Learn how to price headshot sessions with confidence

One of the most frequently asked questions in the Cole’s Classroom Facebook group is about how to price headshots.

Pricing headshots feels more difficult than other sessions. But it doesn’t have to be. We have a few tips on how to price headshot sessions and set yourself up for success.

How to price headshot sessions

What types of headshots are there?

There are a few different types of headshots you may be asked to take. These include:

  • Traditional corporate shots
  • Environmental portraits
  • Personal branding images

Traditional corporate headshots are usually head and shoulders or half-body shots taken against a traditional background.

Environmental portraits are portraits taken in the natural environment of the subject. A realtor, for example, might request an environmental portrait taken in a house listed for sale. A makeup artist would request a portrait taken in her studio. They are usually head and shoulders or half body portraits but could be a different composition per your client’s request.

Personal branding images are more casual type of environmental portrait. These types of sessions create imagery for social media influencers that they can use to promote their business.

Headshot sessions can be completed with natural light or studio lighting, depending on your photography style. As you’ll see from the images in this tutorial, headshots can look like a LOT of different things.

traditional headshot

What are headshots used for?

Clients usually seek headshots for some sort of business, or commercial. They may want an image for an ad, a website, a business card or even product packaging.

This is an important distinction to remember because it’s a commercial reason (meaning it will help your client make money) and your client will probably not want prints. If your business model revolves around in-person sales, you’ll have to approach headshot requests differently.

Headshot sessions might include real estate agents, multi-level marketing representatives, authors, doctors, motivational speakers, teachers, business owners, business employees, attorneys, political candidates or government officials.

Why does headshot pricing feel so hard?

New photographers struggle greatly with how to price headshots. I personally think it’s because we photographers often compare a headshot session to other types of sessions we offer, like a family session. If we hold up the final product of a headshot session (usually just 1 image) to a family session (5-25 or more images), that single image feels really expensive. And we feel guilty about that.

But family sessions and headshot sessions are two different animals and should be priced separately. So put your other kinds of sessions away and focus just on how to price headshots.

I like to compare it to getting my hair cut at a quick cut place vs. going to my regular salon. The end result is roughly the same (my hair is shorter) and the appointment takes about the same time. But the experience is quite different and the finished result is always better quality. So it goes with headshot sessions…it’s a higher-end experience with different goals than a family session.

Headshot pricing strategies

I can’t tell you what charge for your headshot sessions. I see photographers offering headshot sessions for as little as $50 up to more than $1,000 for high-end photographers like Peter Hurley. Honestly, your pricing should be based on your cost of doing business, profit goals, market and even your experience.

So if you haven’t already, figure out your cost of doing business. We’ve got a great tutorial on that to help you get started.

Based on those factors above, you should have an idea of what you want/need to get paid for a certain amount of work. Some photographers use a day rate (and half a day rate), while others will use an hourly rate. Either way, have that number in mind as you move through the following pricing strategies.

Strategy 1 – Charge a creative fee plus a licensing fee.

This is a common strategy when planning how to price a headshot session. You charge a session fee, also called a creative fee, just to take the headshots. Then, the client pays for licensing, or usage, of each image.

The license fee accounts for how the image will be used, where the image will be seen and how long the license is valid.

The benefit of using this method is it lest you create a sliding scale for images. The wider the audience or the longer the image will be used, the more the licensing fee would be. For example, a licensing fee for a single image for a local Pampered Chef rep to use on her website would be less than a gubernatorial candidate who will use the image in multiple locations across your state.

The downside of using this method is the concept of licensing isn’t always well understood by clients not familiar with commercial advertising. It can be hard to explain and quantify to potential clients. And you’ll be responsible for policing those licenses and usage.

There’s also a chance that your client won’t purchase as many images as you thought at first. So make sure your creative fee is enough that you feel good about how much you made for just completing the job.

What would a sliding scale look like?

Something like this, for example, adjusted for your specifics of course.

Local one-time web-only usage – $150/image
Local one-time print usage – $200/image
Unlimited local usage – $500/image
Regional one-time web usage – $250/image
Regional one-time print usage – $350/image
Unlimited regional usage – $700/image
National web-only usage – $500/image
National print usage – $750/image
Unlimited national usage – $1500

Again, these numbers are just placeholders. Please don’t use them as a guide for your pricing because I just randomly made them up.

Strategy 2 – Charge one fee for a set number of images, including usage.

A second strategy to use when you decide how to price headshots is to simply charge a flat fee for a set number of images. The advantage of this option is that you don’t have to get into the details of licensing with your client. You give them a single price that they can easily understand.

That’s not to say you can’t charge a different price for different use. You simply ferret out that use before you provide the quote.

One disadvantage of this strategy is that you might be leaving money on the table. If you don’t specifically draw out a licensing agreement and your client uses the image in ways you didn’t originally incorporate into your quote, there’s no way to recover that revenue.

As you set your prices, remember there is no real opportunity to upsell when it comes to headshot sessions. Occasionally a client might buy a second pose, but not very often. They pick their favorite and move on. Rarely will they ever have a need for a canvas or print and rarely will they ever buy a whole gallery of headshots. So don’t plan on earning income on the back end of a headshot session. Charge what you need to upfront.

Need more help on pricing in general? Check out our course, Key Insights to Running a Photography Business. The first lesson is free!

How do I price personal branding sessions?

Personal branding sessions are a relatively new type of session. They aren’t quite a headshot session but aren’t really a family session either. I suggest treating this niche independently of learning how to price headshots.

Check out our complete guide to personal branding here!

