Imagine 💡

Create 📸

Inspire ⭐

Headshots vs. portraits

Although "headshot" and "portrait" are often used interchangeably, there are some differences between them that you should know if you are a photographer...

What is a headshot photo?

A headshot photo is a very simple portrait. You can consider it a type of portrait.

The headshot photographer takes clients' headshots to include them in their portfolio or on their website. This type of headshot may include photos taken within the studio, but headshots are also often captured outside the studio environment to give them an authentic feel.

When someone refers to a headshot photo, it usually entails a tight crop showing only the head and shoulders.

What is a portrait photo?

A portrait photo is a representation of a person to often display their personality or mood.

Portraits can be more artistic or stylized in nature and can include more cropping options than a headshot such as full-body, waist up, shoulder up, etc.

Portraits can also include more than one person in the photo making it a group portrait.

Differences between a headshot and a portrait

1. Focus

The main difference is the focus.

A headshot image is a head-and-shoulder shot with the head filling up most of the frame and little to no background information visible. The headshot photographer will capture headshots that work purely as portrait images of the subject without any landscape, cityscape, or other details that detract from their head and face.

These images are often headshot head-and-shoulder headshots. Here are other key differences to be aware of.

2. Number of subjects

A headshot photo is a head and shoulders shot of one person. A portrait isn't limited to just one or two people, though. There are group portraits, but there aren't "group headshots."

3. Cropping

The second difference between a headshot and a portrait is the cropping.

The cropping on a headshot is where the head nearly fills up the entire frame. Headshots will crop the shoulders and neck. The cropping of a portrait varies depending on the photographer. If it is a full-body portrait, the crop ensures the whole body is in the frame. If it is a group portrait, the crop will ensure the whole group is in the frame.

4. Mood

The mood of a headshot is very different than that of a portrait.

Headshots are typically more serious than portraits, as the main focus is on making the person look great as they would for a resume or an online profile picture.

Portraits can certainly include this style, but the second difference between the two types of photos is how much personality the subject is allowed to have.

Headshots are typically more serious, whereas portraits can include many different expressions and emotions.

5. Environment

Another difference between the two types of photos is the environment.

The headshot photographer will shoot in a studio setting, but depending on the photographer, they may step outside to get some fresh air or use natural lighting. Portraits can be taken anywhere. This is because portraits don't have just to show one person's face-they could include several different subjects in a group shot.

6. Style of retouching

Headshots are usually retouched to remove blemishes, perfect the skin tone, darken eyes or brighten them, and enhance other features.

Portraits are often retouched because the photographer wants to pay homage to an artistic vision without being limited by reality. The photographer may paint in a certain backdrop or change the lighting and colors in the photo to create an artistic effect.

7. Background

The background in a traditional headshot is typically completely out of focus.

The photographer is giving the viewer's eye no reason to leave the subject other than their clothes or accessories, but even then, these are secondary to the face.

When photographing people in a portrait style, there is often some detail visible in the background that can tell you where the person is or what they are doing. Headshots are often about enhancing beauty, whereas the goal of a portrait is to express something specific about the subject.

This can range from representing them as powerful and confident for an executive headshot to expressing their youth with a casual portrait.

8. Posing

The posing guidelines for a portrait and a headshot have their differences.

A headshot should show the subject looking "stiffer" and straight at the camera, with a more professional expression and a more professional expression of emotion.

A portrait will often have the person making more unique faces. They may be doing something interesting, like playing an instrument, skateboarding, riding a bike, or giving a high-five (for example, in environmental portraits).

9. Marketing

When marketing your photography skills, it is important to know which type of photo you are taking and who the photo will be aimed at.

It is wise to avoid sending out headshots to clients if they want something more artistic. If you want to shoot portraits, it would make sense to create a portfolio that showcases this style.

10. Typical situations

Headshots are typically used by actors, singers, models, and business people who want to have an image that represents their brand.

Portraits are more common in groups of people, modeling work, and weddings, where they portray the wedding party members or other guests. Headshots can also be included in a portrait session should an actor want to establish their credibility as more than just an actor. A portrait is sometimes included with a headshot, but it isn't typically the main focus of both.

11. Printing

When you are printing either of these types of photos it is important to consider the size and shape that will best suit your needs. Neither has a standard or common aspect ratio like print sizes for 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, 16x20, etc…

Headshots can be any shape, but they are most commonly printed in the 2:3 aspect ratio of 6x4 or 8x5 and also in the 4:5 ratio.

Portraits can be any size, although portrait sessions are typically longer than headshot sessions, so the prints are larger. To learn what paper type is best for headshots, we also recommend our guide → Paper Type for Headshots

Headshots tend to be printed in smaller sizes-like 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10, because they are often handed out to be put in multiple places such as wallets, frames, passports, websites, etc.

Portraits are often printed in larger sizes, like 11x14 and 16x20, to hang on picture frames in a house, for example.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on distinguishing between a portrait and a headshot. This guide is a part of our Headshot Photography Tips Hub, so be sure to check that out to further explore headshot photography tips and insights.

© 2024