How to save money on headshots, and things you should know before picking your photographer

Getting your portraits (or headshots) can often be a daunting task. For the average artist, spending hundreds of dollars on getting their photo's taken, then edited, then printed can be quite taxing  and stressful. I know this, because I have been there too. I'm not always just behind the camera, I've also had a number of years in front of the camera myself, going through the same rigamarole as an actor. I've been there, with many awful and obnoxious experiences, with photographers claiming to be professional, when really they were rude, lackluster, and impassioned. I don't want you to ever pay someone that can't get you what you need and offer you a painless experience in the process. 

When it comes down to it, the best way to save in all honesty is to pick the right photographer and do it right the first time. If that means spending a little more then you initially wanted to spend, in the long run, you will find it will save you more. But to do so will require some homework on your part. Please see below for more: 

1. GO WITH GOOD CHEMISTRY, NOT THE NAME

No two photographers are alike, and the relationship between each photographer to it's subject is based in chemistry. And I do mean, like the kind of chemistry that occurs in dating. Some people click, and some don't. Just because someone charges $400-500+ for their headshots, and owns a studio and photographed a couple of celebs in their prime, DOES NOT mean they are the photographer for you.

You should be able to speak with your photographer that your interested in prior to your shoot. Get a sense of their personality and work ethic. Do they make you laugh? Do they intimidate you? In my humble opinion, if you don't walk away feeling like this person is someone you could bare your soul to, then they probably aren't the right photographer.  Their job is to make you look like the best you in a photograph, but that also takes honesty and trust between the both of you. It's a collaboration, and should feel like one.

About eight years ago, I had a series of headshots done for me while in college. It was some of my first ever to be taken, and I was naive about the process. The photographer's resume included Tyra Banks and Gloria Estefan as clients. I don't technically know if this was true, but I had seen several of his pictures that he had done for some friends of mine around the area and they seemed decent enough. "So what the heck? Tyra Banks!" I thought. I gave him a call, we chatted briefly, and I booked him. But after I got off the phone, in my gut, I didn't quite feel right. Over all, he felt a little pushy to me, and I booked him mainly out of pressure, and his tone seemed a little gimmicky. It was a feeling of uncertainty and also a sense of doubt within myself as an artist. "It's just headshots, and he clearly does good work. Relax Rayme." I thought. Plus because I was a referral, I was getting a reasonable deal.

The day of my shoot, I woke up early to his phone call confirming if we were still meeting. I said "Absolutely. If you needed a confirmation, I wish you called yesterday. Our appointment isn't for another 2 hours. I could have slept a little more." I could sense his agitation. "Calling Rayme on set! It's time for your close up" he jibed. I was agitated by the wake up call, but continued to the shoot. He gave me a location I was unfamiliar with, with no directions as to what I needed to prepare (and again, I was young and naive); So I got lost and showed up with only one outfit, minimal makeup, and a grudge from being rudely awoken. Once I found the location, I was floored in anxiety. He had me meet him in a relatively unsafe part of town (this was in Tampa, Florida by the way), at an outdoor car garage, in the dead heat of a Florida summer. I was surrounded by greased up mechanics, three times my own age, staring at me like a piece of candy that trotted into the baby's crib. I was uncomfortable, hot and sweaty, and frankly not having it. My ego, tried to convince me that his credentials and previous work was substantial, and that I was thinking childishly. I did my best to enjoy our shoot, but instead paid the guy $250 for a miserable hour and half photo shoot, where I was made to feel insecure, unsafe, uncomfortable, and I definitely did not get one decent shot out of the 500 images taken. I look back at them today, and it is 500 shots of me clearly grinning and bearing a horrible day.

The lesson I learned, is that just because Tyra Banks was once your client, and that just because some of your other friends got a couple good shots from that same photographer, does not mean they are right for you. Who knows? Maybe, if I was a male actor, looking for some edgy shots in an authentic car shop, it would have been amazing. But I'm not that, and that is not how I do business as a photographer. 

So the lesson is: Meet your photographers. Go with your gut. And find the one that you can TRUST. 

2. CHEAP PHOTOGRAPHY SESSIONS OFTEN EQUATEs TO CHEAP PHOTOS

Do not let anyone talk you into doing photographs quick or on the cheap, with a cousin, or friend who just got a new sexy "point and shoot" camera to play with. And also NO CELL PHONE PICS. Anything taken from a cell phone will be horribly compressed and unprintable. The $50 here and there will add up over time, and you will not get the range you want, the quality you need, and this will reflect in the type of auditions you can muster.

Take getting your headshots seriously. I talk to many actors all the time on this subject, and it seems people are relatively divided. However, the one's who take my stance are often the actors that make a living in performance. Chicago theatre is a mainly non-union and very pro-storefront community. It's wonderful! So much great theatre is happening in the storefront scene. But overtime, I see actors growing a little lazier each year with keeping up with their headshots because they are cycling through the storefront scene. They know the ins and outs, and the peeps they like working best at, and can show up to an audition without a decent headshot and get cast because they know everyone. It's a cycle you get comfortable with, and then forget what professional theatre is and requires. In the past three years, I have worked at 4 different AEA union theatre's and I can tell you straight up that the caliber of artists they invite to auditions ALL HAVE UPDATED HEADSHOTS. All of them. Professional grade, edited, printed, and presentable. 

So it really comes down to this. Cheap photography equates to cheap shots. And cheap shots will not get you the better theatre jobs or auditions. Yes, you can totally have a successful career in storefront theatre in Chicago without a decent headshot. I will not deny that possibility. But for the union houses, or the pro agency's that send you to commercial, TV, or union auditions... I'm sorry, your headshots could be a factor. Possibly a huge factor. 

Put it this way, your headshot is HALF your resume. If half of your resume shows up at someones desk in a half sloppy manner, why should they even bother when the 100-200+ other candidates provided impressive material. Just think about it. 

3. THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT IN YOUR PHOTOSHOOT

It's so much better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it. Thats my motto. If your about to spend $200+ on headshots for maybe an hour or two being shot, you want to get the most out of your shoot right? The best way to do this is to be prepared with what you want to get out of it. This means you must express good communication with your photographer, because otherwise how would they know? If your someone who tends to be photographed looking very serious or commercial, but have minimal character shots, let them know. That way they can properly plan accordingly in their shoots to get you what you need. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your photographer run rampant getting shots left and right that you otherwise might not need. If your someone who is good at giving serious face, but feels vulnerable in commercial shots (I'm totally talking about myself here :P), then let them know so they can try and acquire the hard stuff first, so that can be accomplished initially. Or maybe you strictly want a range that you don't have. Let them know the type of roles you want or have previously played. These are all techniques to maximize efficiency in your photoshoot. Good communication is the key. Your photographer will appreciate it, and the trust between the two of you will blossom in the shoot. 

There is nothing that excites me more then that moment in a photo shoot where I know I've grasped your complete trust. Because it is at that moment, every picture in the lens becomes a quality, unique, and remarkable shot that will proudly represent you. I can see when I upload my photo's later that evening, and every shot back to back is my favorite. It's a chemistry that I can't quite explain, when or how it happens. But it does, and to me it is breathtaking. 

If you have enjoyed the above information, PLEASE pass it on to your friends or co-workers. If your interested in talking more about this subject, your welcome to schedule a free consultation with me (or just get some coffee and chat).