What is the Difference Between a Headshot and a Portrait?

portrait photographer

portrait photographer

A lot of confusion surrounds the difference between a headshot and a portrait. Even more surrounds the different types of portraits. We’ll clear up the confusion surrounding portraits first.

People most often think of portraits as the family portraits that you frame and hang on the living room walls.  However, as you move away from the family environment and into the business world, the meaning of a portrait changes considerably.

portrait photographer
Portrait of an art gallery curator

We can most easily get our heads around the difference between a portrait and a headshot by looking at the end use.  Headshots are taken to be used on LinkedIn profiles, business cards, marketing mailers, and company websites.

While every effort is taken to communicate the essence of the person in a headshot along with the brand values they want to project – trustworthiness, confidence, competence etc – they are usually kept simple.  The backgrounds are plain or very non-obtrusive.  They are shot tight with the majority of the space in the photo being dedicated to the subjects face.

Think of a portrait as what you see on the cover of Fortune 500, or in a magazine article about a certain subject.  Portraits are also used frequently in annual reports to tell a story about the business.  Here we are quite likely to start using background elements to help tell the story.  It could be a wider shot with the company logo included in the background of the shot.  Or contain key elements of the subject’s work environment in the setting. 

LA photographer
Portrait of an electronic music composer. Double exposure, done in camera.

Portraits can also be artistic and somewhat abstract when suited to the client.  The portrait to the right was for a composer of electronic music.  We took a series of double exposures to show the depth of his music.  It’s actually a good idea for a company to have portraits of the key personnel and key activities of the company on hand to fulfill media requests for images and send out with press releases.

An example of this would be of a notable fashion designer working with fabric samples or pinning up clothing on a mannequin.  Or the inventor of a new product near or holding his invention.  A fitness coach outdoors on a bicycle.  The CEO of a large construction company on a job site.  I think you get the idea.

Because the setting is simple in the headshot setup, we are able to offer standard pricing as we do on our headshot pricing page.  However, portraits will involve more planning.  We will want to discuss the needs of the shot and the best way to make it communicate the desired objectives in a glance. What location to use, what elements to bring into the shot and so on.  Portraits also usually involve packing lighting and equipment into locations and time spent with the lighting setup to balance the lighting between the subject and background in a pleasing way.  These are also frequently referred to as “environmental portraits” as the subject is being photographed in his/her environment.  On portraits we’re able to quote prices after we have discussed what will be involved in taking the photo.

So which do you need?   A portrait or a headshot?  The answer is probably both.  Your headshot for your website, business cards and social media profiles where people just want to see who they are going to be doing business with.  Then your environmental portrait to use in public relations actions to show people not only who you are but what you do.

Portrait PHotographer
Environmental portrait of an electronic music composer. Taken in studio with his equipment brought in for the shoot.