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Headshot Pricing Models for Individuals

Lesson 3 from: The Business of Professional Headshots

Gary Hughes

Headshot Pricing Models for Individuals

Lesson 3 from: The Business of Professional Headshots

Gary Hughes

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Lesson Info

3. Headshot Pricing Models for Individuals


Class Trailer

Class Overview


Getting Headshot Clients


Headshot Pricing Models for Individuals


Headshot Pricing Models for Groups and Companies


Payment and Delivery for Groups


Six Styles of Business Headshots


Headshot Lighting Gear


Posing Basics for Headshots


Basic Standing Pose for Headshots


Basic Seated Pose for Headshots


Head Position for Headshots


Expression Sells the Image


One-Light High Key Headshot with Male Model


One-Light High Key Headshot with Female Model


Two-Light High Key Headshot with Male Model


Two-Light High Key Headshot with Female Model


Two-Light Standing Pose Headshot with Male Model


Two-Light Standing Pose Headshot with Female Model


One Light Low Key Headshot with Male Model


Two Light Low Key Headshot with Female Model


General Q&A


Constant Light: Low Key Classic Headshot with Male Model


Constant Light: Low Key Classic Headshot with Female Model


Constant Light: Standing Pose Headshot with Male Model


Constant Light: Standing Pose Headshot with Female Model


Setting up the Background for Extraction Shoot


Shooting for Extraction Headshot with Male Model


Shooting for Extraction Headshot with Female Model


Shooting Low Key Modern Headshots for Extraction


Basic Headshot Facial Retouching Techniques


Basic Headshot Eye Retouching Techniques


Basic Headshot Retouching Techniques: Dodge and Burn


Basic Headshot Retouching Q&A


Extracting a Single Subject


Creating a Headshot Composite


F-Type Headshot Lighting: Equipment and Principle


F-Type Headshot Lighting: Execution


Shooting Headshots in Volume


Lesson Info

Headshot Pricing Models for Individuals

Pricing, sexy, sexy money. (audience laughing) What is sexier than money, just a ton of money, you know? I'm a photographer, I love photography, it's a job that I enjoy, but to me, there are two types of photographers working in the photography industry, there are photographers who do it as their job, me and then there are photographers, that they eat, breathe, sleep photography and they carry cameras with them everywhere they go, I got a buddy of mine, who, if you say, oh man, I forgot my 24 to 70, he'll go, "I got one in my car, I got it," or if like, I need a light stand and sandbags, "I got it, it's in my car," like that guy, you know, whatever you need, it's in his car, because he just eats, sleeps and breathes photography and I respect that, those people create the greatest art sometimes, but my mission in life is to not be a poor-tographer, I want to do photography for money, I sell photography for money and so for me, my job exists, so that I can have a life, my job isn't my li...

