Once a headshot session is completed, how much input does the photographer have when actually deciding on which images are "useable" or "best" for the client's purposes? I have had a few people inquire as to whether or not the ultimate decision is up to the client. Sure, of course it is. Well, sort of. As the client paying you for your services, at the end of the day, if they decide that their favorite shot is that one shot where they blinked or the focus was off and a moth flew through the frame, that's their choice. If they want to send that shot out as their main headshot, so be it. They paid you, you did the job and that's that. Or is it? There are a few things to consider when it comes to the decision of which shots are best and many of these decisions not only have impact on the client but also have direct impact on you, the photographer and your business.
When photographing an actor for a headshot, most of my concern is making sure that I get the client to give me the expressions and looks that'll truly showcase who they are and will best suit their needs for getting work. So it stands to reason, that when I'm reviewing their photos after the shoot, I'm looking to find those particular shots that achieved those goals. Once the initial review has been done and the "throw away" shots have been eliminated (out of focus, client blinked, moth flew through the shot, etc.), it's time to start analyzing the shots on a deeper level. Outside of the technical aspects of the photo, what I'm looking for primarily are the shots that convey personality and character. I'm looking for shots that would definitely make a casting director or agent stop and take a second look. Some of this comes from experience working with casting people and agents and some just comes from studying the craft in general. All of that said, here's where it gets tricky. You send the proofs, via whatever your methods/arrangements are and the client does their review. They get back to you and choose 3, 4 or whatever photos that they like and....(here it comes)....the images they've selected have you saying "what?!" Now, I'm writing this assuming that you DIDN'T sit with the client and go through the images together and offer your advice. Personally, I like doing it that way when in studio. It's part of the process as far as I'm concerned and part of my responsibility as a photographer to help them see and select the best shots. But getting back to the issue and where problems can arise.
Most people see themselves in photos and immediately see what they DON'T like about themselves. It's perfectly normal, natural to do so. Everyone does it. We're all narcissists to one degree or the other. If a friend snaps a group photo with you at some event, the first thing everyone does is ask to see the picture. Then, everyone immediately looks at themselves to see how they look. When going through headshots, a lot of people are not looking at the photo in terms of what makes a great headshot but "how they look" and what they like or don't like about themselves. They're seeing all of the issues, flaws or things they don't like about themselves each time they look in the mirror. We're all pretty much conditioned to do so. This is why it's critical to really make sure to discuss with clients what makes a great headshot. It's important to build trust and be able to convey to them that you have their best interests at hand and that your perspective is completely objective. Obviously you want to pick shots where the client "looks" great, but it needs to go beyond that. What do the eyes say? What does the expression suggest? Is the client's position, pose in the composition flattering? These above all things make all the difference.
On top of serving the client's best interests, it's also beneficial to us as photographers to be sure that the "best" work is being put out there. In my example above regarding the client choosing a "bad shot", if that shot goes out there and is circulated, obviously everyone who sees the shot is going to inquire "who shot this?" (probably with a look of disgust or while laughing their ass off!) And of course.....having negative feedback on your headshots can ruin your reputation and is counterproductive to your business.
Take time to really understand the headshot business and what the casting agents and all are looking for. Most of the relationship with a client is about communication. From the initial booking, through the actual shoot and most certainly after the shoot. Really work to make sure your clients trust your decision making process and guidance. It's not always guaranteed that they'll all listen to you, but it's definitely a responsibility owed to each and every client that pays to be in front of your lens.