How to start your successful headshots business. Part I


Few people asked me about my headshots business and I decided it will be better if I write a blog post mostly for photographers who would like to start doing some headshots in their spare time to have additional income. 

I starting taking headshots in November 2015 and today is April 30, 2016, so I'm doing it for half a year. I had a break when I was travelling in Sri Lanka and Kenya for a photography assignment but all in all I photographed several hundreds people. Mostly actors and dancers, sometimes businessmen and other professions. 

I always liked portraits but my style had a lot of shadows. I had to learn what headshots are all about. Actor headshots have to show exactly how the actor is. The job of a person depends on it. I watched few courses on Creative Live, set up a studio in my living room. The next question was how to find clients. 

Why would you want to do headshots? 

I feel like doing headshots is a bit like a psychotherapy and photography at the same time. I need to make people feel relaxed and comfortable. Besides, I genuinely enjoy listening people's stories. It's also about helping other person get a job. I made sure to charge an absolute minimum possible to make sure that more people can afford it and paying for my service will pay off. 

How to find clients

Step 1 (Friends) 

First I photographed my friends for free. I promised one headshot of their choice that they will get on the next day. I always felt that letting people select is the best strategy. 

Step 2 (Social media) 

I found few groups on Facebook and made a lot of promotional shoots. I would ask people to post their photo and if their look is something I need for my portfolio I would photograph them for free and they'll get a headshot of their choice as a result. On my first promotion I got 250 people willing to come and do it. I think, first month I shot about 80 people just to spread the word. 

I shared that I do headshots on social media that I'm using. 

Step 2.1

I printed flyers and when people would come I would ask to take some and spread the word. I would promise few more retouches if they bring me new clients (and if they bring me five clients a complimentary headshots shoot). 

Step 3

I created a portfolio and was constantly improving my work watching courses about retouching skin and doing headshots (mostly on Creative Live)

Now I have sometimes up to 15 clients a week.. I have to pace myself to have enough time to retouch, my personal projects and have enough energy to be fresh for each client. 


1) People ask me if they shall take a deposit or ask people to pay in advance. I don't!! Why? Because they are actors and may have an audition and need to cancel. It's just nature of this industry. I don't want my clients to feel stressed. I feel like only 5% cancels and come later. No point for deposit really. I only ask for deposit if I do big shoots (brands, body shots, dance shoots, etc.), on headshots, not really. I know I charge the lowest price in my neighbourhood and most agents are happy with results. If they are not I don't mind re-doing it. 

2) I give people all the shots I take on the day. It costs me nothing. I ask to select 4 headshots for me to retouch. I feel like people pay me for taking shots and retouching them. I don't mind them having all of them as a memory. It costs me to additional time. I do charge for additional retouched headshots. 

3) I have few make-up artists I worked with several times. It's always handy to have few of them if a client wants their make-up to be done. I often have such request. I work with five different make-up artists, all were brilliant. It's not hard to find a decent make-up artist on Facebooks groups where actors and creatives are. Once I had a client with a broken arm, so it was impossible to do without a make-up artist. She was a dancer, so needed her make-up to be done. 

4) Clothes choice

Always ask to bring several plain colour outfits with different neckline. 

5) No shaving

Some clients want to shave and this way to have variety of shots. I usually make sure they understand that the skin will likely be irritated and I won't be able to spend extra time on fixing it. Some people still go for shaving. I personally don't mind it as long as they understand the result may not be what they expect. 

6) Relationship with other headshots photographers

Build good relationship. I travel with my photography quite a lot and when I'm away I usually ask other photographers to photograph clients who need an urgent headshots. My friends photographers travel too and send their clients to me. There're few photographers I absolutely admire their work. 

7) Talk to your clients why they need headshots. Understand what kind of expressions, clothes choice they would need. If it's a business client I still try to connect talking about family, hobbies or even about their job. I think, I know more about finance now than I knew before. It's all about making people feel comfortable and relaxed. 

8) It costs nothing to be kind. 

Part II will be about light equipment and settings 

Part III about post-processing