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Setting Up a Successful Headshot Session: Part 3

Setting Up a Successful Headshot Session: Part 3

One of those most important parts of any portrait sessions is what happens after the shoot is over. In the last part of this series I want to talk a bit about the end of your photo session, and how you can ensure you have a happy client that will not only come back for more but will tell their friends how awesome the experience was. Almost every day I get a call from someone asking me to advertise on Google. I simply reply “no thank you” as I don’t feel that Google can compete with word of mouth. As I have mentioned in first part of this series, word of mouth is one of the most powerful advertising weapons you have, with the ability to grow your business exponentially. This will be a bit different for everyone, but I think you can take this and apply it to any type of photography session you do.

The shoot is over…now what?

This is an important piece to the business puzzle as this may be the last time for a while you see your client. You want to make sure they feel the full effect of good customer service. Below are a few idea’s on how to leave a lasting impression.

Review the Session

Make sure you build in time to be able to go through the images with your client. Ideally you want to do this a couple times during the session as well, but at the very least make sure you do it at the end. I usually sit the client down, hand them a beverage and start flipping through images on the TV. Stop at images you think are strong, and make sure you can explain why they are strong. This will help sell your clients on strong images. In a headshot session you will have a series of images that are all similar both in wardrobe, and lighting, but being able to compare them on specific differences can be a valuable part of the client relationship. Often times I will find an image I like and show them a few next to it to help illustrate why I like a certain image, better. Keep in mind it is all a bit subjective, and your client may pick one you don’t care for, but knowing how to sell them on an image shows them you know your craft, you know what works for you and what doesn’t, and gives the session a more personal experience for your client. Take the examples from Veronica’s shoot below. 

This is the first option from this series. I like her body angle, and the angle of her face is also nice, the expression is also very good, but I felt like it could be stronger. Image is un-retouched

I coached her to turn towards the camera just a bit, her expression feels more open here, but we were struggling with her hair, and I still felt the expression could be even stronger. Image is un-retouched

Expression is a tiny bit more focused, with a little more hint of heat, or sexuality which is nice. It is a very subtle difference to the previous, both shots could be usable, but again some hair issues. I'm also shooting just a tiny bit above her in these last 3 which I don't mind, but lets see what happens when we come down a little. Image is un-retouched

This is the final pick un-retouched from Veronica's session. Her body language is forward sending energy to the camera creating an engaged feel. Confident posture, with a warm approachable expression

This is the final pick retouched. Soft lightening under the eyes, and some hair/wardrobe work.


In my article, Investigating the Human Expression, I talk about how we can learn to pick better images, get better at reading expression and emotion, along with how body language can cause an emotional perception to be taken from the image. Simply leaning forward or backward, tilting the head at the neck, bringing the chin down slightly can all play into the strength of the image. Learning to communicate all this to your client will come with practice, but it’s a hugely beneficial technique. Come up with characters in your mind for these images, and communicate the emotion or feeling you get from it.

Delivering Your Images & Retouching

When I started out I offered 4 retouched images with a session. I currently offer 3 images with a session in LA and when I’m busy I don’t offer any, except for the one I choose for my portfolio. All my clients generally receive one image that I like for them, and that is the one that goes on my website. This way you have control over what goes into your portfolio should the client choose images you don’t care for. Everyone’s opinion’s will be different, but if a client chooses an image that I feel strongly against, I will politely tell them that I think they have a stronger image, and will offer alternative suggestions in the same wardrobe and look as the one they chose. Sometimes they go for it, sometimes they don’t, but they always appreciate your thoughts, and it shows them you care. Some clients ask for a list of my favorites from the session as well. This can lead to way too much time spent so I tell them to narrow it to 10-15 images and I’ll give them my favorites from there. This way I don’t get bogged down looking through hundreds of images.

