Most headshot photographers have a certain number of photos that already come included with their packages, and you can then buy extra retouched photos and pay per each extra headshot you purchase. You might be trying to decide which package to go for and are not sure how many headshots you will need in your professional portfolio. In this article I will talk you through the main factors that you should keep in mind when deciding how many headshots you need.
The first part of the article is more focused on professional headshots, and the second part on acting headshots, but I would recommend reading both parts if you are an actor as the first part feeds into the second part of the article.
How many headshots do I need
When deciding how many headshots you need the main two factors to consider are outfits and facial expression.
In real life your body language and facial expression change depending on the situation, and we normally tend to pick clothes that are suitable for the specific situation that we need them for.
For that reason most of us have in their wardrobes items of clothing that can be suitable for different occasions.
Headshots are the same thing, and depending on what you need them for, and where you intend to use them, certain facial expressions/outfits might work better than others.
As an example a headshot with a confident, but serious facial expression, wearing a suit, on a gray background, will have a completely different mood than a headshot wearing just a shirt, with a smile on your face, and a natural background.
If you need to use your headshots to promote yourself you will likely end up using them across multiple platforms, and possibly even your own website.
The more formal headshot might work great as your Linkedin profile photo, but you might want something a bit more informal and relaxed to use on your Instagram page or the about page on your website.
There are many different faces to every single one of us, and there are so many nuances to our facial expression, that you won’t be able to capture them all in just one photo. The thing I come across the most often with my customers is when there are a couple of photos with just a small difference in facial expression, but that small nuance in facial expression makes a world of difference, and the customer decides to get both photos as they like them both equally and each photo has certain uniqueness.
You also need to consider that as much as you might like your headshot, you might also like to change it every once in a while, just like you would not wear the same t-shirt every day.
Do also consider, that even though you might have initially only needed the headshot as a Linkedin profile photo, you could be contacted from a headhunter for a job opening, and they might need you to send them a headshot, or you might need one for a press release or company website page.
Just like you would pick a specific outfit for a particular event, you ideally want to have a headshot that fits a specific purpose.
As an example you might prefer a more casual and friendly looking headshot for your Linkedin page, but you might also need a more formal headshot for your company page.
For all of those reasons I would recommend getting at least 3 headshots, but ideally 5. That will give you enough variety in terms of facial expressions and outfits.
You will also notice that most headshot photographers will tend to include more photos with their longer, and more expensive sessions.
If you want more variety, you will be better off booking the longer session. That is because, even though you could of course book the shorter session, and then purchase extra photos, the shorter session will not give you as much variety due to time constraints, and you will likely end up with very similar photos, at which point it might not be worth purchasing any extra ones.
How many headshots should an actor have
Just like I was explaining in the first part of the article, different outfits will fit different occasions, and different headshots will fit different purposes.
Think about it this way, if a casting director is casting for a period drama, and the role you are going for is to play the part of a villain, well a smiley and bright headshot will likely not do. You would be better off with a moody headshot that adds mystery and drama to the photo.
In order to create the right mood the photographer will use a specific lighting set up, and there are plenty of different ways in which the light can be tweaked and adjusted in order to create exactly the results you are after.
As an example, by increasing the distance between the background and the subject, and by using a smaller light source, angled from the side, it is possible to darken the background, and increase the depth and contrast in the photo, which will give you a moodier look.
However, by having a larger light source coming from the top, with a reflector underneath the person’s face, and by reducing the distance between the person and the background, you will achieve a brighter look, with less contrast, and the photo will have a lighter mood to it.
Depending on which part you are going for, ideally you want to have a headshot that fits the mood of the role.
The final mood of the shot will be determined by the lighting set-up, your facial expression, the outfit you are wearing, and the background.
As you can see there are quite a few elements that need to work together seamlessly in order to create the right mood, and by mixing all of these elements you can get plenty of different combinations.
So my recommendation would be to focus on a few key looks you want to get and go from there. Try to think about which parts you would like to be cast for, and it might help to focus on facial expression to get an idea of how many key looks you should get.
As an example you could have a confident and approachable facial expression, a smiley facial expression, and a moody and mysterious one. That would give you three distinct looks to pick from when applying for roles.
Then if you pick a timeless background and outfit combination that will allow you to use your headshots for multiple roles without having to worry about whether your headshot will fit the mood of the part.
Said that, if you try too hard to get headshots that can fit multiple purposes, you might end up with a “jack of all trades master of none” headshot.
My personal recommendation would be to book a longer shoot, get creative, and get as many looks as possible.
You can then pick your favourite ones, and most photographers will allow you to pick extra photos even after the shoot, just check with them for how long after the session they will allow you to purchase extra photos.
As for the professional headshots, I would recommend getting at least 3 headshots, but for acting I would say 5 is a more reasonable number.
Said that how many you will pick will also depend on the variety you managed to get during the shoot. If the photographer did not manage to create much variety and all the photos look pretty much the same, then even 3 headshots might be too many.
For this reason I would always recommend going for the longer sessions as they will allow you to get more creative, and give you much more variety.
Do also keep in mind that as your appearance changes, and I am not just talking about age, but even things like getting a new haircut, you might need to refresh your headshots.
For these reasons I would recommend having a cap on how many headshots you buy.
As an example, if you know you are going to get new ones every year, give yourself a budget as to how much you want to spend on headshots per year.
I hope this will help you decide how many headshots you should get, and do not hesitate to get in touch with me should you have any questions.
About the author:
David Tramontan is a professional headshot photographer based in East London.
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