fe, I hear so many photographers saying things like, "Yeah, I was up at two a.m. editing images," and I'm just thinking, do you not have children or a life, like are you insane? Like, I'd rather be doing almost anything else in my life in my free time, you have 24 hours in a day and assuming that you sleep eight and work eight, you have eight hours a day to kind of do what you want with, to hang out with your family, to travel, to chase your dreams, you know, breed unicorns, whatever you wanna do with your free time, that's the time you have to do it in, so I really have tried to create a business, where I manage my time, because my job exists, so that I can have a life and so the more profitable the time I spend working is, the more I have freedom, money on its own is nothing, money on its own is useless, but money is a means to an end for me to be able to live the kind of life that I want and photography has really blessed me and my family, because we're able to have a life that we really enjoy, we travel a lot, you know, we can make our own schedule, if we've got, if there's something going on on a Wednesday at 11 in the morning or two in the afternoon, I can change that in my schedule, that's what I love about what I do, not that so much I love the taking pictures part, that's awesome, but I love the lifestyle that I have, working for yourself, being a creative entrepreneur, the huge part of that is being able to make your own schedule, but anybody says, what's the old adage they say, if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life, that guy was an idiot, (audience laughing) 'cause if you do something that you love, you work 10 times harder at it, because it matters to you, right, does that make sense? I think it really, really is a paradigm shift, that we need to make as creative entrepreneurs is that our focus has to be on making a living doing something that we love and not letting doing what we love for a living make us hate our lives, 'cause nothing can make you hate your job or hate your hobby or your passion as much as when you have to use it to pay your bills, does that make sense? That's awful. It so makes sense and I think we don't realize that right away, when we want to get into the business of photography, because it is our passion, Right. and so it really is this shift in thinking and I love your sentiment about doing this type of work, so that we can focus our free and creative time on, whether it's photography or something else, but on what we wanna do to be creative and focus on the sexy money. Absolutely, what makes money sexy is that it lets me be with my wife and my daughter, it lets me hang out with my friends on a Tuesday night, if I want to, if we wanna go somewhere and see what Chicago's like in April, which is probably pretty cold, but we can do that, because we just have that life, so I wanna encourage you to really build a business, that's smart, going back to why we even entertain the idea of going from our very artsy, creative, cool work that we do on a daily basis to photographing professional headshots, which on the surface can seem a lot less interesting, but we're gonna show you how I make it interesting, when we actually shoot later today and tomorrow, but we're gonna shoot... we all want to have more time and more money to be able to do things that we want and this is a great vehicle to do that, in fact I know photographers, that even created a separate brand for their business, so that their boutique area of their business doesn't get sort of run over by doing the bread and butter work, that's a good idea, right? Okay, why not, I'm full of those, good ideas, alright. Alright, so I wanna talk about the different ways I see people pricing their headshots, I can't tell you specifically what to charge, because if you're in New York City or you're in Atlanta or you're in LA, your market is gonna be a completely different place, so I can't say you should charge X, I wanna tell you these are what I see people doing and this is how to use a formula to determine what you're supposed to charge and then take that back to your business and then apply it there, if you want or you could think I'm totally dumb and not do that at all, but you're here and I have you and you can't go anywhere, so let's talk about it. (audience laughing) The flat fee, this is a type of a way to charge for a headshot session, that I see a lot of photographers doing, in fact we do this partly ourselves, we kind of have a hybrid system going, but this is one way to look at it, if you say, if you want a headshot session, I'm gonna charge 499 dollars and that's gonna include all the files and it's gonna include three retouched images, all delivered digitally, so that's a pretty good average, a 500 dollar session is pretty good, but you're giving away pretty much everything that you would be able to sell later, does that make sense? So this is a perfect way to charge for someone, who doesn't wanna deal with in-person sales, who's maybe looking to build a business, that's a slightly higher volume, a little less boutique and then someone who, when the job is done, you don't wanna have to have another appointment and where you go and you have to sell them more stuff and try to get more money out of them, stuff like that, it's a really cool way to do things, I'm not gonna tell you that it's a bad way to do business, these are just the ways people are doing business and this is an option, so flat fee works, if you don't like selling and you just wanna get everything upfront and be done with it, this is cool, it totally works, absolutely valid. Pricing per look, I see this more often than I see anything else is when you say, okay, so each look is X amount of dollars and so you have the ability to upsell, but you're front-end loading your sales, does that make sense? 