How long a headshot session takes largely depends on the purpose of the headshot. Some people just want something really simple and quick to post onto LinkedIn. Other professionals need a full portfolio of looks. So, the short answer is a headshot session can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as a day. But what makes for quick sessions versus lengthy ones?
The Profession Can Drive How Long
The career or job the person has is often a driver for how long a headshot session might take. Many business professionals can get along with one really good headshot against a simple background. Such professions can range from financial, accounting, lawyers, real estate agents, corporate executives, marketing, sales, and more. But even in some of these professions, some people might want more from their headshots.
Some lawyers, real estate agent, financial consultants, and other customer-facing professionals often use many headshots to advertise their services. So, they might take advantage of a 1-2 hour session that gives them many looks to use across promotional materials. This can be for different focal lengths, like a close-up or full body shot. It can be in different locations, like outdoors or at their offices, in addition to a studio.
When Headshots Matter Most
Then there are some professions where the headshot is directly important for getting them work. Mainly this is in acting and modeling. Actors usually want between two and six or seven looks. This can include various commercial looks and theatrical or dramatic looks. It might also include comedic looks and full body shots.
For actors, their headshot is essentially their resume. Their professional actor headshots must be of the highest quality and capture the essence for the types of roles they want to be cast for. So, actor headshot sessions can take one or many more hours to do.
For models, high quality photos are also very important. This includes their modeling digitals. In modeling digitals, a professional headshot is one requirement alongside a full body shot and a couple of other shots. Another profession where a headshot might be important could be for dancers, where often a headshot might be required to submit for auditions.
How Many Looks Are You After?
Probably the most frequent factor that can change how long a session will take is the number of looks one is after. If you are not familiar with what a “look” is referring to, this is simply an outfit change or hair / makeup change during your session. It is those things that can change how you look in a photo. So, the background is also in play.
With outfit changes, this can mean a quick 2-3 minutes and usually less since it is common only a top is being changed. However, with a look change often comes the need to change a photographer’s lighting setup. For example, if you need actor headshots, for a commercial look and theatrical look, the lighting will be different between these two. This can be another five minutes or so to change lighting, test it, etc. Remember this additional time is per look change.
For entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and similar businesspersons, a look change is often just going with a suit jacket or without, or with a tie and without. In many cases, there might be a subtle change to the background lighting but, often these changes are also just a few minutes per look.
Are You Having Hair or Makeup Done?
Often, you will have your hair and makeup done before arriving at the studio. If you will have hair and makeup done at the photographer’s studio, with your own makeup artist, it is likely you will pay for the studio time to do so.
Hair and makeup can add anywhere from 15 minutes for very light makeup to 60-90 minutes for thorough hair, makeup, and wardrobe styling. Of course, some people opt to do their own hair, makeup, and styling before arriving at a studio.
Bringing a stylist with you to a studio session will usually mean adding around 1-2 more hours of time. This is driven by how much involvement their will be by the stylist.
Outdoors or Studio Headshots?
Having headshots done in a studio is often the most efficient – and arguably provides the best results too. This is because a photographer will have every tool at their disposal right in front of them, in addition to being able to control lighting instead of being at the mercy of where the sun might be. But again, how many looks you are after will make your session time vary.
Some people just prefer natural light headshots, and this will usually require more planning. The time of day you schedule a natural light session may have an impact too. This is because where the sun is may impact ideal locations to shoot, making some location more or less available. Also, you might schedule on a bad day where it rains, or some other bad weather impacts the shoot.
How Long Does It Take to Get Finished Headshots?
There is another factor to consider as to how long a headshot session takes. Ultimately you need the photos delivered and a photographer usually needs time to process them. So, there is post-production time to also consider.
Some people might expect to walk away with digital files right at the end of a shoot. Some photographers accommodate this by handing over a copy of the photos on a thumb drive, for example. Others may take a day or two – some perhaps much longer – to process the photos. It is this scenario that can determine levels of quality in a headshot. The more time a photographer can spend processing them, the better the results might be. So, plan ahead to allow your chose photographer proper time.
In scenarios that take longer or add quality value, this is often because retouch work will be done. This is usually well worth waiting for. A photographer may setup an online proof gallery or provide some sort of previews to the images. Then you might select a set number for retouching.
Once you made selections your photographer may do favorable retouching that can include removing some fly-away hair, some acne, or a temporary scratch you got from your cat. Or perhaps some lint on your shirt or some red eye can be corrected. It usually seems common a photographers will not alter the essence of your look without you asking for it. But you should always clarify this. For example, this might be something like straightening a crooked nose.
Professional Headshots in Los Angeles can be tricky, particularly with more than 1,200 photographers attempting to provide such services. It can be tough to weed through them all and find good headshot photographers.
So, be sure to do some homework to spare you the time of a re-shoot because you happened upon a bad headshot photographer. Some things to look for include: do they have a lot of good online reviews on Google, Yelp, and other review sites? Do they have an updated website? Do they have a commercial studio or use their garage – or maybe neither. What gear do they have on-hand, and so on?
So, how long a headshot session takes also should factor in the time you will need to vet your photographer.