“Hi there. I just need a simple headshot for [my website / social media / a new job / insert singular other important reason]. Your website came up on Google for ‘headshots near me’. How much is it for just one headshot?”
This type of inquiry has been popping up more and more in my inbox and by phone inquiries, and there are some red flags.
What it says to me is that more and more people believe they need a promotional portrait (a headshot), but would rather simply check it off of a to-do list than truly invest in it with intention – for whatever reason, whether it’s inexperience, an impending deadline, time/”busy-ness”, actual money issues, self-consciousness, or otherwise…
But, here’s the thing… there is no such thing as “just a simple headshot.”
Just think about it – what does that phrase even mean?
Is a simple headshot:

  • a studio portrait with a white background and bright lighting, with little shadows
  • a studio portrait with a grey background and contrasty lighting
  • a studio portrait with a black background and lighting like a Rembrandt painting
  • a close up portrait outside with blurry trees in the background
  • an environmental portrait in your office with window light
  • etc?

Which of these images is “a simple headshot”?

Perhaps any of these is a “simple” headshot!
Because of this confusion and the trend of people looking for it, with this post, we’ll be exploring several ways in which a headshot can be a bit more complex than you may have originally thought and how/why we doing things a little differently than other photographers.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • the two most common responses to the “how much is it for a headshot” question
  • red flags on a photographer’s website,
  • how to get the most ROI from your promotional portrait session,
  • why it matters how your photo(s) will be used,
  • how to not miss out on value from your promotional portraits,
  • 5 ways to benefit from having multiple different photos,
  • some benefits of environmental images and where to use them
  • and more.


“How much is it for a simple headshot?”

So, how is it that you can call some photographers and ask, “how much for a headshot?” and get a simple answer “It’s $150” (or whatever they charge for a “basic headshot” – whatever that is) and other’s will answer your question with more questions?
Well, firstly, everyone has something different in their mind’s when they use the word headshot. And, even when you qualify it with “studio” before the word headshot, there are still a lot of variables, from a photographer’s perspective, such as

  • style of lighting
  • color of background
  • props
  • pose
  • camera angle
  • composition
  • closeness of crop
  • and more.

And, on top of that, there are other considerations from the client’s side of things, such as

  • wardrobe,
  • hair/makeup,
  • expression
  • and how you plan to use the image(s).


Response 1: The Quick Response, “It’s $X”

So, when a photographer just gives you a simple (low) price as a response, it may be because:

  • They keep their approach the same for each client, not varying anything based on the unique client who is in front of them,
  • They use the exact same lighting set up and backdrop for everyone,
  • They have a studio or home studio, which they can leave set up 100% of the time,
  • They use only available light (either as a sign of inexperience, lack of owning equipment, or as stylistic choice),
  • They only do 10-15 minute sessions, just enough time to tell you to stand over there and smile,
  • or otherwise.

Just take a look at their portfolio – what do you see? A lot of images that look the same, but with different faces? Or, images with flat lighting that don’t jump off the screen? Perhaps the people’s expressions look uncomfortable or fake because they didn’t have a chance to get comfortable. Perhaps their website or the images themselves are old looking, as well. These things are red flags to consider when thinking about choosing a photographer.

Response 2: “It depends” or “Well, why don’t you tell me a little about what you’re looking for?”

On the other hand, what’s the deal with the photographers (like us) who answer your question of “how much is it for X” with “well, it depends…”, or by asking you for more information about what you’d like.
Well, I can only really talk about our approach and why we won’t just tell you “it’s $X.” Even for a “simple studio headshot.”
For us, it’s because, even though we do have some standard packages for promotional portraits, and occasionally offer mini-session headshot events, all of our portraits are as unique as the clients in them.
Sure… you may see some stylistic similarities from image to image, but our creative process and attention to the uniqueness of our clients allows us to make a mix of different types of portraits/headshots that serve different purposes for each client, in each different way they use them.
When you work with us, you’ll notice just how collaborative our approach really is, even with our lower end packages.
For one, one of our goals is for you to really feel comfortable and as natural as possible during your session. For two, it allows us to build rapport and get a real understanding of the creative direction that makes sense for your style, brand and personality. Even for our special event mini-sessions, our clients get to choose what they like, in terms of lighting style, location and more.
And, unlike those photographers who take the in-and-out approach, we like to spend more time with our clients for a few reasons:

  • We believe in natural expressions and hate it when photographers use cliche’s like “say cheese!” So, we need time to build rapport and coach the perfect expression out of you.
  • More time = more set-ups, varieties in posing, wardrobe and more.
  • We take a more holistic view of the potential ways you may use your portraits, meaning we will shoot many different options.

And, you can see the difference, even when you review our website.

  • Firstly, we use a modern looking site that functions across different platforms.
  • Secondly, when you review the portfolio, you’ll see a variety in the lighting, backdrops, locations and more – it doesn’t look like each photo is the same, just with a different face, even with studio style photos.
  • You’ll also notice variety in the expressions, poses and composition, as well as natural looking, genuine expressions.
  • You may even see multiple photos of the same person, photographed in different ways.
  • You’ll see a website that gets updated on the blog, an active social media presence, and more.

These are just a few signs that might help distinguish what you’ll get.

Getting the most ROI on a headshot.

