Why Are Headshots Expensive?

You’ve reached the point where you’ve decided that you need a headshot. Maybe you’ve tried DIY a bit, and it just doesn’t quite cut it, so you’re considering a professionally taken headshot. Like most people, you have no idea what it costs.

How Much Are Headshots?

Headshots can indeed appear quite costly, especially if you’re not used to professional photography. Photography isn’t something most people require every day, and it’s easy to assume that having a photo taken with a professional camera shouldn’t cost much.

Let’s face it, the closest thing you’ve had to a headshot is probably your passport photo at the post office for $15. Cheap! But the post office doesn’t make its money from passport photos. It’s basically a loss-making service they must offer because they are the government’s designated agency for passport applications. Those quick snapshots? Captured in about 10 seconds, using a camera set up years in the past with buttons nobody there understands.

Chances are, you’re not overly thrilled with your passport picture. Hence, you might be willing to invest a bit more for a better result. But what’s the right price for a quality headshot?

In the past, you could visit a local shopping center and find photography shops offering quick shots. They had a steady revolving door of customers and provided a simple standard setup for everyone. They may have had 50 customers a day. With the advent of mobile phones, that style of mass photography no longer exists. You only go to a photographer when you need something special that you cannot do yourself, and therefore photographers have evolved to offer high quality custom services.

You might be searching for an “industry standard” but you’ll soon realise that in the creative space, there is no such thing as a standard. You’ll find people charging $50 for three shots, and others charging $500 for the session fee with no images. This can leave you wondering – why the significant price range?

What’s Included in a Headshot Session?

There is a huge range of what’s included, and a more specialised photographer will offer a phone consultation to ensure they can meet your expectations. You’ll see what’s offered is not putting you in front of the camera, but the coaching and preparation and creating the right expression for you.

Here are some examples:

  • A part-time or beginner photographer may charge you $100 for an hour’s shoot. They’ll offer everything they shoot during that time, because they don’t know what they will get. They won’t give much specific guidance. After the shoot, maybe there will be 10 great shots. Maybe there will be 50 so-so shots and no great ones. They’ll be better than your DIY ones. It may be a good deal if you need a lot of headshots and don’t care so much how they look.
  • Some may charge a base fee and offer 3 shots. Because they don’t charge much, they need to have a minimum. They may include hair and makeup (which is to say you’ve paid for it whether you want it or not), and 2 changes. They may do some editing/cropping on these, or you may just get them as is.
  • The point of specifying 2 changes is that you may upgrade for more changes. Because there is no consultation beforehand, they don’t actually know what you need and depend on you to decide how much to bring. This may be useful if you want a lot of different looking things for socials, rather than for a specific goal.
  • Some photographers offer clothes to wear for your branding session. Again, it basically means you’ve paid for it (clothes aren’t free – and must be dry-cleaned each session) and you will look like every other client they have shot.
  • More specialised photographers will plan with you exactly what you need. We send you guides beforehand, help you pick out clothing, answer questions at all hours of the day. When you come to the studio, we help you pose, give you expression coaching, as create each image we need. It’s generally not based on time, because we know how to move things along efficiently. You’re also encouraged to bring extra options, so we can choose what’s working well as the session progresses.

Obviously these are very different approaches. The cheapest photographer will schedule 8 shoots a day back-to-back. Most specialised photographers limit to one session each day.

This is only the front part of the session. There’s also different levels and quality of retouching/editing involved.

What Are You Paying For?

It’s natural to assume that you’re paying for a photographer and their camera, envisioning a quick 5-minute session where the photographer presses a button and you’re good to go.

However, the reality is quite different. Just as you don’t visit a restaurant solely because they have pots and pans, you use a professional photographer for their expertise in the process of creating the perfect headshot for you.

In addition to the photographer’s expertise, several other aspects are contained within the headshot fee:

  • Photographic Equipment – this is expensive, but are split over numerous sessions and years. The contribution to your fee is actually small.
  • Lighting Equipment – as above.
  • Props, supporting equipment – as above.
  • Studio Rental – this could be $1000-$10000 weekly depending on proximity to the CBD.
  • Insurances/registrations – $2000-8000 yearly. These are not just expenses but vital elements of being a professional in the field.
  • Advertising – If they use Google ads, they may be spending $1000-3500 monthly to reach new customers.
  • Other office/admin costs/time – photographers do not shoot 8 hours a day. There is significant time spent on editing and admin duties, which gets proportioned into your fee.

These are the basic over heads written into the headshot cost that is covered by the session fee. A volume based photographer may spread these out between 15 headshots a day. A quality based photographer spreads this among a smaller number of shoots.

At our studio, we have the advantage of owning our space, eliminating ongoing rental expenses. This enables us to provide higher quality headshots, even when compared to photographers charging significantly more.

How Much Does The Photographer Make?

Photographers determine their rates based on their level of expertise and experience. Seasoned photographers, in high demand, typically command higher fees. But it’s not as simple as looking at the base cost.

From a broader perspective, photographers across Sydney face comparable expenses, including equipment, transportation, insurance, and rent. Irrespective of the pricing structure they choose, they must earn enough to meet these financial costs.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting some photographers are part-time, with a day job to support their lifestyle. They may be able to charge an otherwise unsustainable low fee. However it may not be wise hiring someone just because they live in mum’s basement and has less costs!

Let’s illustrate this with a scenario: Imagine two photographers both charging $100 per headshot.

For one, you might be paying $20 towards their operational costs, while $80 accounts for their expertise and artistic talent. In the other scenario, a photographer may have $70 in costs, which implies that you’re essentially purchasing a $30 headshot. Naturally, the quality of the final product will differ between these two scenarios.

Also if a photographer charges half the amount, naturally they will need double the number of clients. Consequently they would have spend less time editing and perfecting your photographs.

You’ll also find that Personal Branding sessions are quoted differently to Staff Headshot Photography. This is because staff headshots involve finding one perfect look for each person that fits the company profile, while personal branding involves discovering multiple facets of one person for different uses.


Hopefully this has cleared up some of the different factors in why headshots can cost so much. In the end, your first impression is made by your headshot in a split second. I would highly recommend you invest in a headshot appropriate to the level of your own business.

After all, a headshot is not done for fun. It should be making you money by connecting with and attracting new clients.

Check out what Executive Images provides and why it is a top choice for Sydney Professionals. Contact us when ready and we’ll help you create the best image.

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