portrait vs headshot

Difference Between Portraits and Headshots

What’s a headshot? A picture of someone, usually just head and shoulders. What’s a portrait? A picture of someone, often just head and shoulders. So is there a difference? The answer to that is, “Yes, there certainly is!” Read on to learn exactly what it is…

 

The Difference Between Headshots and Portraits

You might be forgiven for wondering if the difference between headshots and portraits was a matter of technique – but in fact it’s actually one of intent.

 

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Black and White Headshot (c) Headshot London photography Studio

 

A headshot is generally taken to mean a formal representation of a person for use in a professional setting. Businessmen have them taken to use on profiles or to accompany articles about them. Actors always need an up-to-date headshot for their portfolio, as do models. And in fact, in this day and age of online living, practically everyone needs one for their LinkedIn or Facebook page.

 

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Character PR Portrait (c) Headshot London Photography Studio

 

A portrait on the other hand should be less formal and more enlightening – it should in some way tell a story or illuminate who the sitter is. It can be head and shoulders, or it could be from the waist up or even show the complete figure. And whereas headshots need to be pretty straightforward, a portrait allows for artistic license – for example, dramatic use of light and shade could put the sitter’s features into shadow to create an air of mystery or props could be used to tell a story about the person.

 

Tips For Taking Headshots and Portraits

 

1. When it comes to lighting, headshots benefit from softer lighting that doesn’t create harsh shadows on the face or make prominent features stand out. With portraits you can afford to be slightly more dramatic and allow more contrast.

 

2. Prepare your subject for a headshot to look as relaxed as possible. They should wear their usual work attire and avoid fresh haircuts, heavy make-up and forced smiles.

 

3. Headshots shouldn’t include props and work best with a neutral background. Portraits, on the other hand, can make full use of settings and props to tell the sitter’s story.

 

4. Portraits can be shot in extreme close – up or from a distance, and can be made more interesting by being shot at an unusual angle. Headshots, however, don’t benefit from these treatments.

 

5. Most headshots will be in colour and use standard lighting – it is, after all, about creating a true life representation of your subject. Portraits, though, often benefit from being in black and white. For some reason monochrome images often appear to carry more emotional depth than colour ones and a good portrait photographer will use this factor to his advantage. Generally, the expectation is that a headshot will be shot in portrait format rather than landscape, though once again a portrait doesn’t have to follow such hard and fast rules.

 

6. For actors, versatility is key so a headshot should not suggest a certain type – this means keeping clothing neutral and, for women, not overdoing it with hair and make-up. Casting directors need to see the individual’s face clearly—they know they can easily change a person’s look in the wardrobe and make-up department.