Headshots vs Portraits:

A headshot is a portrait but a portrait is not necessarily a headshot. Got it? I know, it can be a little confusing but lets run through the details.

Headshots are all about the face and should try to keep the viewers focus there. Portraits do usually show a persons face but it isn’t always the main focus of the image. Keeping the viewers focus on the face in a headshot is a very important characteristic of a great headshot. Headshots are a sub section of portraiture.

Headshots are meant to be cropped in tight to again, help keep the focus on the face. Headshots are also meant to have eye contact with the camera, this way it looks like the subject is looking directly at you. A great headshot will convey trust, confidence, approachability, and a sense of fun. A great headshot also puts the subject in a place of authority and gives the viewer a sense that they know what they are doing. Portraits can also display the subject in this way but usually involve showing more of the body in the frame. Half body or full body shots are more in the category of a portrait. Also, while both headshots and portraits can be shot in a non studio environment, portraits usually show more of the environment in the photo. I classify some of my close up work as portraiture, because I take more creative freedom in the photos. I might add some color grading and experiment with lighting a little bit more to create a dramatic look. A headshot is a more clear and literal portrayal of the person while a portrait not does necessarily do that.

Where the photo is going to be used may also differentiate a portrait from a headshot. A headshot is perfect for a LinkedIn profile photo, a company website, or a business card. This is where having a headshot shines. A portrait may work better for use in a magazine, a book cover, or any other cases where the photo will appear bigger. This is not to say that a headshot would not work in those cases, as it is totally dependent on the layout and the look you are going for.

Both headshots and portraits have their place in your branding. A headshot is the new business card or logo. A portrait is used in more specific environments. Again, headshots are portraits but portraits are not necessarily headshots. I chatted with headshot photographer Diane Hanna about this matter, I think she correctly says that, both portraits and headshots have a place in your marketing materials and achieve similar things. I do receive this question quite often so I thought I would follow up with this article to help explain the two and how they are both similar and different.