So, if you’ve read this far, you may be on board with the idea of spending something on a professional photo session, but you may still be wondering why it’s worth investing hundreds of dollars more for a custom session, rather than heading to the local mall portrait studio or the local home-studio photographer for a 10-20 minute session yielding 1 image selection.
First of all, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with either of those options, because you’ll probably still get a decent photo with faster turn around, but if you’re looking to get the most value from the experience of doing portraits in the first place, it’s really worthwhile to put some intention behind it and invest.
Why should you spend several hundred to a few thousand dollars instead of $75-$175 on “a picture”?
Because when you do a custom session, with us at least, you’re actually getting waaaay more than “just a simple headshot.”
When you work with a custom photographer like us, you are buying yourself OPTIONS.
Options in terms of:

  • the actual look of your images,
  • additional professional services (hair, makeup, etc).
  • locations and environment of the shoot/photos,
  • what you what you wear in the pictures,
  • usage of props to convey ideas about your story,
  • the messaging and emotional hook of the image,
  • the number of photos you receive,
  • the versatility and context of usage, in terms of social media vs website vs brochure, etc.
  • verticals and horizontals, composition of the photo and how it will fit into different design contexts.

Again, it’s perfectly reasonable to want to to a quick “one and done” photo – if you’re in a real hurry and/or you really can’t afford something more – it’s still better than a selfie. But, if you’re going through the experience of being photographed anyway (which might already be uncomfortable for you), you may as well get the most possible out of it by doing it right the first time – especially if you’re doing it so that you can have image(s) that will make you stand out from your competition and will help you build rapport with new prospective clients/customers.

Why it matters where you’re using the photo. A case for having more than just 1 headshot.

It seems like those who reach out looking for “just a simple headshot” and who have a mentality of “just getting it done” for “as cheaply” and “as quickly” as possible, may be taking too shortsighted of a view of the potential value their promotional portraits could have for them, their brand and their business.
Here’s the thing, having a singular focus for the planned usage of your promotional portrait means you could be missing out on all the other opportunities to get value from having professional photos in the first place.
For example, when someone has a one-track mind for their headshots, it’s almost as if they have only one of these items on their probably massive “To Do List”:

  • headshot for my professional / portfolio website – ✔
  • headshot for press release – ✔
  • headshot for LinkedIn – ✔
  • headshot for business cards – ✔
  • headshot for “social media” – ✔
  • headshot for speaking promotions – ✔
  • headshot for brochure – ✔
  • headshot for advertising – ✔
  • etc

and that they are most certainly forgetting some other project that will come up in a month or two. Not to mention, if you’re someone who needs promotional portraits (or a headshot) in the first place, new opportunities will most certainly crop up when you least expect them.
For example, let’s say you could get “just a simple headshot” and you used it in just the one way you had intended… on your website, for example, sooner or later, you’ll have a new marketing project come up, your social media will need attention, you’ll receive a request for a photo for a speaking engagement, you decide to do a Facebook ad or a campaign on shopping carts or a billboard, or a press release comes up.
Let me ask you this: Would it actually make sense to use the same exact photo in all these different ways? Would you really be getting what you wanted from it?
Think about it. All of these uses are actually very different. If you consider it from the mindset of your prospect or audience member who is encountering your image in these different contexts, you might realize that each place has a different psychological context, as well as visual format/shape, and therefore could benefit, at the very least, from a thoughtful approach to what specific image you put there or at best, a different strategic image/look.

5 Examples of Ways to Use Different Types of Promotional Portraits / Headshots

Here are a few examples of different types of promotional portraits that could make sense for different contexts.
Facebook Profile Picture – a more approachable, casual portrait
For example, someone on social media like Facebook is in more of a casual mindset – even if you are looking to portray a professional image, a traditional studio headshot, in a full suit/business attire and studio lighting may not be appropriate – rather it might be better to have a more casual and approachable, environmental image with natural looking light and a little more dressed down, more even a different, more casual studio photo without the blazer or tie. Also, it will need to crop well for the square format.
Facebook Page Cover Image – a wide format/horizontal environmental photo 
For much the same reason as above, an environmental photo is always great for Facebook because it conveys much more information than a studio shot on a plain background. It’s more casual and therefore, more relatable. But, this portion of the Facebook page will need a horizontal photo to really look great, and ideally, you don’t want it to be the same photo as the profile picture because the repetition doesn’t reflect positively.
Facebook Ad – horizontal, environmental
Facebook ads are horizontal, and as per the rules of Facebook, the amount of text allowed on these photos is limited, meaning it’s better suited to an image that conveys more information visually, rather than by adding text. This means an environmental photo is a great option because it is engaging, rather than a studio style  photo with a neutral backdrop and a lot of empty space.
Professional Website (Bio Page) or LinkedIn – more traditional studio look with business attire
On the other hand, consider the about/bio page on your website and Linked In. People visiting these places want to see that you are professional and reliable, and your photo should convey that, so if you are traditional, this would be a great place to put your buttoned-up studio headshot with full business attire – if that’s the vibe you’re going for.
Website Home Page or Advertisement – environmental image that connects using the location to convey a story element
Alternatively, an environmental image can work very well on a website home page banner, in an advertisement or brochure, as more of a branding style image, because it gives a little more of the “story” of you, your brand, and your personality. This can be great for people to connect with you on an emotional level, or grab a viewer’s attention with something unique and different from your competitors.

Wrapping it up

Sure, most people may be only thinking about the one way they will use the image in the short term, but it really pays to think about your promotional imagery in a more holistic way, because all of these different contexts above may be better served by different types of portraits, which is not something that can be accomplished in a 10-15 minute trip to the photo studio.
If you prefer to have images that are well suited for the uses you want to put them to, in a strategic way, you may be a good fit for our collaborative approach. We’re here to help you figure out what will work for you and to help generate creative ideas for all of these contexts.
Keep your eyes open for upcoming post(s) that will help you learn about how some of the other variables influence your photos, such as lighting, camera angle, composition/crop, posing, background/location, clothing/wardrobe, and styling.

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