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What makes a good headshot photographer?

Welcome back! If you missed last week’s article, check out What Makes a Good Family Photographer where we discussed the nuanced skills a photographer needs to come equipped with to give a family great images and a great experience. If you’re looking for a family photographer, give it a read. Whether you hire us or not, it will help you make a more informed decision.

This week, we changing gears to talk about what makes a good headshot photographer. Headshot photographers are not one-size-fits-all. Unlike family photographers, aside from having images that you like, headshot photographers are less homogenous in what makes them ‘good’. It will vary to some degree based on your industry and your audience.  For example, not all headshot photographers are ‘nice’ to their clients, but in many cases, that doesn’t impede their ability to create a stunning headshot. And, in a very few situations, it might be exactly what you need. Rather, what makes for a good headshot photographer—again, besides creating images you like—is less where they put their heart, and more where they put their head.

Unlike family portraits and weddings, headshots have a distinct and measurable purpose. They are to help people specifically remember you, put trust in you, consider you for a position, admire you for your accomplishments or role, recommend you for referrals, and so on. They do not carry an emotional component the same way that personal images do. If creating emotionally relevant images for families and weddings is about the photographer bringing their emotional faculties to the session, creating good headshots is about the photographer bringing their intellect, market knowledge and almost courageous levels of honesty and forthrightness.

So, lets dive into what some of the qualities of a good headshot photographer are.

They are strategic

A good headshot photographer isn’t just plopping you into a chair, moving your chin around, taking a photo and sending you on your way. Rather, a good headshot photographer is thinking about how you actually need to use these images, and he or she is creating images specifically for those uses. A good headshot photographer wants to know what social media accounts you’ll use if for, they want to see the website where the images might show up. They want to create an image that can meet all of your needs strategically.

Consider this—if you need a square headshot for twitter, and a wide banner for Facebook, and a standard portrait for your business card and email signature, a good headshot photographer wants to make that happen in as few images as possible. That means being strategic. Perhaps it’s best to shoot in a studio setting with a smooth color in the background, or maybe it’d be better to do something outside your office.

They are focused on your audience

Unlike family and wedding photos, it doesn’t much matter if you like your headshot. What matters is whether your audience connects with your headshot. So, a good photographer is less concerned with what you think, and more concerned with what your audience will think.

If you’re a therapist, what do your patients and potential patients need to see in you to make them decide to pick up the phone and make an appointment? If you’re a real estate agent, does your audience need to imagine you sitting at a desk, or drinking a beer? If you’re a lawyer, do you want your clients to think of you as tough, or empathetic? If you’re the CEO of a corporation, how does your company’s culture see you, and should that impression be reinforced or undermined?

These are the kinds of questions a good headshot photographer is asking. It’s less about your personal taste or your self image, and more about the message you want to send to the people who see your image.

They can do a lot with a little

A good headshot photographer’s only real subject is you. In other kinds of photography, the location, setting and theme all matter almost as much as how the people in the images look. In headshot photography, it’s all about you.  You need to look good (confident, empathetic, trustworthy, lighthearted, etc) to your audience, and that’s about it. The photographer’s other considerations almost entirely come down to the texture in the background behind you and the quality of the light landing on you.

The variety of ways it may be appropriate to create a headshot means that headshot photographers are often pulling shoestrings together in unlikely ways. For example, what might look like cheesy early 2000’s wall paper in your office may form an interesting, but non distracting, pattern for the background of your headshot—which just so happens to fit nicely with the color scheme of your website perfectly. A good headshot photographer can see it and takes advantage. Or perhaps they have only a small space to shoot dozens of staff portraits. A good headshot photographer can almost always make it work.

In conclusion

These aren’t the only qualities that make a headshot photographer ‘good’, and it doesn’t mean that there are not headshot photographers doing great work in spite of lacking some of these qualities. But, if you can find a headshot photographer with all of these qualities, and who makes work you like, hire them right away.

Next week we’ll be talking about what makes for a good wedding photographer! Stay tuned!