'Cause in the terms of sales, you're front-end loading or you're back-end loading your sales and so you're trying to upsell your client or your potential client by selling them as much as you can at the beginning, a lot of wedding photographers are like that, we're used to that, you're trying to sell them the biggest package, yes? You want them to buy the small collection with two hours of coverage and they get nothing with that, but no, you want them to buy the 7, 8000 dollar big collection, but with this sort of business model, it's good, it's just another way to do things, I see a lot of people moving to that in-person sales, after the fact, that's fine, but again, it's just another way to do things, pricing by time, I've done this too, where you say, 30-minute session, whatever we shoot in there, it doesn't matter, as many looks as we can cram in there and then you try to sell them what you've shot after. What is the most popular way of doing pricing by time? Everybody does it, session fee, session fee is a pricing by time, you're saying if you have a portrait business, the session is 250 dollars, nothing comes with it, except my time and then I'm gonna try and sell you stuff after the fact, so that's a pricing by time and so we, to put that in a headshot business, by saying we sell our time in 20-minute blocks, so if an edge, 20-minute block is say, I don't know, we get whatever looks we can get done, but you pay this block, this block, this block and then you sell after, so think of session fees as pricing by time, you with me? And just pricing by image, I see this, this is new, comparatively in the market, especially in the headshot business, this is where it gets a little more boutique, again, this is mostly front-end loaded sales, so you see photographers selling packages, where this comes with 10 images for 1200 dollars, it's 120 dollars an image or whatever and then you can still do an in-person sale or whatever after the fact, but again, you're sort of shifting some of the sales to after, but you're getting a larger buy-in a lot of times pricing by image, 'cause you're not necessarily putting a time constraint, you can say, okay, every session is two hours and this is how many images we get done in that session. So these are the four main things and I see different combinations of it, there may be some stuff out there that you do, that I haven't even thought of yet, which is totally possible, but this is the thing I see, the most common, but I think that it's a backwards approach to building your pricing, to think about how I wanna charge is secondary to thinking these two things, the two things you need to decide, before you decide your sales strategy and your session average, these are the two main things you're gonna need to figure out what type of business you wanna have and how much you wanna charge for a headshot session and there are different business models and they work in many different ways and I'm not gonna tell you what to do, again, presenting options. Here's how you figure out the first thing you need to figure out, which is gonna be your session average, how much do you want to gross a year? Gross is how much you bill out, not what you take home, figure out that number. Now, if you're a member of the Professional Photographers of America, the PPA, they do a benchmark survey, which basically tells you how much you're supposed to be making in the photography business, in order to bring home a profit, so if you're basically a home-based studio, individual person, you're the only person in your business, to make a livable amount of money, you probably need to be billing out a year somewhere around 80 and 100,000 dollars and that will give you, if you have your business set up the right way, that will give you a livable amount of money and so let's just use that as sort of a baseline, okay, so you know that you wanna gross a year and you need to divide that by how much do you wanna work, how many sessions do you wanna shoot? This is managerial accounting, this is taking something complicated and making it really simple, how much do you wanna make, how much do you wanna work? That's gonna give you your session average, let's break it down a little further. Okay, so looking at this, if you have all this other areas of your business, whether it's gonna be maternity, weddings, portraits, babies, dogs, whatever you do and you just wanna add a little bit of extra revenue, so you wanna add 20,000 dollars extra a year in revenue by opening up a headshot, professional headshot portion of your business and you wanna shoot 50 sessions, your session average is gonna be 400 dollars to gross that amount of money, that seems pretty, fairly self-explanatory, so basically you're looking for sort of a medium volume business strategy and you're basically, your pricing models, it would be really good to do a flat upfront or to do a by the look pricing, because that's sort of the business, that you're building, do you see, you start with how much you wanna make and how hard you wanna work and then it gives you how much you should charge, instead of the other way around, you don't just say, how much do I charge and then you just sort of throw yourself out there into the universe and you get what you get, you have to have a plan, how much money I wanna make, how many sessions do I wanna shoot and what does that give you? It gives you a concrete goal, if you want 50 sessions a year, then you know that you need to shoot four sessions a month, so if you get midway through the month and you haven't booked four sessions for the next month, you know you need to start beating the bushes and getting that work, so you have a physical target, that you can hit every single time, doesn't that make it so much more approachable, to have a business? Now here's another one, if you wanna make 150,000 dollars, this is gross, this is not what you keep and you wanna shoot 100 sessions and 'cause this would be an example of making headshots basically your primary business, okay? Shooting 100 sessions a year is roughly shooting two sessions a week at a 1500 dollar average, now it seems like a lot, I know photographers that do this, plug this into any other type of portrait photography you can think of, babies, whatever, think of it the exact same way, so now you know that you need to shoot 100 sessions and your average needs to be 1500 dollars per session and then you make the amount of money you need to live, does that, it sort of demystifies the whole thing a little bit? Like, it's not that hard to figure out, so don't ask another photographer what you should charge, ask yourself how much money do I wanna make and how hard do I wanna work? And then now you know how much you need to charge and then you build your business model around that number and I would say take the number and sort of double that number and go for that, that sort of (laughs), 'cause the higher you shoot, when you fail, the better off you are, do you know what