Most people, when asked ‘what’s the difference between a portrait photo and a headshot?’ will struggle to come up with an answer; it’s one of those things you think you know until you think about it.
So, if you’re in that group, then you are in good company, and you have come to the right place.
Before you read any further, answer the following question:
Take a moment with us now and allow us to explain the meanings and differences in the great headshot vs portrait debate.
Is a headshot a portrait?
Yes – usually. A headshot is one of various possible styles of portrait.
Think of a headshot as a very specific portrait type. It has a specific purpose – to represent you, your personality and your image, in a professional manner and for a professional purpose. It is an ‘official’ image of you and people will be able to recognise you from it.
A headshot gets used for profile pictures on LinkedIn, other social media, your company website ‘about us’ page, etc. It is a photograph of you, close-up and focusing on the face, only capturing the head and shoulders (or perhaps, upper torso).
Headshot poses are quite restrictive, either facing the camera or with the body slightly turned away but the face always directed at the camera.
Lighting for headshot photos is often softer, more natural-looking. Likewise, backgrounds are out of focus or plain.
The whole emphasis of the photograph is on the face, with no distractions.
Is a portrait a headshot?
No – not necessarily.
Whereas a headshot is conservative in its style and is aiming to capture the portrait photograph is an artistic representation of the person.
Portraits are relaxed in their approach and allow for artistic creativity. They can be dramatic and stylistic.
A portrait can be close-up, full length or even from a distance, and will incorporate background, settings, props, to create a complete composition, like artwork.
There are no restrictions on clothing, colours, make-up and so on, as there is for a headshot photo. Whereas for a headshot all these need to be neutral – as the focus is entirely on the subject (specifically the face) with a portrait photo, the person is just a part of the image – not the whole.
Lighting can be soft, harsh, experimental or anything the photographer chooses to get the desired effect.
Portrait vs Headshot Messages
Ultimately, it is the purpose of the two types of photographs that mark the difference.
A headshot photo tells people ‘this is what I look like, this is who I am’. If someone sees your headshot photo and then meets you in the street, they should be able to recognise you from that one image.
A portrait photo, on the other hand, carries a different message. A portrait tells people ‘this is how I feel – this is me in my world’. It may look like you, or you may be almost unrecognisable!
Where headshots and portraits are used
A headshot photo (as we have mentioned) is used for profile images on social media, business web pages, for book covers (author shots).
Actors and need a headshot portfolio for work applications, which must not have ‘clutter’ as the agency or casting director want to see them as they really are.
A headshot has a marketing intent when it is marketing the individual.
A portrait photo can be used in magazine articles, websites generally, features. Or, they can simply be a piece of art or used for some other creative purpose. Family group photos are portraits; they are intended to be hung on a wall or otherwise displayed.
A portrait can have marketing use – but when it is marketing a product or service. The person in the photo could be anyone.
The professional difference
What this all boils down to is that because there are differences in the style of the two types of photography, you then need a different professional photographer to take them.
Headshots require skills to show the character in the photo. It needs knowledge of the specific lighting requirements that a headshot demands and experience to capture the emotion and expression that is needed for the photo to be a success.
Portrait photography needs different skills and experience. The photographer needs an eye for the different composition requirements, artistic flair when the situation requires it.
It follows then, that a portrait specialist may not be the one to ask for a headshot and vice versa.
When it comes to booking a professional, make sure you are getting the one you need. Look at their portfolios and see for yourself that they are already taking photos in the style that you are wanting for yours.
So there it is, and hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of the differences between the two different types of photographs.
If you are currently looking for a professional, then look at Splento. They have many specialist photographers available near you for a fixed hourly rate – just £99 – which includes retouching and editing. They are global and local, meaning that they have experienced photographers close to you – wherever you are in the world.
Take a look now at their portfolio for some amazing headshots, and quickly discover how to make your own booking for a professional headshot photo session.
How do you see your ideal author headshot for yourself? Has this article given you a fresh idea about your style for your next photo? Comment below now and tell us about it.
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