. Then do a search for your town or city. You’ll be amazed how many businesses and people are listed.
Your aim is to build a portfolio as quickly as possible and start talking about your shoots and posting examples of your work on LinkedIn. Connect with as many people in your area as possible. Make sure you have a link to your website in your LinkedIn Bio. The longer you are active there the busier you’ll be.
The next thing is Google My Business, this is a must-do. This will put you near the top of the search results for headshot photography in your town or city.
Doing just these two things will bring in plenty of business.
If you’ve read my blog post or listened to podcast episode #12 on pricing you will know how to do this. If you haven’t read the post or listened to episode #12 do it now.
OK so now you know how to work out how much you need to charge to cover all your costs.
So earlier I was using Tony Taafe as an example and I’m going to again. He charges a $400 session fee plus $100 per image. This has to be the simplest pricing structure ever.
Now you’re probably thinking that a $400 session fee is high, good for him. He isn’t just starting out, I’m sure he charged less at the beginning. The important point here is people happily pay him for his headshots. He books two appointments a day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. So imagine being fully booked and making a minimum of $1000 a day.
The best part of his pricing is the fact he charges $100 per image. Most photographers offer packages, you’ve seen it everywhere, Bronze, Silver, and Gold. If you do the 3 package system you’re making them choose a fixed amount. Charging per image gives the customer freedom to spend as much as they like. I’m guessing that Tony’s customers buy more than one image when they see the results. So keep it simple, charge a session fee and per image.
Here’s an example:
$250 session fee and $75 an image = $325
1 shoot a day making a minimum of $325 = $1625 for a 5 day week
That’s $78,000 if you work 48 weeks a year.
Studio or Mobile
A studio is what a headshot photographer needs, but commercial space can be expensive. Consider using space at home, a garage maybe. It’s not ideal but it’ll get you started.
Going to the customer’s office is a great option. Carrying your kit around can get tiresome though, but you can charge more for the service you provide.
When I was thinking about starting this podcast I was going to start a new photography business and document it weekly. Anyway, covid happened and I didn’t do it. My two favorite options were Pets and Headshots. I might do it if we ever get back to normal.
Headshot photography can be a very lucrative way to go. If you can produce high-quality images you will get lots of bookings.