How to Choose a Professional Headshot Photographer

Having searched for 'professional headshots', 'photo studio', 'portrait studio', or perhaps even just 'photography businesses near me', you ended up with a long confusing list of businesses seeming to offer professional headshots. But how do you differentiate or begin to choose which is best and what criteria should you use to make this differentiation? How do you lower your risk when investing in a headshot?

Unless you live in Buford, WY, there are likely numerous qualified professional headshot photographers in your area. There are undoubtedly numerous unqualified professional headshot photographers in your area as well. This is because headshot photography is not as simple as setting up a nice camera and good lighting equipment and telling someone to smile. Be cautious of the photographer that shows a LOT of unrelated work, and then also a few headshots in their portfolio. This is a tell tale sign that they heard headshots were a lucrative add-on to their wedding/sports/family/pets/etc photography business and they threw a few shots in a portfolio with some pricing. Those types of photographers are often not worth hiring for a headshot. You're probably better off taking your chances with that fancy cell phone ;-)

The reason for this is that headshots are quite a bit more complicated than nice gear and telling someone to smile. In fact, I'd make the argument that an amazing camera, top quality professional lighting and the skills to use them to their fullest are far less than half of the qualifications required to create a professional and effective headshot.

Ultimately, it comes down to how relaxed, confident and approachable your headshot photographer can get you to look. This is almost entirely dictated by the coaching and directing skills of your photographer, which are skills that need to be developed and practiced in a very targeted manner over time. Many photographers underestimate or even overlook entirely the importance of those skills in a headshot context.

When choosing a headshot photographer, I recommend that you do these things at an absolute minimum:

  1. Review their portfolio CAREFULLY. What are you looking for? Confidence, genuine expression and a generally approachable human beings in EVERY photo in their portfolio. Consistency is king here; if they can't create a portfolio that they're in complete control of that contains confident and approachable people in every single image, then there is no way that they can guarantee that they can do that for you. In fact, the more consistent the portfolio, the better, even when it comes to style, backdrop, crop, etc... What's that? They don't have a headshot portfolio you say? Or perhaps it's 5 shots of the same person making different faces? Run.
  2. Call them (don't email them) and ask them how the session will flow and how they will coach and direct you during the session. Any hesitation, confusion about the question, or super short answers that they can't seem to explain any further are quite possibly indicators that they really have NO plans to coach and direct you, which is the SINGLE most important thing that they can do for you in a headshot session. After all, no one else will be on the hook to do this for you during your session, nor should they be.
  3. Check their reviews and reach out to one or two of their past clients if that's possible. Reviews are sometimes a mixed bag, but having a low average rating, or no reviews at all might be indicators that they are actually quite inexperienced, or possibly part time photographers instead of full time professionals. Trust me - it's hard to run a photography business, but often things likes nice websites and client reviews are not things that a part timer will have time to accomplish. Five or ten solid reviews can represent that the photographer is a professional and capable of delivering - ideally, they have more than that.
  4. Ask them what would happen if you hire them and you weren't happy with the images. Photographers that aren't confident in their own work will not offer any solution to this potential problem. Or even worse, maybe they've had complaints before and know up front that this is likely to happen and they won't be able to refund any money or fix the problem no matter how many times they photograph you. Personally, I'm so confident in my methods and work that I will guarantee satisfaction to the point of re-shooting for free. This has never happened, but I still offer it to anyone concerned.

You can find more advice about headshot photography in my Complete Guide to Headshots.

John Glover