How to Pick a Headshot Photographer


So you are in the market for a headshot. The first, and toughest task you will face is in finding the right photographer in your area. Hopefully price isn’t the sticking point (in most instances, quality does come with a price tag), and instead you are selecting your photographer based on her or his portfolio. How do you know which one’s right? First, you have to understand what exactly makes a good headshot. So here are a few good starting points to help make yourself a more educated customer.


 Tip 1: Do the headshots in the portfolio have expression?


Expression is the single most important aspect to a headshot. If you look at fashion magazines, models tend to have a dreary, blank stare, which is fine for what they do. But in headshots, whether it be for acting or business, it’s all about selling personality. You are trying to sell yourself to casting directors, potential clients, etc. No matter how attractive you are, a blank stare just won’t do; you need expression.

When people are nervous in front of the camera, they go “stone-faced.” When you see expression in a photographer’s portfolio, you know the photographer knows how to give direction. Compare the photos below to see the difference between an expressionless headshot and a headshot with personality.

Headshot with no expression vs. Headshot with good expression


When you are clicking through a photographer’s online gallery, ask yourself if the people in the headshots are conveying any sort of emotion or feeling. Is the person confident? Approachable? Sexy? Sophisticated? If your headshot photographer is worth anything, his or her portfolio will be bursting with different expressions.



Tip 2: Are the headshots well lit?


The second most important aspect to a good subject after expression is good lighting. The way to tell a hobby photographer from a true professional is whether she or he knows how to light a subject. As a general rule, your headshot should have soft, even lighting, with just enough shadowing to give the subject 3 dimensionality. When judging lighting in headshots, ask yourself these questions:

Do the eyes sparkle with light, or do they appear flat and lifeless?

Can you see all features clearly, or are there too many distracting, dark shadows hiding part of the face?

Does the light make the skin look soft and clean, or can you see harsh wrinkles and laugh lines?

Headshot with bad lighting



Headshot with good lighting


The right photographer will know how to craft the light. The wrong photographer can make you look like you belong in a horror film.



Tip 3: How good is the retouching?


If your photographer doesn’t know photoshop (a surprising number do not), you will see things like blemishes, blotchy skin tone, yellow teeth, and bloodshot eyes. On the other hand, if your photographer is a photoshop addict, you may see unnaturally bright eyes or teeth, and skin that is so smooth it is almost completely absent of pores. If your photographer knows retouching well, or outsources to a high quality retoucher, you will see subjects with skin that is clean, even, and also with realistic texture. The whites of the eyes will look bright and clean, without looking too weird. Many people really like the ultra processed photoshop look, but the majority of us can spot it right away, which will undoubtedly lead to the question, “what are they hiding?”

In the below headshot example, I over-did the retouching. At first glance it may seem ok, but on closer inspection the skin tone starts to look surreal.

Headshot with too much photoshop



Tip 4: Do the people in the headshots look flattering?


Not everyone is a model, but with the right direction, we all have the ability to look amazing. It’s up to your photographer to find your good side, highlight your good qualities, and minimize flaws. When you click through your photographer’s portfolio, try to judge whether the photographer presented her/his subjects in a way that makes them look good. If you see headshots that look “off”, chances are your photographer isn’t using good judgment. Everyone takes bad photos. It’s up to your photographer to shoot until he/she gets the good ones.



These pointers will help you figure out which photographer to go for. Please do not skimp on the price and hope your photographer gets lucky. Chances are you’ll have to invest more time and money for a re-shoot.

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