How much does a headshot cost? If you’ve decided you need a new headshot, this is probably one of the first questions you’ve asked. Headshot photography can vary significantly, anywhere from $25 to $2,000 (yes, really). The cost of headshots can also depend on the type of headshot you want, whether it be a corporate, brand, or acting headshot. This post will go through the various headshot pricing models and other factors to consider, including approximate price points for each. Please be aware these numbers are most relevant to the Atlanta headshot photography market.
The Cost of Experience
Beginners $25 to $75
Just starting; let’s find a pretty park and take some pictures in front of some trees. We all begin as newbies, so there’s no shame here, but your final images will reflect their level of experience. Most beginner photographers don’t know how to pose, find the best lighting, or communicate in such a way to help you feel relaxed and confident in your headshots. Their editing skills will also probably be minimal, so if the images don’t come out perfectly in-camera, they won’t be able to fix it in post. Check their portfolio and ask for lots of example work to see if you can work with them.
Amateurs $75 to $250
You can find some decent headshot photographers in this range. You’ll get some solid shots, but chances are headshots are not their primary focus. The most significant differences between amateur and professional headshot photographers are their lighting skills and the natural expression of their clients in their images. Amateur headshot photographers have good lighting skills, but they haven’t yet figured out which specific lighting setups look great with certain face types and poor with others. Additionally, professional headshot photographers are masters at getting the best expressions out of their clients, which is a fundamental characteristic of a fantastic headshot. When you look at an amateur photographer’s portfolio, you’ll see some stellar shots and some okay ones.
Professionals $250 to $1,000
Hiring a professional headshot photographer means you can walk into their studio and be 95% confident that you’ll get amazing headshots. These are the photographers who specialize in headshot photography and have developed a lighting niche. You’ll notice that headshot photographers in this cost range have a specific lighting style dominating their portfolio. This trend is because specializing means they can charge more since that’s their signature style (ex: if you want a cinematic headshot, go to Jon, but for a commercial headshot, find Arya). With professional headshot photographers, you’ll notice the subjects jump off the page, and their expressions are entirely natural.
These are named professional photographers who get paid monster dollars because they are practically celebrities in the photography industry. Don’t get me wrong, they are exceptional photographers, but you’re paying to say, “I got my headshot taken by Peter Hurley.” You won’t see any differences between headshots taken by these photographers and a headshot taken by a professional photographer charging just south of $1,000. The difference is all about status.
What is a Headshot Look?
Before diving into the different packages that headshot photographers offer, we need to talk about the most confusing freaking term in headshot photography: a Look. What is a Look? I have gone through over 20 different headshot photographers’ pricing pages plus their information packets, and there is zero consistency. Per the inconsistent headshot photographers of the world, a Look can mean three possible things:
- A single outfit
- A single lighting setup (or background)
- One outfit with one lighting setup
For me, a Look is a single lighting setup because once that is dialed in, everything else is “easy” (then again, I don’t charge based on Looks, so it’s a moot point). But, alas, not everyone else feels the same way I do. So, when you look for a photographer and are trying to calculate your headshot cost, make sure to find out their definition of a Look. The nuances of this definition can make a tremendous difference in the overall cost of your headshots.
Let’s look at an example. If you look at the 5 images below, there are 3 ways it could be charged. Let’s say a headshot photographer charges $100 per Look. This session had 5 outfits, 2 lighting setups, and 5 backgrounds.
- If a Look is a lighting setup, the total would be $200
- And if a Look is a single outfit, the total would be $500
- But if a Look is a single outfit with a single lighting set up, the total would be $500
Per Look vs. Session Fee vs. All-Inclusive Headshot Cost
Per Look options are what they sound like; you pay the headshot photographer based on how many Looks you want to shoot with them. Kind of like charging hourly, but instead per outfit or lighting setup, or both. Some photographers will also guarantee a certain number of digital images per Look. So you may see options like, “$150 per Look with one edited image and 20 raw digital images delivered with every Look photographed.” From my research, Atlanta Headshot Photographers cost $100 to $295 per Look and usually include one edited image per Look on the low end. On the high end, headshots cost $300 to $950 for 3 to 5 Looks. See how the broad definition of a Look can seriously affect the cost here? Also, these photographers will offer additional retouched images for $25 to $50 each.
Instead of charging per hour or per Look, some headshot photographers will charge a flat fee for their time to photograph the session. In this instance, the Session Fee does not include any retouched images. You are merely paying for the photographer’s time and their creative experience to shoot your headshot session. Some photographers may include studio rental along with hair and makeup services with their session fee, though, so be sure to ask about that. Session fee headshot costs can range anywhere from $50 for a mini session (a quick, 30-minute shoot) to $500 for unlimited looks, a couple of hours, and a complementary HMUA. After the photoshoot, you’ll select, and purchase for an additional fee, the headshots you want to be retouched. The final retouched images you take home can range from $50 to $100+ per image. Again, this is in addition to the Session Fee.
Most commonly offered by newer photographers, all-inclusive packages are when the session and some deliverables are included in a single fee. You’ll typically pay more upfront for an all-inclusive package than the other options, but that’s all you’ll pay for the photographer’s services. Headshot packages can range from $50 to $300 or more, depending on the session’s duration and the included deliverables.