How to price group headshots

How much should I charge for group headshots?

Some headshots session requests come from businesses or firms wanting an image of each of their employees. You can quote this job using either strategy from above. For example, you could quote the company a half-day rate as your creative fee, then charge a license fee for each individual image. Or simply quote a single price for the entire job, taking into account how they will use the images. If they want a photo of the whole group, don’t forget to include that in your estimate and pricing.

For example, if a local physical therapy office came to me and said they’d like a headshot session for 10 employees so they could update their website, I would quote them as follows.

Strategy 1 – Charge a creative fee plus a licensing fee.

Using strategy 1 of a creative fee plus a licensing fee, I would charge them a creative fee based on my hourly rate plus a web licensing fee for each of the 10 images. Using completely arbitrary numbers (because my costs/market/experience are not your cost/market/experience), I would charge a $1000 creative fee, plus a $50 web licensing fee per image. So the whole job would cost the company $1,500, or about $150 per image. I would break those costs out on my estimate that I provide.

Strategy 2 – One fee that includes everything

Alternately, I could simply quote them $1500 for the session and up to web resolution 10 images. Additional images could be purchased at $150 per image.

Either way, I’m essentially making the same amount for the session. It’s just how it’s perceived by the client.

I always specify how many subjects and final images are included in the package so that clients can’t decide to add additional people into your shoot without paying an additional cost.

Headshots during family sessions

How to price headshots during a family session

If you’re a small community photographer like me, you’ll often get asked to do a “quick headshot” during a family session.

How should you respond? Again, you have to do what feels right for you and your business. You could:

  • Say no, you’ll need to book a separate headshot session
  • Build goodwill with your clients and say yes with no extra fees
  • Say yes but require a separate licensing fee for use of that headshot

There’s no right answer here, just what’s right for your business. My policy is to take the headshot during the family session but charge a separate license fee for the client’s use of that image. I put those images in their own gallery with their own pricing and treat them separately from the rest of the family session. I explain all this to the client upfront (along with prices) so that they don’t feel misled when they get a separate bill for the headshot license fee later.

$200 for one image!?! What to say when clients complain about your headshot pricing

As I said before, when we look at how to price headshots, we are comparing them with other sessions we probably offer. So are potential clients.

Expect some pushback from clients on your pricing. But stick to it. You might only be shooting for 15 to 20 minutes during a client session, but there’s a lot of work that goes into a great headshot session. And remember, if you are shooting a headshot session, you aren’t shooting another kind of session that could command that fee.

I don’t ever justify my pricing to clients. But I do educate them about what’s included with their session fee. I explain what they receive for their fee but I don’t get into an argument. If they decide they only want to pay $75 for a headshot, that’s up to them to find a photographer to fit their budget.

My response would be something like this:

“Your private headshot session includes your choice of background and one outfit change. Prior to your session, we will discuss wardrobes and backgrounds. I’ll help you cultivate just the right look for your session.

Then, we will discuss how you will use this headshot and what sort of image you want to portray. We’ll work through a variety of poses to make you look your best and achieve the aesthetic you want. I coach you through each pose and work to get genuine and natural expressions from you.

While ultimately you might end up choosing a single image, you’ll have several in your gallery to choose from, so you can pick just the right photo for your needs. Your session also includes complimentary retouching as needed and a lifetime usage license for your image.”

You can also add value to your headshot sessions by offering hair and/or make-up artist services, different backgrounds, multiple images for the price, etc. Don’t forget to calculate those value-added pieces when you are deciding how to price headshots.

The potential client might still think that’s too high for a single image. And I’m okay with that. There’s a price for every client and a client for every photographer. You need to be okay with people not wanting to pay your prices.

Check out our tutorial on poses to flatter females!

Environmental portraits

Why should I offer headshot photography services?

Headshots are a type of photography that is always in season and if you can shoot indoors, you can offer them year-round. Headshots are a great complement to other types of photography IF they are something you enjoy doing. I also find they are a great way to build a clientele for your other types of sessions. If you’re taking images for a dentist’s office, that’s 15 clients you can connect with and impress, making them more likely to remember you when it’s time for family pictures, etc.

How do I advertise my headshot photography services?

Marketing your headshot photography services is just like marketing other areas of your photography business. Start by identifying your ideal headshot photography clients. Then brainstorm ways to get your name and work in front of them. If you need some headshot images for your portfolio first, set up a model call or reach out to other photographers and take headshots for one another. Ideas to advertise your photography services include:

  • Direct mail or marketing piece to local businesses explaining your services
  • Networking at community business events
  • Headshot mini sessions and conferences or events
  • Bring a friend session – offer two clients each a discount if they share their session
  • Show what you want to shoot. If you want to shoot more headshot sessions, start showing more headshots on your website and in your social media feeds.
  • Collaborate with another business. You provide free or discounted headshot sessions in exchange for something of similar value from another business. You can trade your services for other services you want (think makeup artists, hairstylists, massage therapists, seamstresses, boutiques, etc.).

For more ideas on how to collaborate with other vendors, check out our tutorial here!

It might seem really overwhelming deciding how to price headshots. But it shouldn’t. Pricing your headshot sessions starts by not comparing them to the other kinds of sessions you offer and treating them as a high-end, valuable experience in your own mind first. Once you understand the value you bring to a headshot session, it becomes easy to convey that value to your clients.

When it comes to how to price headshot sessions, first know your costs and how much you want to make. Then do some market research into the pricing in your area for photographers of your skill and settle on a pricing strategy. Rock your sessions and your pricing!