Headshot Extravaganza: How to Find the Best Photographer (part II)

I am so excited to explore Part Two of the Headshot Extravaganza!  To set the record straight, I am NOT a headshot-loving actor.  I get antsy when I’m taking new headshots.  I feel insecure.  I smile weird.  My eye twitches.  All in all, I am very unappealling.  Luckily, I found a fantastic photographer who I love to work with.  She makes me laugh when I’m pouting over my ugly hair.  She spurs me on with encouragement when I get tired.  And she helps me find a picture I confidently can use as my calling card in this crazy business.  So!  Let’s find out how to find an equally amazing photographer for you!

How to Find the Best Photographer For You:

1.   Find Out What Your Agent/Manager Wants: If you don’t have either, ignore #1.  If you do, lucky you!  Now, make sure you are clear on what kind of headshot they want for your business.  It will suck for you if you go spend $800 on headshots and your agent hates them and wants you to go pay $800 more on someone else.  Sucks.

2.  Find Out What You Want: If you take a look at the pictures of the members on this site, you’ll notice how different everyone’s picture is.  Some people are smiling broadly, some are leaning against haystacks or walls, some are intently staring down the camera.  What do you want to get out of your photo?  How do you define the message you want to send to the big shots who hire in this industry?  Do you want 3/4 shots? (Which include your head, shoulders, and chest?)  Do you want full body shots?  (Do you do a lot of print work?)  Do you need a zed card?  (If you’re a model.)  Do you like horizontal or vertical?  Do you want pictures of you wearing your glasses?  Do you want pictures of you with and/or without your facial hair?  Do you want headshots with curly hair, straight hair, up hair, down hair, blue hair, red hair, etc.?  Form an opinion about what you want.  Then find the photographer who can get you to your goal.

3.    Do They Shoot Outside or In a Studio?:  Either one is great, but be aware they are two  very different animals.  Now is the time to start forming opinions about your career.  Do you want to shoot on a backdrop?  Do you like having a blurred city background behind you?  Do you like natural lighting?  Do you like having a clean and simple environment to pose in?

4.    Check Out How The Shoot Other People In Your Type And Age Range:  Don’t worry, this will not kill your unique and singular look.  I’m just saying, if you’re bald, you want to be able to see how they shoot other people with your hair and skin type.  Do they have experience with someone who looks like you?  You want to be able to see how the photographer works with someone else who has the same specifics you do: hair color, type and length, ethnic background, gender, age, career goals.  Check out the pictures of actors you respect, and find out where they got their headshots.

5.    Go For a Test-Drive:  Many photographers will have a time before the actual headshot shoot in which you can interview them.  They’ll talk about how they like to shoot, outline what kind of headshots they like (horizontal vs. vertical), and tell you what’s important to them as your photographer.  Some, of course, won’t be able to due this in person, due to scheduling or policy, but you should at least talk to them on the phone.  Remember, your headshot shoot can be overwhelming at first, so you want to feel comfortable with your photographer and his/her studio.  Ask them the questions you need answered in order to reach your goal of having your ideal headshots: what kind of headshots are in right now?  How many pictures does he or she take?  How many different outfits (or, “looks”) can you change into during the shoot?  How long does the shoot last?  Can you have time to change your hair in the middle of the shoot?  Do they provide hair and makeup?  What does the background look like?


I assisted a headshot photographer for a time in New York, and the greatest lesson I learned from her is that an ideal headshot is one in which you look confident, at ease, and just like yourself.  Her job as the photographer was to make you feel comfortable, and then to catch that moment of natural enjoyment in a photo.  She would often make hilarious jokes to keep her client laughing, and then keep snapping photos as the sunny smile faded into a relaxed pose.  She also was careful to tailor her shoot to the client’s needs, and make sure they were content with what she had photographed.  And when a client wasn’t, or in some cases, lost a lot of weight or changed their hair in a recent amount of time, she’d do a reshoot so they would be happy with the money they’d invested in her.  Awesome!

Speaking of, a photographer should not break your piggy bank.  Do not let someone tell you a good headshot costs a thousand bucks.  For photographers in the major markets (NYC or LA) a good headshot session costs anywhere between $250-$900.  You decide what you can afford.  If you can’t pay for a more expensive shoot, that’s okay!  There are plenty of amazing photographers on the lower end of the scale, but they might not have as high-tech of a studio, or camera.  Do your research.  Know what you’re paying for.  On the other hand, you should be wary of photographers who cost very little.  (Under $250.)  Why are they so cheap?  Is the shoot very short?  Are they new to the biz?  It’s fine if they are, just know why you’re getting such an awesome deal.  If you need a cheaper shoot, check out student photographers and those who are switching over from another kind of photography to headshots: they’ll need to bulk up their portfolios, and you can be the guinea pig!

So.  Take a look at actor websites, reproduction offices, actor forums, networking groups, and ask friends for references.  Got a great headshot photographer?  Share their names here!  Help your fellow actors out.  And remember…smile!

Next up in the Headshot Extravaganza:  How to Have a Fantastic Headshot Session!

1 comment on “Headshot Extravaganza: How to Find the Best Photographer (part II)

  1. Katie Lippa says:

    I am SO pleased with my latest pictures, that I decided to embark on a guerrilla marketing campaign on behalf of my photographer, Nancy Jo Gilchrist (http://www.nancyjophoto.com/). Having been acting since I was seven, I have worked with my share of photographers. Not only did Nancy Jo provide me with dozens – and I mean dozens – of usable photos, but she also provided me with the photograph that I consider to be the best one ever taken of me (and it still looks just like me!).

    When I was initially searching for photographers, I decided not to look at prices. I knew I couldn’t afford every photographer, but I didn’t want to hold myself back from finding the right fit, just because of price. (By the way, I highly recommend this practice – find who you like before you dismiss them because of cost.) I found my top ten (of the 25 I searched). Then I narrowed that down to ten and then three. Two had beautiful pictures, but ever actor, every frame, looked the same. My top pic was Nancy Jo. Since she has photos of television stars (from ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Lost,’ and ‘Castle’) on her site, I figured that she’d be out of my league…BUT GET THIS – because of the economy, Nancy Jo (as of this writing) has reduced her prices to her 1992 rates. That’s NINETEEN, NINETY-TWO!!! I can’t guarantee that she’ll keep them that way, but I’ve got to tell you, it was a HUGE shock to see this. While other people in her category of photographers (including my pick #2 and pick #3) are shooting for between $1000 and $1300, she charged me a fraction of that. I’m not going to post the exact price in case she bumps it back up; but I’ve got to say, even if she did bump it up, she was WELL worth it. Someone like Nancy Jo, who decides to drop her rates to help actors-on-a-budget, is doing it because she LOVES taking pictures. And that was so obvious during the shoot. She truly is an artist, and I think it was a bit of synchronicity that I found her. So, if you’re reading this, consider that it may just be a bit of synchronicity that you’ve found my post, and do yourself a favor and check out her work.

    Katie Lippa

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