I'm saying? Like if you're going like way up here and then you end up down here, that's okay, but you can add this to your business as something to supplement what you're already doing, or build an entire business around it. Now say for example, that you were to take that 150,000 dollars and you were gonna shoot 500 sessions, you know, that's gonna bring that number down to 300 dollars a session, you now have a moderately high-volume headshot business, but how are you gonna get 500 sessions? You can, it's doable, I've seen it done, but you have to create a business model around that. Anybody have any questions about that, 'cause this is sort of like the numbery part of it? We're good? Well, I think that... let's see, Amanda's saying, what is a good average number of sessions per year? I think what you just talked about, I think is a good way to look at it, that it depends, right, on what other businesses you have and if you're specializing in this versus not, right? Right. What do you do? How much do you wanna work? How many do I do? Yeah. Well, mixed between entertainment and professional headshots, individual headshots, 'cause I'm breaking down the professional headshot business into two groups, one is gonna be individual people coming into my studio for a headshot session and then there's also me going and shooting a whole staff of a company and those are two different ways of marketing, two different ways of charging, which we're gonna talk about. I probably do... 50 to 75 individual, professional headshot sessions a year and that depending on what I charge, which has no bearing, my prices are on my website, so if you wanna go there, you can check that out, actually don't, do not go to my website, (audience laughing) don't crash my website, Creative Live crashes website, it's what they do, so let's try not to do that, but that's about where I'm at, the majority of the income I make, 'cause I don't have a boutique, individual headshot business, I'm more of like a straight, up and down, this is what you do, walk out the door, so I don't have a boutique, individual headshot business, the majority of my income in professional headshots come from large scale events and shooting for big companies, walking into a building with my portable studio and photographing 100 people, that I do a lot, so those sessions, I probably do about three to 4000 people a year, but that's again two minutes with each person, da, da, da, like that, it's almost like doing yearbook photos, if that makes any sense, just a lot. Thank you, that's really helpful to kind of get our heads around. Another question is if you do a session-based headshot, what is the typical length of that, say you're charging 400 dollars, or whatever the number is in your region. Again, it's all about breaking down how much time you wanna spend, the more time you spend doing something, the less money you're making, does that make sense? Yeah. So you have to create the type of business built around whatever experience you want your clients to have, if your business is you photograph passport photos, you're there, it's a two-minute session and they're gone, if you're photographing professional people and let me tell you, this isn't like a lot of other type of sessions, there's not this beautiful romance and great time, that everybody's having, they do not wanna be there most of the time, (laughs) depending on the business that you have, I've seen it done other ways, economy, the shortness of the session actually can work in your favor, depending, but if you are doing a boutique business for headshots and personal glamor and you wanna do a two-hour session and it gives the client, and you're spending all this time doing all these wardrobe changes and you're giving this pervasive, amazing client experience, that's different, however, if you're getting 500 bucks for a session, spending 30 minutes with that client is gonna give you the pretty similar ability to make a profit as somebody, who spends two hours getting 1500 dollars, do you understand me? All depends on the business that you wanna have, do the numbers first, how much do you need to make? And then break it down from there. Cool, did I answer the question? Absolutely, it's a really great way to approach it. It's very specific, it's hard, it's very lawyer-answer-to-go, I can't tell you, because I don't know what type of business you wanna have. If you hate people, you're gonna want a really short session, if you really love to go through these experiences and fall in love with your clients and do all that happy crap, which is awesome, you know, then build your business around that, me, I want you to come in, I wanna have a few laughs, we'll drink a bottle of water together, we'll talk about our kids, pretend we're best friends for 30 minutes, like to me, it's like airplane friends, (audience laughing) you know what I mean? It's somebody you sit next to on a flight from like Orlando to Atlanta, like a 45-minute buddy, have a great time, I'm airplane friends with my clients, I know people that are like besties with their clients and that's not me, that's fine, that's not me, and I think that's great, that's a great relationship marketing, creating those, this is awesome, like Zak and Jodie Gray do that and I know that they have a fantastic plan for doing that, but I don't do that, I'm airplane friends with my clients, that's what I like to do, 'cause I'm really, really cool in really short bursts, I get really fed up with you know, being around people and having to do that, so 45 minutes tops, but most of my sessions are 20, 40 minutes for my professional clients, if that makes any sense, okay. Here's a number that you need to remember, 1.5, your final sale will most likely be somewhere 1.5 times the buy-in price, think about that, if you plan on just having a 1500 dollar average, your clients need to be buying in at 1000 bucks, you will do better than that plenty of times and you will do worse than that plenty of times, by a hard and fast, not hard and fast, a very flexible, but very useful rule in this case is your final sale on any session, portrait, headshot, otherwise is gonna be about one and a half times what they bought into, so if you are expecting to have a 500 dollar sale and they're buying in at 100 dollars, you're gonna be disappointed a lot, if you are trying to get a 2000 dollar sale with a 250 dollar buy-in, you're gonna