Headshots v Portraits - what the hell is the difference?
As I chat with a variety of thought leaders, there seems to be some confusion in this community about the difference between headshots and portraits.
Before I became a full-time photographer, I shared that same confusion, so, I get it.
Allow me to shed some light on the difference:
Headshots are a type of portrait - a highly specialized portrait - captured in a controlled environment, such as a studio, with the subject staring down the barrel of the lens.
These images are best leveraged as profile pictures, website “About Me” photos, speaker submissions and other types of press-related materials.
Notice two important characteristics that immediately jump out when viewing this image:
It’s very “clean” - uniform background, solid colored clothing, no crazy makeup or jewelry.
the crop is very tightly centered on the head and face, with little room for the rest of the body.
These are a super important details to keep in mind.
When potential clients visit your profile and view your headshot for the first time, it’s your unofficial introduction to them, so it’s vital to make a great impression - make sure they can look you in the eye, interpret your expression so they can get a sense of of who you are.
Everything in that frame supports this goal, which is why it’s vital to keep visual distractions - big shiny jewelry, overdone makeup or heavily-patterned clothing - out of the frame.
It’s harder to make that connection if the image is a wider shot where your face is hard to spot in a small profile picture space or if you’re wearing very distracting clothing and accessories.
Portraits, on the other hand, do not have such tight guidelines and restrictions.
These are the photos where you can let your freak flag fly, folks. (unintentional alliteration, lol)
These photos are great for everything else related to your image content needs - social posts, sales vehicles, signage for your sponsorship tables at summits and expos, as well as book covers and other printed materials.
Wear outfits that enhance and accentuate your brand - absolutely.
Head-to-toe framing? Go for it, it’s cool!
Looking directly at the camera or away from the camera? Why the hell not?
Capture you in action - working, walking, talking, or other various “lifestyle” scenarios - please and thank you.
Now, here’s where it can become a little confusing - YES, portraits CAN be used as headshots, BUT, it’s still a prerequisite that the portrait that’s used is tightly cropped to the face, the subject is looking into the camera, and the distractions in the frame are minimal, at most.