At the end of my shoot I sit down and go through every image. I do basic RAW processing and delete the clunkers. I then do something that not every photographer does, but it works for me. I give them all the rest of the images in high resolution because I would want them. Now some of you will disagree with that, and that is ok, you certainly have to do it the way that works best for you, but for me this makes my clients happy, and I look at them as buying my time not necessarily a  bunch of images.

I should note, that I only apply this thinking to my headshot clients. Commercial work will be based on the total number of final images they need. In the case of corporate headshots, I quote them on a per person basis, and only deliver one retouched image per person.

This also allows me to keep the time spent with the client going back and forth of selections and so forth to a minimum. My sessions are typically one and half to two hours long, and then another hour in processing, then aside from any retouching I’m done. 3 retouched images might take me another hour or so to complete. I also know that my acting clients are only going to be using the ones that get retouched anyway, but it gives them the option to easily get another retouched later by whoever is printing the image. I also politely lay some ground rules for their online display and make a recommendation on where to go for additional retouching and printing. Below is an excerpt from my website.

When it comes to a printed image, the printer is just as important as the photographer. Factor this into the investment in your headshots. The truth is plain and simple. If you don’t take pro photos to a pro lab your images will most likely look like crap, and remember that you are holding your photographers work as well, so if you print your awesome looking headshots cheaply and poorly this directly reflects on me!  Take it seriously, behind every great photographer is an exceptional printer. So do what you can, when you can, if you can only afford to have 1 or 2 shots printed, then that’s ok! Work with those and then next month get a couple more done. Trust me photographers are not the only ones who notice…agents, casting directors, managers, they all would much prefer a professionally printed photo over one you had done at Kinkos….be better than Kinkos!

I do something for my clients that a lot of photographers don’t do…I give you all the images from the shoot…why? Because I would want them. I also have a quality control habit, and I go through them and weed out the obvious clunkers, and shots that may have missed the mark. I do basic RAW processing, contrast and color correction on all your images, and right out of the gate they are going to look awesome, however they are still going to be un-retouched, and not have the final coat of polish on them, so remember this when you put them online! Keep it to 10 or 15 of your favorites, and don’t go posting your whole session all over Facebook! 

When posting to Facebook always check the “High Quality” box in the lower left side of the upload window.  Please make sure that my website www.dpheadshotswest.com or www.dpheadshots.com is in the caption. 

There are many ways to deliver your images, from Pixieset, to Zenfolio, SmugMug and others. I personally use DropBox, as I have no need for any type of proofing gallery, I just need a good way to send them to the client, and DropBox does that well. The rare times when I do need a proofing gallery I have the option to setup a password protected gallery on my website, that only contains the file number for selection purposes.

Draw a line with Retouching

One major drawback to offering retouching is you will get the occasional client that wants way more done than they should have. It is important to be able to find a way to politely refuse, and this can complicate good customer service from one point of view. It’s a sticky situation; you want your client to have what they want, but on the other hand, (when it comes to actors and performers anyway) you risk making them look too young or not as accurate to themselves as they should. I usually just tell people from the start, that I will retouch it and send it to you, and you can make one round of correction notes. If they start asking for too much I will either charge them more, or in most cases just politely say that I’ve gone as far as I want to go with it, and if they want more they can have it done at the printer, this usually reigns them back in. It’s a rare problem, but it can happen. Certainly with other types of portrait sessions you might have more flexibility.

Have a Fast Turnaround Time

Now don’t sacrifice quality for speed, but getting your clients images out as quickly as possible makes everyone happy. I tell my clients it will take 2-4 days on average to get them the images, often times I get the images out within 2 days, which makes you look good, and if it takes longer than you can utilize the other 2 days and still come in on time. Prompt service is always a sure fire way to show professionalism, and impress your clients.

Spread the Word

I often express to clients the value I have for word of mouth advertising, and give them an incentive to help! I always offer a $25-$40 off coupon for new clients who mention how they found me, and $25-$40 off for existing clients when they return (this incentive can register for them as another retouched image at the printer). I also keep mental track of how many referrals a person gives, and if they refer a lot they may get their next session at %50 off or maybe even for free. I rarely publish these incentives on my website as it gives me the flexibility to apply them or not.

