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Headshot photographers say they’ve never been busier. Blame the Great Resignation

The pandemic had employees changing their looks, changing their jobs, and, in some cases, even changing their careers. They all need new professional photos.

Headshot photographers say they’ve never been busier. Blame the Great Resignation
[Source Images: CSA Images/Getty]

Photographer Jennifer Buhl, who got her start as a member of the paparazzi in Los Angeles, has been taking headshots since 2015, when she founded Happy Hour Headshot in Denver. She and her team of photographers, now based in over half a dozen cities, meet clients at coffee shops, conduct their shoots right outside, and then return to the coffee shop to review the images.

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“Your first impression is typically online these days,” Buhl says. “People want a good first impression, and that’s the headshot.”

Following an initial lull at the start of the pandemic, her team has been busier than ever. “We’re seeing an uptick in all of our markets,” she says, adding that her company’s “coffee date”-style approach fits the current moment far better than the formal studios of old. People want to convey that they’re “professional and smart, but friendly and approachable, too,” she says.

The pandemic sparked a dramatic reevaluation of the role that work plays in Americans’ lives. Some are demanding more of their employers. Some are prioritizing family. Some are prioritizing their health. Some are scaling back hours, or looking for more fulfilling work. Last year, nearly 48 million Americans, or roughly one in five adults, quit their jobs. Call it what you will—the Great Resignation, the Great Renegotiation—but the desire for change is real. And great.

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Headshot photographers, who sit at the frontlines of the job market, are seeing this shift in work culture play out in real time. On LinkedIn, the number of users adding a headshot to their profile increased 20% over the past year, according to the company.

Photographer Michelle Kaffko, owner of Chicago-based Organic Headshots, is seeing a ramp-up in both her individual sessions and her corporate business, which involves shooting entire teams. Thanks to high turnover, employers are realizing that the staff pages on their websites are woefully out of date.

“We’ve noticed, if anything, that the energy is a little different,” Kaffko says of her team’s recent shoots. People starting corporate jobs, for example, seem more resigned than excited. “Before the pandemic, they would have been nervous and wanting to do everything perfect,” she says. “Now, people are tired. It’s just like, whatever, take my headshot.”

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As for the individuals coming to her studio, some are taking their careers in entirely new directions. One attorney who booked a shoot was quitting her job to start an ice cream shop.

Merrick Chase, a Colorado-based photographer, also has noticed a shift in energy at his headshot business. “A lot of my clients, they changed their attitude about work,” he says. “Before the pandemic, everyone there was very nice, very friendly. But everyone is just looser now. They’re not taking work so seriously. They’re more interested in living life larger.” In Colorado, that often means “allowing more time to go to the mountains.”

Like other photographers, his business saw a rebound last year: “2020 was just, all bets are off. 2021 started booming, full force,” Chase says. People who haven’t taken the time for a professional headshot in the past are “recognizing the value of investing in their image.”

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In Palo Alto, Dean Birinyi has built a career photographing tech executives and their teams. He has seen an increasing number of people—particularly those late in the careers—scaling back their hours by switching to board roles or consulting. “They don’t want to work,” he says. “People have realized that there’s more to life.”

Some clients are seeking professional photography in order to help them pursue a dormant lifelong dream. Jessica Osber, a Brooklyn-based photographer, recalls a woman who left her 9-to-5 job in healthcare to become a fashion designer, after seeing a positive response to her designs on Instagram. “The day she quit, she came in,” Osber says. “She felt this huge relief, lightness. People are coming back to their core selves and letting go of that fear.”

Smaller changes in style or lifestyle are also prompting people to seek a headshot refresh. “If they’d been getting their hair colored, maybe they’ve decided to embrace the gray,” says Nadine Priestley, a Bay Area photographer. “The pandemic caused a lot of people to change.”

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Priestley says 2021 was her “best year yet,” and she’s found it particularly rewarding to photograph teams that include new hires meeting their colleagues for the first time. One shoot in early December, orchestrated to coincide with a holiday party, marked the first time that a team had seen one another since the start of the pandemic.

Capturing that long-awaited reunion, she says, “was very special.”

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About the author

Senior Writer Ainsley Harris joined Fast Company in 2014. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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