Why Are Professional Headshots So Expensive?

Someone looking to get their first professional-quality headshots taken might find themselves surprised by the price. Why are they so expensive and how do photographers justify charging so much money for so little of their time?

Kevin Patrick Robbins has spent his fair share of time in the headshot photography business, and in this short video, he runs through why this type of photographic service costs as much as it does. KPR makes an excellent point when it comes to what many assume is calculated as an hourly rate: a client is not paying for a photographer’s time. As he explains, there’s a lot more to it than that. As he emphasizes, more time does not mean better quality.

Wedding photographers will also be able to relate to clients assuming that their services should be a lot cheaper, especially when their cousin’s daughter’s new boyfriend has offered to shoot the entire day for a couple of hundred dollars.

Convincing clients that paying good money for professional services means receiving a high-quality product can be exhausting, especially when you’re competing with photographers who are more than prepared to work at low rates in order to add to their portfolio. Fortunately, videos like this make it easier to explain to prospective clients why your services cost so much.

How do you explain to clients why your headshots cost what they cost? Let us know in the comments below.

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Christian Lainesse's picture

Ask the client how much he charges per hour for his services, then ask why would someone pay him that much when it's possible to have the same services offshore at a fraction of the cost.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I charge £10,000 for an e-commerce shot of bananas... but I do them infrequently. I can relate to your infrequent portrait business.

But at that start rate for a sitting, we're just dying to see the portfolio of what you produce.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Oh, man! I must have really done a number on 'ya. Remember when you said you don't think about me at all, well, now, this is at least the second time you've mentioned my name in a post. LOL! You just couldn't let it go, could 'ya. Haha. Grow some skin and move on.

Lastly, I've already read all your excuses why you don't have an online portfolio, that's why I didn't bring it up this thread. I don't need to hear it again. Ah, BTW, you forgot to mention one of the reasons you don't post images online is because you've had images stolen before. Funny how you've left that off in response here. This is the problem when you make shit up as you go along, you forget what you said the last time.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture


Deleted Account's picture

Literally every time I see you commenting, you are being condescending, and acting like you are a top pro. Fair enough, so I decided I would go and read through your comments.

I think the below is my favourite ($4,500 you say?).

On the Internet you can be whatever you want.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm sure a professional, who is charging top dollar, has good reason to use a bottom of the range DSLR from 2012.

Deleted Account's picture

Apparently you are too obtuse to comprehend I'm calling BS.

And I don't really care that you own an 8x10; I shot large format for a few years too. It's just a tool.

Deleted Account's picture

You do realise you're fooling no one?

Deleted Account's picture

Replying to yourself.


Lee Christiansen's picture

Several days with clients to learn what they want...? Ah I see now...

So your hourly rate is actually quite low compared to mine. No wonder you don't want to shoot portraits much - particularly if that pot has to pay out for 2 or more people.

As Jack says, it is easy to big it up on the web. It is easy to inflate prices. And apparently with your startup rate of $4500 just for a sitting fee and you turning away 95% of enquiries, you must have much more wonderfully lucrative photography work elsewhere. (Unless they al require a week of "thinking time" too?)

Remember, a lot of here are pros- and we can smell BS from a mile away.

Heck I've done jobs that have paid £2000 - £3000 ($2700-$4000) for a single hour's work - but I don't try and claim that's my usual rate.

And we're all suspecting your rates claim is baloney too, particularly if your client has to have you around for a week before you can "understand" what they want...

And then to show all this wonderfulness off - you just show on an iPad... Ah, it did make me smile.

Just as well you're so secretive about your portfolio. Otherwise you'd have to turn away 150% of all enquiries. :)

Lee Christiansen's picture

No not at all. Your post and boast amused us all.

Deleted Account's picture

Your responses reveal far more about you than they do about your interlocutors.

That little dopamine hit you get every time someone responds is wonderful, isn't it? It almost makes you feel validated, and as though you have some value.

At a practical level, provoking arguments with random strangers on the Internet will not help you with that feeling that you are a failure.

Deleted Account's picture

Apparently you are also too obtuse to comprehend that pseudonym was deliberate.

For someone who makes a show of using big words, you're none too bright.

Deleted Account's picture

I pity you. Honestly.

No doubt you'll keep trying to boost your poor self-esteem by putting down random strangers. But it won't help.

Anyway, I'm bored of you.

Deleted Account's picture

Since you so desperately wish to know, I'm grabbing a camera and going for a walk.

Deleted Account's picture

Holy crap, you are pathetic.

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, I bet your 2 inch member is quivering with excitement at your skillful besting of me.

At the end of the day, you're nothing more than a lonely bitter failure of an old man, hiding behind a keyboard, provoking arguments with random strangers on the Internet.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Seriously - that's the best you've got...?

(That fun moment was an unscripted moment of fun on a highly paid job, which together with another set of fun images with earned me multiple commissions - because my clients like it that they can enjoy themselves with me too. A true pro knows it is as much about the personality of a photographer as the pictures, which will often secure work. And in the UK we care less about our teeth).