With any type of marketing I believe it is most valuable to know exactly who your target market is. Is it high school seniors? Actors? Corporate professionals? Maybe all of the above! Printing out some simple postcards to leave, at schools, real estate offices, theaters, or schools with theatre programs can also lead to more clients. Maybe buying some advertising in your local paper or regional magazine could be good too. However it is still been my experience that word of mouth trumps these all, as people looking for a photographer will always put heavy weight on what one of their friends say about their experience with you. The downside to word of mouth is it just takes time to build. Even with postcards building up your business is just going to take time, there is no short cut to the top of the mountain in this regard, but delivering quality work, with great customer service will make all the difference. Just settle in for the long haul, and try not to get discouraged, work with confidence, kindness, patience, and compassion and you will find you are not only building a clientele but also lifelong connections that have limitless potential.

To learn more about my style of shooting and retouching check out my tutorial with Fstoppers here

Dylan Patrick's picture

Dylan is a headshot and portrait photographer based in Los Angeles. He began his photography career in 2010 in NYC, and rose to be one of the top headshot photographers in New York City. With Fstoppers, he launched "The Cinematic Headshot" tutorial in 2014. Along with headshots, Dylan is also an accomplished hotel and architectural photographer.

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Great article Dylan! The difference between the second and third pictures of your one female client were so subtle I had to do a double-take but they're there. Her eyes are are just a little more "present" in the second one.

Also, regarding the delivery of all the pictures taken versus only a few - I think Peter Hurley does something similar. As he's coaching them during the shoot he deletes all the duds right off the bat then I think winds up with ~100 or so images in the online client gallery. I'm pretty sure he gives that amount of photos because he sends all his retouching to someone else anyway - if they want 30 retouched pictures they go through the retoucher for that. So while I admittedly don't know many headshot photographers it seems like a reasonable approach.

Thank you Jason! Yeah sometimes I think we all need to slow down a bit when we choose our images, it can be easy to overlook subtle differences, I also think your are right regarding delivery, in the end everyone should do what's most efficient for them. Thanks for reading man!

Good insights. Thanks!

Thanks for reading Roman!

Who's that guy in the lead image? He's beautiful....


Probably some fancy model..

I think he's your doppelgänger with the facial hair every woman wants apparently ;-)

Great stuff Dylan. Question: aren't you afraid of the clients you give the image to altering them? I quit giving my images to clients because I have seen my work altered in ways that are unimaginable, then someone else sees them and comments how bad work I do - so bad word of mouth travels faster than good word of mouth. So they have to purchase every print they want. Aren't you afraid of your work being altered and eventually making you look bad?

Thanks Charles! Very valid point and concern, and you are right, bad word of mouth can spread quick. To be honest I don't worry about it too much. It's a big part of the conversation I have with a client and I just make it clear they can't do crazy edits on my stuff. As they are artists generally as well... they understand. I have also put a "no altering my images" clause in my session agreements...but at the end of the day nothing can really protect you from it. So I try to educate the client the best I can, so far it's paid off I've only had to ask one client to take something down. Circumstances are different for everyone, certainly do what makes you feel most comfortable. I just choose not to worry about it too much, but I think making the time to educate can do wonders as most people are respectful.

"'no altering my images' clause"... great tip!

Very nice idea. I may try that - still thinking about it. I have even seen my images I gave to a client on another "soccer mom's" photography site as her own and man had they been altered and not flattering either - not to my standards. I threatened her with a law suit of copyright infringement and she took them down. I am just trying to do all I can to protect the industry in my area and my images - it is my livelihood and I don't need anyone else cashing in on my work calling it their own and taking clients I could have gotten. I'll be putting your headshot classes to good use this Spring and Summer - thank you for making them.

Eh that's unfortunate but yeah do what you have to do, and my pleasure! Always happy to help if I can