have a hard time, that's not gonna happen to you a lot, I think if you find that you charge for a 250 dollar, for a portrait session, you're gonna find that your sales are gonna be around four to 500 dollars pretty consistently, does that make sense? The photographers I know, that are making the most money in these boutique businesses, you're buying a lot of the products upfront and you're paying a substantial portion of what you're gonna end up paying in the beginning and then it's upselling on top of that a couple of weeks later, when you do an in-person sale, but think about that, that's gonna be pretty true for most people. So can you just clarify for people, what you mean exactly about the buy-in? Is that whatever your studio fee is and does that mean that you're gonna be upselling? Right, it depends, if you're gonna do all upfront sales, like we talked about, a flat fee, okay, your flat fee's 500, you don't wanna do sales after, that's a different business model, but if your plan is to get them to pay money to do the session and you include whatever you include and if your plan is to sell more to them afterwards, whatever they pay upfront is your buy-in, it's gonna be your session fee, plus whatever else you sell them, when you start and then if you sell after, you're gonna find out that pretty much mathematically, 1.5 is gonna be where you end up a lot, so don't think of it as putting a little bit upfront, because you're gonna honestly aggravate more people, than you're gonna satisfy, if they buy in at 250 dollars and you're trying to sell them 2000, it's a big mistake. So if you're doing in-person sales and you have a product you're selling at the beginning, what sort of things are you adding on them with the headshots? Oh, that's a really good question, because unlike other areas of photography, you may not have a lot to sell, but you will find that, depending on how you build your business, you can sell things to people, we sell additional, retouched images, the retouching is a really cool thing to be able to sell, 'cause honestly, most of our clients, they're not gonna want in a typical headshot session, that takes 40 minutes, I may show my client 60 photos to choose from and a lot of them are similar, (laughs) and so they're not gonna want 60 photos of themselves and now they look like this and now they're facing this way, now they're facing this way, you know, we sell the additional, retouched images, I sell different services, clipping services, design services sometimes, where I'll you know, design something for a billboard, that's gonna be up to you, you have to find products in this sort of digital arena, I know of plenty of photographers, that are moving to, even for their professional clients, providing prints, in the Professional Photographer magazine, this month, a friend of mine, Megan DiPiero has like an eight-page spread in there and she does professional headshots, boutique business and she gives a print of every file to her clients and it's a really cool thing and sometimes they don't even know they want it, but it's just included, so she's giving them a finished, physical product and that's a cool way to sort of transition between the portrait and business headshot phase, but you have to sort of come up with products or services, that you can upsell, you have your time and then you have the images of basically the two things that you're selling, so make those two things separate for sure, for me, that's how I do it. One more question on that, that a lot of folks are asking us about, that retouching, you mentioned that, how much time are you factoring into your pricing for retouching and do you ever outsource that? I outsource the bejesus out of retouching, especially large scale, there are plenty of services out there, I use, they did not pay me to say that, so I use them, if I go shoot 400 headshots and sometimes and we'll go over my corporate pricing, the client is prepaying for a certain number of retouched images, that's something I upsell to my corporate clients, I think it's like two dollars and 50 cents for a full retouching on an individual portrait and that's like blemish removal, bags under the eyes, brightening the eyes, skin softening, whatever and so I charge that on to the client, but that's the service that in mass, I outsource it, in small, individual sessions, when somebody's getting three or four images, I do it myself and actually tomorrow, I'm gonna show you how I do that, but you do have to factor in your time, that is the biggest mistake photographers make is they do not consider their time and you have to realize that this is a profit thing, (laughs) it's fun and we enjoy it, but it's a profit thing, if you wanna spend more time having fun on images, go get more clients and spend less time editing each individual and then you've got tons of time to edit on a whole bunch of your clients and you'll have a whole lot more money, but the retouching is definitely something that I leverage, that we charge extra for, because people expect it Yeah. as a thing, how many times are you shooting a session and somebody goes, "Oh, you're gonna retouch that, right?" Oh, I got this, you know, I was shooting a wedding one time and like the uncle of the bride had gotten really drunk, even before the family photos and he had spilled red wine all over his shirt right here, so he's lining up in the family photo, he goes, "Hey, you can Photoshop that out, right?" and I just go, yeah and I just turned him this way. (laughs) (audience laughing) Photoshop, you know. But that is a great thing that you can leverage, both corporate and individual, that's sort of our product is retouching, I've even seen photographers go so far as creating fine art versions of those images, like going even further, stylizing them, creating a presentation that's really dynamic, so there's tons of different ways to do business, you have to figure out what your products are, my products are my time, the images, unretouched and the retouched images and those are the things, that I leverage, I'm sort of a medium volume, when it comes to this, sessions mostly in the 400-ish dollar range, by the time it's all said and done for my individual headshots, 'cause I just don't wanna spend two hours with anyone, okay, alright, except for my brides, except for my brides, I'll spend all day with them.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