So Which Is Cheaper?
Honestly, it depends. If you only need one retouched image, a per Look headshot photographer might be your best option, especially if it’s a corporate headshot and you know you only need one outfit. If you’re an actor, then you’re going to have to do the math since you’ll typically want several retouched images to take home. For example, I do the session fee model. My headshot sessions cost $200, and any retouched image you take home costs $100 each (at the time of writing this). Now let’s assume the average Atlanta per Look headshot photographer for comparison. It’s about $525 for three Looks, and you receive three retouched images. By that math, I’m cheaper by $25. Not a huge difference until you ask what a Look is considered. Some session fee headshot photographers care about time or Looks, and some (like me) don’t. So if you work with me, it’s $200 regardless of how many outfits or lighting setups we do (I cap my sessions at 3 hours). But depending on how that per Look photographer defines a “Look,” you may only get three outfits or three lighting styles for the same money. So make sure you ask a lot of questions!
What If You Don’t Like All Your Images?
Another key element to consider is you pay upfront with a Per Look photographer. So if you want to shoot 5 outfits or Looks, that’s guaranteed $500+ out of your pocket. Now, what happens if you don’t like any of your images from a Look? You’re out $500 no matter what. This is where a Session Fee headshot photographer can be a better choice. You pay $200 for their session fee. That’s it. You shoot a couple of Looks and then review your images. You see only one headshot you want to take home. Your total is $300 (session fee and cost of the image to edit). You still got pictures taken of 5 Looks, but you only bought what you loved, and therefore saved $200+ compared to the Per Look headshot photographer. Something to consider.
One additional item – many photographers will request a non-refundable booking fee to set up the session. This fee guarantees that clients will show up to the session and cover the photographer’s costs for studio rental fees or hair and makeup artists. These fees can be a set amount or up to 50% of the session fee.
Additional Headshot Cost Items
The nature of headshots today means that 90% of the time, you won’t need prints. You’re only going to need digital files for most situations. There are two ways you can receive them: edited and not edited.
The goal of any headshot session is to receive an edited or retouched, finalized image. A retouched image should have this minimum level of editing: white balance, exposure, and contrast. A professional photographer will also include some level of skin, hair, and clothing retouching. For corporate headshots, there can be some decent skin editing performed. Acting headshots should receive very, very minimal skin retouching. Casting directors want to see exactly what you look like; no more and no less. So the only skin retouching you should get is for skin discoloration, zits, and maybe some makeup repair. Don’t do more than that!
The cost of doing retouching can vary based on the photographer and if they do a session fee or a per Look model. If they do a session fee, you can expect retouched images to cost between $50 and $100 each. Per Look photographers charge anywhere from $25 to $50 per additional retouch.
Digital File Delivery
Now, some headshot photographers will also deliver the raw, unedited images from a headshot session. This is more popular for actors than corporate types. There are two main reasons to offer unedited digital files. First, to justify charging higher prices. You’re getting more stuff, so you should be willing to pay more. Second, many film and tv actors work with agencies. Those agencies want to see the available images so they can tell their client (the person who got their headshot taken) which photos to get retouched. Actors & agencies want to keep those remaining unedited images, though. The idea is that they can go back through those unedited images and get new ones edited at a later date if the actor needs a different Look (expression, lighting, outfit, whatever). As I mentioned, some photographers include unedited photos, and others do not. It’s not a huge difference, though, because you can always contact your headshot photographer at a later date and ask to see the remaining images from your session again to get a new retouched headshot. It simply guarantees that you pay the original photographer to do the retouching vs. someone else.
Studio Vs. On Location
I always recommend headshots be taken in a studio. Studios offer a lot of control and eliminate any worries about rain ruining a scheduled shoot. Some photographers have their own studios and include that cost into their session fee. Other photographers may not have a studio, and therefore you’ll need to pay to rent one. Studios can range from $35 an hour to $150 an hour. Because professional headshot photographers have their equipment set up already for their signature look at their studios, many will charge an extra fee to shoot at a different location. Check out this post to learn more about shooting your session in a studio.
Make-Up & Hair
Like photographing in a studio, I always recommend my clients get pampered with a hair and makeup artist (HMUA) for their session. Not only does it help my retouching, but it can take you from looking good to looking like you’re about to walk the red carpet. Wouldn’t that be awesome for your headshots? Again, some photographers include the HMUA in their session fee, and others may not. HMUA can range from $150 to $400. I have two HMUA that I highly recommend in the Atlanta area.
I know we’re all out searching for the best deal or bang for our buck. And absolutely, you should get the most value for your hard-earned dollars. When it comes to headshot photography, keep in mind that skill and cost typically go hand in hand. It’s one of the things where you consistently get what you pay for. Do your research and have a firm understanding of what you need to get out of your headshot session, then ask lots of questions about Looks, retouching, receiving your images, what is and is not included, and ask to see their entire portfolios.
Did I miss anything? I know there are tons of considerations for how much a headshot photographer costs. Leave a comment below with other things clients should consider!