Headshots vs Portraits: What’s the Difference?

by | Sep 24, 2020 | Article |

The difference between a headshot and a portrait can be a little confusing. We are often asked “What’s the difference between a headshot and a portrait?” by our clients, so we thought we’d put together a short guide on the main differences between the two. This article should help you decide what you require; a portrait, or a headshot. Let’s get into it.

 

1: Headshots are up close and personal

The main distinguishing factor between a headshot and a portrait is that a headshot will be framed a lot tighter around the subjects’ head. The focus with headshots is very much on your expression, and this is something your photographer will help direct you with. Portraits on the other hand, while focussed largely on the subject can be framed a lot wider, including more of the subjects’ body and the environment they are in.

Example of a headshot: Note the direct eye contact.

Example of a headshot: Note the direct eye contact.

2: Eye contact

Headshots most commonly have the subject looking into the lens- eye contact in a photograph creates more intimacy with the observer and is focussed very much on the subjects’ expression. A good headshot will have very sharp focus around the eyes- most photographers tend to allow the background to blur, but this is usually very carefully controlled. Portraits can also have direct eye contact but can also feature the subject looking ‘off-camera’. This makes the viewer of the image more of an observer.

Example of an environmental portrait.

Example of an environmental portrait.

3: Lighting

The lighting of a portrait or a headshot is entirely interchangeable. There aren’t really any lighting styles exclusive to either portraits or headshots, but it would be unusual to shoot a silhouette headshot! When lighting both portraits and headshots, we tend to use the same styles. We don’t tend to use hard light in either instance, but headshots are certainly more suited to soft lighting. As a photographer, the only real consideration here would be the types of modifiers used. Due to the ‘up-close’ nature of a headshot, smaller modifiers are required to get the desired soft light. For a wider-framed portrait however, to achieve the same soft light, you would need to use larger modifiers.

Wider framed images are more suitable for editorial purposes.

Wider framed images are more suitable for editorial purposes.

4: Usage

Generally, headshots are used for LinkedIn profile images, website ‘meet the team’ sections and other, more formal uses. Portraits will often be used for editorial purposes, such as trade magazine articles and press releases, and advertising. When deciding on whether you require a headshot or a portrait photograph, it’s important to consider how you are planning on using the image.

The space required for a headshot is minimal.

The space required for a headshot is minimal.

5: Space

This is something that we have to consider quite regularly when booking in our clients, as we almost exclusively work on location. The space required for a headshot is a lot less than required for a portrait (particularly full length). In the past have taken headshots in clients living rooms, but this would be almost impossible if we were to be shooting a full-length portrait. When booking in your headshot or portrait, consider the space where the image will be taken- if you’re unsure, speak to your photographer in advance.

 

Hopefully the above helps you to distinguish the difference between a headshot and a portrait- to help a little more, below are some examples of headshots and portraits to further illustrate the difference.

Examples of headshots:

Examples of portraits:

Headshot Company’s photographer, James Kenny, has almost two decades of experience shooting headshots and commercial portraits. If you’re looking for a headshot or portrait photographer, get in touch today.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: James Kenny

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: James Kenny

Photographer & Founder of Headshot company

 

James is a multi award-winning photographer who has been commissioned to work in more than fifty countries since he started freelancing in 2001.

His client list includes some major names, such as Mercedes Benz, Audi, BBC, NHS, Tesco, Shell, Kier, Bovis Homes, Barclays, Nationwide, Etihad, Emirates and Gulf Air.

James lives in Thrapston, Northamptonshire, with his wife, two sons and cockapoo.

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