6 Styles of Headshots
Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Melville McLean

Gary Hughes is possibly the best teacher I have seen here and that is a very high compliment. His business analysis is simple and to the point. His set ups and techniques are simple and straight forward, no easy task in itself. His interactions with his models/clients are finely developed and reduced into the fewest but most important key exchanges. He teaches by example how to interact and direct. If you are a high volume photography with brief time per sitter, you might especially appreciate his tips. It is extraordinarily difficult to keep a tight, well structured class going live for so long at a time. His intelligence, wit and personality are all in his favor but it is the content itself that is most impressive. I am not a portrait photographer but I have 30 years of commercial studio experience. He knows what is most important, leaves out the rest and has organized the material in anticipation of most difficulties that arise so that it rests in a seamless, smooth, coherent learning experience. All of his practical advice is excellent. Just understand that his work is about doing a relatively large number of shots in the most efficient way rather than a lot of time spent on a few clients for a completely different format [presentation like very large prints. In fact he is especially pragmatic. He emphasizes that you do not have to own the most expensive equipment but you absolutely do have to know how to use the equipment that you already have. And I am telling you this as someone he makes fun of in his course with fancy cameras and Profoto lighting gear. He is an advocate of all thought out approaches as well as relying on skills and knowledge. You will understand how and why to make all of his key, conventional light and posing set ups. He makes everything sound simple and doable -- and with his help -- it is. What you have to appreciate is that it is up to each individual to acquire the specialized skills to make our work compelling enough to be competitive. The unspoken truth that we all face is that talent plays a key role as well and that it takes time to become every accomplished. But I have also seen concentration, commitment and hard work result in developing innate talents that blossom in very successful careers. Mr Hughes reduces every step into the clearest, most essential components. He is self effacing both as a photographer and post process retoucher but he is very good indeed and does not waste time overdoing images that cannot benefit from a larger format presentation. Everything is appropriate and practical. He has already removed everything that does not matter for his purposes for us that would only interfere with the concise, clarity of his presentation.


I am so glad that I had the opportunity to watch this course. It has not only provided valuable lighting set-ups, but also great basics for posing.!. The Photoshop extraction technique Gary demonstrated was icing on the cake. Gary did a great job teaching and I greatly admired the technique in which he taught. Thanks for a great class!


This was an excellent class! The class covered so much information and great tips and ideas. Gary is funny and has an easy going approach, which makes the class that much more enjoyable. As a struggling pet photographer, I have been trying to find something to supplement my business with that does not involve children/babies, or shooting weddings again and headshots seemed to be a great option. After watching this class, I feel confident building up a headshot component to my business. Definitely recommend this class!

Student Work