1. Photo & Video
  2. Portrait

How to Get Started in The Business of Headshot Photography

Scroll to top
Read Time: 9 min

In my Envato Tuts+ course on Headshot Photography, I gave detailed instructions on the equipment and techniques you need to create great headshots, whether for actors, corporate clients, or anyone else.

But what good is being a great headshot photographer if you can’t find any clients? In this video tutorial from the course, you’ll learn how to build a portfolio to attract just the kind of clients you want.

Alright, let's get down to the nitty gritty of what it looks like to start and grow a headshot business. I hope that these actionable steps help you move forward as a professional headshot photographer. The things that you will learn in this lesson are what has worked for me and many other photographers that I know; you may need to tweak some of these things a little bit to fit you or the location that you're working in. But I believe that the principles are solid and will work for just about anyone who wants to be a headshot photographer.

Build Your Basic Headshot Skills

The very first thing that you need to do is to get better as a headshot photographer. Of course, all of the knowledge in the world is pretty much useless until you start to put the things that you're learning into practice. So as you learn more about headshots, make sure that you are practicing what you learn. Shoot every day if you can, even if it's just for a little while. Take the new concepts that you've learned and see if you can pull them off on your own. And see if you even like them.

Practice makes perfect. I suggest asking someone you live with, like a family member or a roommate who really loves you and who has a little bit of patience, to be your practice model. For me, my wife was always a willing model to let me experiment and get better at my photography. This works so well because it's low pressure: you can take your time and get use to setting up your camera and your lighting. If it takes you half an hour to figure out all the technical details of the shoot, it's fine because the person in front of you loves you and will have patience with you. Practice interacting with your subject and learn what works for you to get different expressions. 

Headshot PhotographyHeadshot PhotographyHeadshot Photography

Build the Foundation of Your Headshot Portfolio

Now, once your partner or roommate is fed up with being your model, it's time to widen the pool of potential models to practice on. At this point, email or call some friends and family and let them know what you were doing, and see if any of them are interested in some free headshots in exchange for being your model. As we have established, pretty much everybody needs a good headshot for social media. The other cool thing is that, since you are doing them a favor, you can also ask them to pose for a couple of looks that you may need to round out your portfolio.

For example, maybe your sister agrees to sit for a session because she needs a new photo for her lifestyle blog. Well, you can also ask her to bring a business suit and get a couple of shots of her looking like an executive. And this will help you book more executive jobs.

As you begin to get better as a photographer and as you start to get a good feel for your style, you will want to start building your portfolio. Your portfolio will be a showcase of what you are capable of as a photographer. It will also give your potential clients an idea of how good you are going to make them look.

Focus on the Style of Headshots You Actually Enjoy Making

One of the laws of photography marketing that I have learned is that you will shoot what you will show. In fact, let me say that again: you will shoot what you show.

This means that your current portfolio is a glimpse into the future of the kind of jobs that you are going to be booking. It is very important to not put any photos in your portfolio that you don't enjoy shooting.

If the idea of going to a high rise office building and photographing people who make millions of dollars doesn't sound like your cup of tea, then don't show photos in your portfolio that look like that kind of photo. On the other hand, if you love working with comedians, and you have a knack for making them look great, then make sure that your portfolio is full of comedian head shots. I recommend focusing like this even if it means your portfolio is smaller than you would prefer.

Keep Your Portfolio Tight and Clear

Speaking of small portfolios, one of the most common mistakes I see young photographers making is putting too much in their portfolio.

I know that I was guilty of this. I wanted to show that I had more experience than I actually did, so I put almost every shoot that I had ever done on my portfolio. Instead of showing how much experience I had, what it did was it made me look like a mediocre photographer who had no sense of what his style was. Instead of that, I wish I had carefully chosen the very best photos I had taken of subjects that I loved working with and who I clicked with style-wise.

Don't let this happen to you. If you only have 20 great photos to show, then only show 20 great photos. If you have 12, you have 12, and that's alright. Believe me, it will pay off in the long run and you will get to shoot stuff that you really like.

Put Your Portfolio Online

The next step is to put all of this work on the Internet for the world to see.

There's a million ways to do this. I've seen photographer friends of mine who have run their entire business off Facebook and did really well. I've also seen photographer friends of mine spend thousands of dollars on a slick custom website and do just so-so. My personal preference is somewhere in the middle.

I think you should register a custom domain name, maybe something like your name or the name of your company, and find an inexpensive host for that site. Once you've got that down, do an internet search for photographer portfolio sites. You will find that there are many options available to you. To narrow your choice down, let's cover are a few things that you should look for.

First, make sure that you choose a solution that allows you to use your custom domain name if you have one. Then find a service that has templates that fit your style, whether you want a minimalistic site or a super frilly site, make sure that they have that capability. You also want a portfolio that shows your images really well. You want nice, big, crisp images.

Next, you wanna look at price. You can pay anywhere from nothing to hundreds of dollars a month for a portfolio site. Make sure the price fits your budget and what you're trying to accomplish.

So, once you've made your decision and filled up your portfolio with great photos, you will also wanna provide some information to your potential clients. At the very least, you should have some contact information, including your approximate location or part of town, so that potential clients can get a hold of you. You should also put a little bit about yourself somewhere on the website. Just can be just a quick little paragraph and a photo of yourself, or it can be a blog with tons of content.

Finally, you may want to give some pricing information. This is a pretty touchy subject and everyone seems to have a different opinion. For me, I like to put my prices on the website, or, at least, give my clients an idea where the pricing starts. Your marketing may work differently, and so this is something you have to figure out for yourself.

Book Those Headshot Gigs!

Now that you have a great website, it's time to start sending people to it to see how awesome you are. As far as I'm concerned, there is no better marketing than word-of-mouth referrals. Imagine one of your past clients tells a friend of theirs about the amazing experience they had with you as a photographer. How you made them look great, and you made it easy and even fun to be in front of the camera.

The only thing that you have to do to get marketing like this is to give your clients the tools to tell their friends about you, and then ask them to tell their friends about you. In the beginning, this can be as simple as giving your clients business cards to hand out to friends. Or you can give them referral cards that offer a discount for new clients. When you're starting out, your number one goal is to book as many shoots as you can, even if that means your prices are a little bit lower than you want. If you make it your goal to turn every customer into two or three more customers through referrals, you will have tons of work really quickly.

Once you've built this strong demand and have enough to keep you busy, you can start to raise your pricing to make more money, and to make sure you aren't working too much. At this point, you pretty much have a repeatable system, where you continue to get more and more referrals, and slowly continue to raise your pricing. If you are really good at what you do, the sky is the limit to how busy you can be and how much you can charge.

On a final note, as with any business, your local government will probably have some regulations that need to be followed. Whether it's licenses that need to be obtained or taxes that need to be paid, it's very important that you know your new responsibilities as a business owner, and that you steer clear of any violations of your local laws and regulations. Sometimes having a lawyer can help a lot in this situation.

Watch the Full Course

Headshot Photography is a great way to get started as a people photographer. In the full course, Headshot Photography, you will learn how to find clients, take great photos of them, and deliver amazing product to them. Whether you want to photograph actors, CEOs, or just regular people who need a profile photo, this course will lay out the knowledge and skills you will need to be successful as a headshot photographer. In our next lesson, we talk about gear: I will show you some of the gear that I use in my business, and I will also give you some guidance on picking out the bare minimum gear when you're just starting out.

Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Photo & Video tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
One subscription. Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads