Frequently Asked Questions

Headshots FAQ
Who are you?
How do you pick out a Headshot Photographer?
What do I need to know?
What makes you different from other headshot photographers?
Why should I hire you?
How much do headshots cost?
How much do reprints cost?
Where do you shoot?
Will you shoot on location?
Do you use natural light?
What should I wear?
What else should I bring?
Should I shave for my headshots?
Black and White or color?
Make up
Tips for great headshots My check off list for the day of
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Who are you?

I'm a photographer and a performer.  I have a degree in Fine Arts, majoring in photography, from Columbia College.  I interned at Playboy before graduation. You can read more about me here.

Since I'm a performer, I know what it feels like to hand your headshot over to that person with the blank expression, who staples it, points you to an empty seat, and asks you to wait as your tummy does back flips.  I've auditioned at least 20 times.   I feel your pain.

How do you pick out a Headshot Photographer?

I know it sounds self-serving for a headshot photographer to tell you how to pick out a headshot photographer. But when I meet with clients, I hear a lot of horror stories about previous headshots with other photographers. So even if you don't choose me as your photographer, I hope to save you some of that drama. Here are a few tips on what to look for.

  • Meet with the photographer beforehand. Every reputable headshot photographer I know will meet with you and consult with you for free. Its part of our job.
  • Will they let you keep all of the photos, or do they charge you extra for every photo you keep? I'm proud to say that I'm one of the first photographers who made the concious decision to let my clients keep any of the images that they want.
  • Look at samples of their images. Are they all kind of, you know, the same? The same framing, lighting, or angle? Yes, all photographers have their own style. But what makes a good headshot photographer is one who tailors all of those details to you. If a photographer never changes his lighting from one photo to the next, its a bad sign.
  • Look at the eyes of the person in the photo. There are some amazingly gifted photographers out there who should not be shooting headshots. They know all of the technical details, and their images look clean. But they don't know how connect with a model to get that look in their eyes.


What do I need to know?

Start by asking the question:  what do I want these photos for?
Are you trying to get commercials?   Do you want photos for dramatic theater?  Are you a stand-up comic?
Ideally, any photo that you take will cover all of those categories.  But be realistic.  What you are doing is marketing yourself.  The basic rule of marketing is to know your customer and to know the product that you are selling.   The product, in this case, is you.

Your photos should reflect what you want to do, and who you are.

A friend of mine used to audition for everything.  Not only parts that she wasn't right for, but things that she didn't want.   She would literally audition for parts that called for someone of a different nationality.
After sitting down with an audition coach, she realized that she should put that same energy into auditioning less, but for the parts that were right for her.

I'm not suggesting that actors shouldn't stretch their talents, or audition for everything that they are right for. On the contrary, as a performer, I'm very big on auditioning as much as possible. But the morale of this story that  I'm suggesting, strongly,is to go with your strengths.
In order to market yourself correctly - before you meet with a photographer - decide what you want to do.  Talk to your directors, coaches, instructors, and agents.  What is your "type"?
Again, I'm not saying that you must go with what they say.  I am asking you to recognize what you want to do.
Its the first question that any decent photographer will ask you.

I ask clients to find copies of headshots that they like, and headshots that they don't like.  I ask them to bring them when we meet, and tell me what they like.  More importantly, I want to know what you don't like.
When a client comes for their photograph, I ask them for three adjectives describing the image that they want their photo to project.  Here are some examples:  intelligent, goofy, sexy, professional, intense, broad, charming, insane, funny, serious, confident, etc.
It helps me to understand what you want directors and casting agencies to see in you.

What makes you different from other headshot photographers?

I don't give kickbacks to agencies for recommending me.  (Yes, this happens.)    I won't pressure a client to be photographed in a style that I think is right for them when they want something else.  I don't charge for reprints. I simply hand you the CD of photos.  I'm not interested in "nickel and diming" you to death.
I charge a flat fee, and I don't offer packages to try to get my clients to spend more money.
I will not sell your image to someone without your permission.

I don't ask for my payment until my client is satisfied with my photos.
I realized early on the hardest part of taking headshots: getting a performer to relax in front of a camera when they knew how much money they were spending for my time.
Since I'm not taking the money up front, the pressure is on me to perform.  Not you.
This simple business practice makes my clients more relaxed, and gives me the photos that we both want.

Because of this, I require everyone that I photograph to meet with me ahead of time.  It gives me a chance to find your personality before you stand in front of my lights.

There are a lot of good photographers out there.  I believe that my best selling point is that once you get to know me, you'll trust me.  -And once you trust me?  Taking your photo is a thousand times easier.

How much do headshots cost?

I currently charge $250 for one basic session. I'm currently not putting a limit on how many frames we shoot. I burn those images to a CD or DVD upon payment.

If you want to shoot a composite for modeling, one that involves at least 4 different looks in a few different locations, I charge $600.  E-mail me for more information.

I am considered very inexpensive for a headshot photographer.  Hire me while I'm accessible.

I highly recommend a stylist for makeup and hair, which is a separate charge and independent from me.  Payment is required for the stylist up front and is paid directly to them. The cost depends on which artist you use.  You can e-mail or call me for quotes from stylists, but a typical cost would be $75 for makeup, and $150 for hair and makeup. If you want me to recommend a stylist, I can recommend a couple.

