Three Steps to Make $500 an Hour in Your Photography Studio

Primarily, I'm a NYC Wedding Photographer. However, I also photograph business headshots in my NJ Studio as well. I love doing this as a side-gig that brings me extra money for practically no work at all. To be honest, I wasn't really all about it when D.C. Headshot Photographer Moshe Zusman told me I should start implementing it into my business. Seemed a bit boring and I didn't get how it would make me more money than the $10,000+ High-End Weddings that I photograph now. I was wrong.

The truth is, everyone today needs a good headshot. Everyone from corporate CEOs and lawyers to start-up companies and small business owners. Consumers today are more in-tuned with good branding and photography and most certainly judge businesses based on that and often the personal connection to the owners and staff. After realizing that, here are the three things I implemented into my headshot business to start making money with very little effort.

1. Auto-Booking

The biggest key to making more per hour is doing less work yourself. Now you could hire an assistant to do a lot of the work for you, or you could automate it.

I decided to automate the process by using SquareUp Appointments. This system links to my Google Calendar, allowing consumers to make their own appointments based on my "open" hours, pay in full online, and receive reminders about their appointment via text or e-mail. Whenever a client requests an appointment, I get a text message or e-mail allowing me to accept or decline it, just in case I have a calendar conflict.

See the system embedded into my website here.

2. Tethered Shooting

The next method for cutting down on work time is streamlining my shooting and proofing. Instead of lengthy proofing processes, I tether straight to my camera while I'm shooting so my clients can pick their pictures right there on the spot. I love doing this not only for the speed it gives to the whole process (my Standard Headshot Session for $295 last about 20 minutes), but also allows me to communicate and collaborate more with my clients throughout the process.

3. Fast Delivery

As soon as my client leaves, I immediately send the final images to my retoucher. Normally, I use for my wedding post-processing, but for simple headshot clean-ups (flyaway hairs, shine, and blemishes) I just send it to one of my favorite artists at The low price of $2.50 per images cuts down my cost of sales (which raises my profit) and they usually get the final images back to me in a few hours. I upload the images to a SmugMug gallery and email my clients a link using a template e-mail (17Hats is great for those!). Done and done!

All of these steps help me make roughly $500 an hour working in my studio and I think that's pretty darn good money! If you're in the NYC area and want to learn about headshot photography, check out a free seminar on October 22, 2017. If you're serious about starting to make $500 an hour, join us the next day for our full Headshot Bootcamp workshop that'll help you learn how to take headshots, build an entire portfolio, or the day after where we teach you to build a business and marketing plan to start grabbing clients. 

Check out the video to see behind-the-scenes of a recent NJ headshot session!

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I think it's quite important where you live as being in NYC would allow you to charge a top tier rate like this.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Ya, I'd agree with that, headshot value is going to really depend on location. Though I think there is always room for good headshot work in most cities even if the going rate isn't as strong.

Vanessa Joy's picture

It's like anything else but you can still make more per hour by using this method AND finding ways to cut costs/time - I do a "one-shot" headshot session for under $200 that takes me 10 mins or less - they're not always $295 each.

Totally agree Vanessa. I think your system is spot on!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

PPA just released a webinar by Megan DiPiero called The $3000 Headshot where she breaks down why it's possible to charge much higher than market rates, regardless of where you are geographically. She's in Florida, Fort Myers, I believe. Bradford Rowley charges $10K per portrait.

I'll check it out, thanks Lenzy!

Glenn Francis's picture

Why do you shoot headshots in landscape instead of portrait?

Anonymous's picture

Of course I don't know her reasoning but I do that because I've never needed more headroom but sometimes people want the shoulders and some space around them. You can always crop to portrait but adding in shoulder detail ain't easy!

Vanessa Joy's picture

Good question! I usually shoot horizontally because most people end up cropping square for social media anyway and I'd rather them crop off the white rather than take creative liberty to where they'd crop vertically. That being said, I always ask what the photo is for and will switch to vertical if it calls for it. :)

Just try charging this rate outside of NY...

Vanessa Joy's picture

I'm in central NJ actually :)

I'm able to in CT.

Leigh Miller's picture

I think it's a "given" that your charge rates will vary based on your market. Here in Toronto, Headshots are just hitting $250 including a single large print.

Adrian Lyons's picture

Depends on your work. I'm at $399 with 'keepers' priced at $25 each. -

Steve Maloney's picture

Great article with good tips on improving workflow - very useful. Thanks

Vanessa, do you provide a single high res file for your clients or do you also automate output to provide a range of useful sizes for print, social media etc?

Very helpful! I’m working on my photography but it’s really frustrating to me.I will try to use the same.
Thank you so much for this great informative article!

Step1: Get a studio. *sigh* :(

Dan Howell's picture

The $500/hour is misleading. I personally think irresponsibly so. You are suggesting 2-3 headshots clients per hour. Unless the business of headshot photography has changed greatly, it is impractical to suggest that creating an on-going business at that volume. I suspect that if in any way accurate it doesn't include the non-revenue time of communicating with potential clients, meeting with individual clients in advance of the shoot and handling the results of the shoot after which typically represents 2-3x the duration of the actual shoot.

In my view one of the larger pool of potential headshot clients are actors and other performer. These clients will typically seek to meet 2-3 photographers in advance to select the photographer they ultimately choose. These meetings would take at least the same amount of time as the shoot you suggest. Even the top photographers in the market meet with many more potential clients than than eventual booked clients. You might not, but that is the on-the-ground reality of setting up a headshot business.

Why are these performers able to select among so many professional options--because there is already an abundance of headshot photographers. Many who are offering 3-look sessions that last 1-2 hours at a quality level higher than what you are showing here. Even if their rates are double, they are not shooting more than one client per hour. Additionally a significant amount of performers will want professional make up services for the shoot (minimum 30 minutes). If you are not offering that as an option it will reduce your potential market.

Assembly-line headshots or social media/dating profile headshots more typically pay $100 per client. I'm not advocating that, I'm simply pointing out that there is already a saturation level of hungry photographers in most markets that are these offering basic services. And even those photographers are not packing in 16-24 clients in a day. Even if you are going into a large company and shooting that volume of employees like 25 in a day, few photographers are getting $4000 (8 hrs. x $500/hr) day for doing corporate headshots or at least not very often.

My suspicion is that you are not shooting 16-24 headshot clients in a day. Until that day comes, the $500/hour is a mythical, irrelevant figure.

Kirk Darling's picture

Dan, let's just call it, umm, an "extrapolation."