How to Find the Best Modeling Headshot Photographer

So, you’re ready to launch your modeling career, find an agency, or perhaps you’re already working with one, and in need of headshots. There’s advice out there to not get professional headshots done until you’ve already earned the attention of an agent, that selfies will work, and there’s also advice that you should get professional headshots done if you want to get an agency’s attention. Whichever you opt for, you will ultimately need professional photos for your modeling portfolio to grow successful. So, how can you be sure to get the best model headshots?

Model: Sara Murphy; Photographer: TheLightCommittee

Finding the Best Modeling Headshot Photographer

If you live in New York, London, or Los Angeles, finding the best headshot photographer is difficult. But, there are many things you can do and must consider, to find one. It starts with some research to make a list.

You should plan on spending 2-3 hours to find a good photographer. You’ll want to start with an online search and organize a list based on reviews. Then, you should further organize the list by those that have the most reviews and also the highest ratings. From this, make a list of around 25 photographers.

Next, see if they have a commercial studio. Some photographers have a home studio or no studio. You may be comfortable working with a photographer without a commercial studio. This is fine but, if not, it’s one way to start reducing the number of photographers on your list.

Do some research on their location and consider how far you’re willing to travel. This should shorten your list. Make your list even shorter by removing photographers on your list that have reviews from only one or two trusted sources and then rank photographers based on their rates. If they don’t list rates, you can inquire later if you think they have compelling work, but, for now, this might reduce your list to around 5-10 photographers.

Model: Jade Kanapina; Photographer: TheLightCommittee

How to Gauge the Photographer’s Portfolio

Now you need to see their work – how good is their portfolio? There are several things to consider, but first, be sure that you view their portfolio from the largest screen possible. This means a desktop monitor or laptop, not a smartphone.

Despite the perception that everyone only uses their smartphones, serious work is done on larger screens. Around half of all Internet access is done on a desktop and when people use a desktop to view websites they spend 25 percent longer doing it. So, do the same yourself. Don’t rely on a smartphone for two primary reasons. First, if you’re on your phone, you’re likely on the go or somewhere where you can’t focus, but, more importantly, use a desktop so you can see how good the quality is on a large screen. It’s easy for almost any photo to look okay on a smartphone because they’re small.

Good quality headshots will clearly stand out, but, also look for obvious glaring issues. The website should allow you to see larger versions of photos than a thumbnail, via a simple click. Remember, the smaller a photo, the more it can deceive you into looking good.

If clicking a photo doesn’t let you view them in a larger format – another reason why this process shouldn’t be done on a smartphone – don’t be afraid to ask a photographer to email you larger examples of their work.

Model: Isabel Umelo; Photographer: TheLightCommittee

Learning What Value the Headshot Photographer Offers

You can shorten your list by figuring out the value a model headshot photographer can provide. This can be a mix of their rate, how many looks and photos you get, is retouching done, and how fast are they in delivering the goods.

You should also figure out how they provide the finished photos. What each photographer offers can vary widely. Be sure to get it in writing. If it’s not readily listed on their website, ask them to email you a summary of what’s included. This way there are no surprises.

Another consideration for the value you’re getting is if they have a studio and what equipment they’ll use. This is important because you might have a shot list that includes certain colored backgrounds or locations and for multiple looks. Does the photographer have those options to make it happen for you?

Model: Diana Barseghyan; Photographer: TheLightCommittee

Dissecting the Equipment a Photographer Uses for Headshots

Learning a bit about the gear a photographer uses is important for two reasons. The better the gear, the better the quality you’ll have in the photos, potentially. Also, it can be a good indicator of how much knowledge a photographer has for using the gear.

Don’t be afraid to ask a photographer what camera they shoot with. Do they have studio lights and what brand are they too? Do they do anything in particular with their studio lights? What about post-production? What software do they use and why?

Ask about their studio or lack thereof. Why is their studio good? If you want natural light how close can you get to good locations from their studio? If they don’t have a studio, what do you they do – do they rent one, have a home studio, or just use natural light?

It’s ideal to work with a photographer with access to a studio and good outdoor locations because you’re going to need photos for both. It’s good to ask these questions of a photographer, even if you don’t fully understand everything. It helps you feel if they fully understand themselves. You could also do a search for the gear or process they say they use to read up a bit about it.

Model: Sara Murphy; Photographer: TheLightCommittee

Technical Considerations Behind a Good Headshot

A good headshot can be broken down into having four parts and each part being of around 25 percent in value. If you have all four parts, you have a 100 percent good headshot. If one part is missing, it’s likely approximately 25 percent inferior to what you might be able to get elsewhere. If two parts are missing, it might be only half as good as what you can get elsewhere, and so on. The four parts are having a good creative photographer that has the technical skill to use a high-end camera and lighting, use of a good camera, use of good lighting, and use of good post-production techniques.

We’ve already covered the essentials to figuring out how good a photographer is by assessing their portfolio. As for their gear, again, consider asking about it. What is the brand of the camera they use and can they tell you a bit about its technical abilities. How about the lighting equipment they use – what is the brand and can they tell you a bit about its technical capabilities. The same thing for their post-production work – ask what software they use, if any, and their process or thinking behind retouching.

As for the actual headshot itself, a good photographer should at least provide a file that is print-quality so you can make prints as needed. You’ll also want to convert these files to online versions. Some websites you’ll need to post to will limit the file size you can upload and often a print-quality file will exceed these limits. If you can’t convert the photos to web versions will your photographer do it for you?

There are many things you can do to be sure of your photographer, from making sure they know what they’re doing with a camera and lighting, to being sure they’ll provide files you can use. You need to accept that finding a good photographer can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, and that’s why there is a necessary process to it.


Rafael Larin is a headshot photographer with a studio in the Los Angeles area. Rafael operates the Headshots by The Light Committee studio and in addition to providing model headshots also provides actor, corporate, lifestyle and musician headshots.

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