I don't charge for reprints.  Once I've burned you a CD, its yours to keep.  I do retain the copyright, however.  All this means is that you cannot sell the photo I've taken for commercial purposes.  You can, of course, use it for anything that you'd normally use a headshot for.

I normally retouch one image for each client from the headshots we've taken.  Any additional retouching is $25 an image.

Where do you shoot?

I shoot everywhere, depending on the weather. When its nice outdoors, I like to roam outside for photos in the nearby park and other locations nearby.

If the weather doesn't permit, I shoot indoors, in a studio space inside of my apartment. Its very casual.  I live on the Northwest side of Chicago in an area known as "Old Irving", near Irving and Kedzie.  

I have three wonderful cats. Its a long story.  I hide them before most shoots because they always want to be in the photos.  I use a HEPA filter for people who have mild allergies to cats, but if you are heavily allergic, I'm always willing to shoot outdoors or on location.

I do shoot on location.
I will shoot at your location under most circumstances.  If you have an ideal location that you'd love to shoot at - or you've lined up more then one person to shoot at a remote location - talk to me. I'm usually up for it.

 However, if you want to shoot on someone else's property, please make sure we have permission to shoot there, first.

There is currently a buzz term running around in the headshot industry: Natural light.

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, "Man... I'm glad they used natural light?"

Of course not. Because print ads, television, and movies rarely use natural light. That golden light that you always see on CSI reflecting off of David Carusu's face is not natural sunlight. Honest.

Yet, some photographers have been waxing philosophical about using natural light for headshots, and at least one photographer even suggests that natural light is "infinitely better." He further implies that those who don't shoot outdoors with available light are being... well... lazy.

So to start, look at my images and try to figure out which headshots are only natural light. I'll give you the answer at the end of this section.

In the meantime I'm going to deconstruct this falacy piece by piece.

Natural light is not "infinitely better". If it were, then every movie in the world would default to natural light and every cinematographer would just use sunlight and reflectors... as some photographers do. If natural light was the best light, and you were producing a movie with a budget of millions of dollars, why wouldn't you always use it instead of spending millions more on generators and 10k floods that are gelled to match daylight?

The reason is that you don't have infinite control over natural light.

You do have ultimate control over artificial light. Daylight comes from one direction, and that's usually from above. My strobes can aim in any direction. Daylight tends to cast shadows on people's eyes. You don't have to believe me on this. Just go to the websites of photographers who shoot in 'natural light' and look at the color of people's eyes. The very same photographers who brag about using "natural light" tend to use diffusers and reflectors to put light back into their face. Which isn't exactly natural, and kinda kills the whole theory that natural light is better.

So why do photographers make this a point of contention? It could be that they don't have the technical expertise to combine real and artificial light. It might be that they don't want to haul around the equipment. Or who knows, they might not own it. From my point of view, I never want to be a the mercy of mother nature. I bring my own light. If I need it, its there. I am a perfectionist. I make the light perfect for the shot.

With that in mind, you've seen my headshot page by now. None of those images were restricted to natural light. I hope this dispels the myth.

What should I wear?

A lot of this depends on what your type is, but the basics are almost always the same.
  • Bring one casual outfit, one formal, and something that is 'you'.  More outfits are better, and give us both choices.
  • Don't bring clothes with patterns, logos, or words.  They distract from you.
  • Stay away from super bright colors unless they really do bring out your eyes.
  • Bright white should be avoided.
  • Think of the necklines that look best on you.  If we're shooting close up, consider that.
  • Remember that outfit that someone said looks great on you?  Please bring it!
  • Don't be afraid to think unconventional.  Just bring conventional along,  too.

Should I shave for my headshots?

A lot of men with beards ask me this, and its hard to give a simple yes or no answer.
What is your type?  Does your beard change your look dramatically?  Would it be going against your type to shave?
In my opinion, it really varies from person to person depending on their goals, their look, and who they're trying to impress.  It never hurts to ask them, the person you are trying to impress, what they think you should do.  I can only give you an opinion on what looks good on you.  Quite often, that's different from what a director might see in you.

What else should I bring?

Music that you like on a CD, or an ipod.
A hairbrush, comb, and toothbrush.
Make-up if you insist on doing your own.  Bring more then one color of lipstick then one, please.

Black and White or color?

Color. Yes,

B&W looks cool, but if you want to get hired, get color headshots.
Its a reflection on how agencies are hiring.  Agencies are now responsible for an entire look, and unless they are doing a black and white campaign, they want to see every detail of you in color.

Tips for great headshots

  • Get sleep the night before.  Don't stay out drinking.  Please.  I am a great photographer, but I can't make up for you being hung over.
  • Treat your body well the week before.  Its just one week.  You can go back to abusing it after you take your headshot.
  • Just for guys;  if you shave regularly, do it at least 3 hours beforehand.  Most men get bumps after shaving.  Use a good blade or it will be the day that you accidentally cut yourself.
  • Photograph during the hours that you feel at your "peak".  Some of us are better in the evening, while others reach their speed in the afternoon.
  • Call your photographer the day before to confirm.  It makes us feel loved and respected.
  • Don't hire a photographer because someone is pressuring you to use them.
  • Hire me.

© All images on this website contain the copyright of John Henry Abbott, and are watermarked to protect the rights of the artists within. Any attempt to use these images without the consent of John Henry Abbott will be met with the provisions of title 17 of the U. S. Code.