Now - publish your portfolio and I'll critique yours.

You see, those of us who actually earn a good living for 30 years in this trade, we publish our images because they're good enough to publish. And clients like them so much, they give us work...

Like many of the successful photographers here, I've shot stuff which is limited by NDAs so I can't publish. (I've a private client base with millionaires and billionaires for whom I've shot countless portraits and parties with immediate members of royal families), but it doesn't effect my portfolio because I've shot so much other stuff. And like the other guys here, we've got soooo much we can publish.

But you, and you "my work is secret" claim has us laughing at you. And then your further claims have us in stitches because when a lie gets bigger, it usually gets sillier.

Now I've had my fun and I've laughed at you. We all have had some fun at your expense and, just like a child who's claim is "my daddy is bigger than your daddy," you're stomping your feet with insults to some and hopeless critiques to others... But it would be unfair to continue lest I make you more upset.

Our guess is that you still live at home with mommy and maybe once had the opportunity to take a picture for someone and they maybe paid you. You tinker with your hobby and persuade yourself that no one can book you because you're just so darn picky, and you feel left out here when the grownups chime in.

So I'll not pursue you anymore with retorts or responses. (Alas, it may be the only company you have). But know that everyone here can see through the thin veil of pretend you hold up, and it would be better to slide away gently - unless of course you truly do crave the attention.

Now - stay away from traffic, and don't put your fingers in any electrical sockets... there's a good boy...

Deleted Account's picture

I can tell you a few things about Mr Davis.

1. He's a retired programmer.

2. He's in his mid-70s.

3. He's being honest about his cameras.

4. His attempts to impres others on here by telling them he owns an 8x10, combined with consistent attempts to demonstrate his superiority over other at their expense, would suggest he is desperate for the respect ("esteem", as Maslow would put it) of others - an all too common motivator online.

Reading down, the fact he is using a bottom of the range DSLR from 2012 (which can be purchased for $150), would draw a solid inference he is not exactly making great money (if any) from his photography.

Further, the lack of work in the public domain is also telling. He asserts he is shooting 8x10; the clear implication that he is selling limited edition prints for significant sums; as we know, the value o of such output is in the print, and has nothing to do with the low resolution jpg one would place in the Internet.

It may therefore be reasonably inferred that Mr Davis is not proud of the images he produces; his personality is such, that if he was legitimate, he would be directing others to view his images, and proudly declaring he is better than others.

Ultimately, humans all present uniquely; however, our hierarchy of motivations is universal.

Mr Davis is, in all probability, just another person who has spent his life working an unfulfilling job, and is now a lonely old man, filled with regret.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Game, set, match.

Lutte Kikker's picture

Wow, I was looking for some inside information about why headshots are sometimes very expensive but instead I read a lot of off topic answers. Not that it is really helping people that are about to shoot corporate headshots, but I really hope the way you guys talk to eachother is how most corporate photographers communicate with eachother. How do you find companies anyway that are willing to pay those amounts of money for headshot photography? They are filthy rich companies or something?

Deleted Account's picture

Ask Mr Davis; he informed us he charges $4,500 per sitting.

Deleted Account's picture

Headshots don’t have to be expensive. If you look around there are plenty of great photographers offering services at reasonable rates. Plenty of others are underpricing and still others are overpricing. Price is only a reflection of how any particular photographer values their own time and skillset. It’s not a reflection of quality, value, or anything else.

Nick Rains's picture

If you price your product based on what it costs you to run your business then you will go bust quick smart. Prices are generally based on the value to the customer, and if you have a strong brand then that factors in too (it's called marketing). No client ever cared that you pay for memberships of professional associations or used Broncolor strobes rather than Jinbei. They just want good results and if those expenses/investments help you achieve that then that's your decision.

It is entirely possible to make very decent money charging $100 per headshot - you just have to do a lot of them. It is also possible to make excellent money charging $1000 per headshot but you won't get away with knocking them off in 5 mins each.

There are many different business models involved with what I think of as 'retail' photography - weddings, family portraits, headshots, corporate portraits etc. Some are based on time, some on sitting fees some on print sales. Do what works for you, but never try to justify your prices by whining about costs!

derek j's picture

charge the amount people are willing to pay you. the rest is irrelevant.

Emmanuel Ifeanyi's picture

Its best to ask the full details of the services for outdoor job. But focus more on giving quality services.

alberto cabrera's picture

I've gotten quality corporate headshots for much less than $200 a shot. As a creative director, I never hired a photographer for just one headshot. Usually I group everyone I need shot into a half day. Now, for myself, I never charged more than $150 for a single standard headshot. I am not referring to a conceptual portrait for a feature story. Client comes in, you direct them in front of a backdrop and shoot. Should not take more than 10 mins for the photo and about 15 min process and print. Hell, I've done headshots for agencies for 55 a pop. I get about 100 models and make $5500 for 4 hours of shooting and if I did everything right, about 10 to 15 mins on the comp.

I respect the guy charging what he charges, but to say beware a photog that charges less than $200 a headshot because they suck. Is a very arrogant thing to say.