Headshot and portrait photography have many similarities, yet vast differences. As studio photographers, we have experience with both practices.
Through the eyes of a photographer, we’ll compare our approach to headshot and portrait photography, and how they operate differently behind the scenes.
Headshots are a great fit for corporate businesspeople. Job seekers, employers and other professionals in office jobs can benefit from a bold studio headshot. The headshot is ideal for a LinkedIn profile or on the About page of an executive company.
Your headshot photographer wants this photo to align with your occupation and field. Headshots should depict your professional reputation. Doctors and lawyers have great responsibilities, and only a powerful headshot can demonstrate their expertise.
An actor’s headshot is different. This type of headshot is more expressive and conscious. The purpose of an actor's headshot is to showcase acting range and capture a distinguishable look.
View this gallery of Vincent Young for an example of an actor’s headshot.
Whether in-studio or elsewhere, portrait photographers account for lifestyle and location to elevate their subjects. Picture perfect locations take a portrait to a dramatic level. Incorporating lifestyle elements into the photograph will convey the subject’s story. These two concepts add ambiance to the photo.
The first step to capturing bold portrait photography is understanding the subject. A world leader, plastic surgeon, and fitness trainer share different stories. The best portrait photographers will place the right subject in the right location and lifestyle.
Portraits tell a story through the emotion and environment of a scene. A three-dimensional location creates an engaging photograph. Portrait photographers should think in layers: foreground-subject-background or subject-background-background.
Consider the storytelling portraits that would appear in an editorial magazine spread. Imagine the most fitting location and lifestyle elements that would appear to best represent you.
“I just need a headshot,” say so many people.
Just a headshot can do the job, but in this visual world, it takes a great headshot to make a lasting impression.
Regardless of a headshot or portrait, the client and photographer still need to consider style, lighting, and posing. The photographer needs to arrange their gear, set up a background, and test lighting. Whether in-studio or on-location, this process takes about an hour.
The best headshot photographers devote (at least) one hour to capturing one subject. Why an hour? Because a headshot session experiments with slight movements and various expressions. In both portrait and headshot photography, every small adjustment makes a big difference.
Are some headshots faster than others? Yes.
But photographers need time to create the perfect headshot. We snap a lot of photos, but only one of them is the home-run shot!
A portrait is more personable.
While there is more room for self-expression, it takes time for portrait photographers to capture a range of emotions.
Each change requires a new color palette, make-up, outfit, location, and lighting technique. As hair and make-up artists work on the subject, the portrait photographer is arranging the next shot.
During the session, portrait photographers experiment with various poses, angles, and lenses to capture the best version of their subject. Portrait photographers need enough time to capture their subject, so they can get the winning shot.
It also takes time to acclimate the subject. Getting the subject comfortable on camera makes the portrait session seamless. Photographing a subject who lacks professional model experience requires a skillful photographer to direct them.
Since there are more factors and details in a portrait session, they take longer to organize than studio headshots. See a portrait gallery of a business consultant that took an entire day to shoot.
Headshots feel more professional when the subject looks at the camera.
An off-camera glance can feel easy-going or dramatic. This pose fits editorial portrait photography, but it is awkward during headshot sessions.
Looking at the camera is friendlier and attentive. It conveys warmness. Viewers feel like they have your focus. A headshot should motivate others to approach you in real life and share a conversation.
The goal of headshot photography is to make viewers feel like they’re meeting you for the first time. In a professional setting, you make eye contact and shake hands.
Headshots are your first handshake.
Choosing outfits for portrait photography is different than headshot photography. When selecting a wardrobe, consider color palette and freedom of movement. Portrait photography is about expression, so plan outfits that show every side of you.
Typically, portrait photographers capture subjects at ¾ length or full-length. Since portraits show more of your outfit, subjects should plan for proper footwear and pants. Most importantly, make certain that your clothes fit. The better you plan your outfit, then the less maintenance it will need during the portrait session.
Portrait photography is about capturing body language. Clothes add comfort and make the photograph come together. At the same time, clothes are another detail for photographers to consider.
Professional stylists handle the wardrobe during portrait photography, so the photographer can focus on shooting. Having an on-set stylist helps portrait photographers move less during the shoot. Stylists ensure that the entire outfit looks its best while the subject poses on camera.
View editorial portraits of a United Nations diversity leader for outfit inspiration.
There are less clothes to manage during a headshot because they capture subjects from above the shoulders.
The navy-blue suit, red tie, and white shirt are a common style for men to wear during a headshot. Women tend to experiment with colorful dresses, earth-toned cardigans, or the professional blazer. These outfit selections work with neutral backgrounds where a professional person needs to shine.
Doctors often wear their white lab coats. A lawyer headshot will always have a tie in a Windsor knot. Though headshots keep clothing simple, there is a high standard of style. At minimum, headshot photo sessions will have a business casual look.
Find clothing inspiration in this shoot of the CBS Philly news team.
If you wear glasses regularly, then wear your glasses. If not, then remove them. Keep your style authentic to you for a headshot. Wear the clothes that best represent you as a professional.
Portraits are an opportunity for photographers to get creative. The best portrait photographers understand your brand. They want to capture a photograph that embodies your style and distinguishes your expertise from others.
Every industry leader deserves a bold portrait photo that makes a lasting impression. Great portrait photographers get to test their own creativity, while delivering a spectacular work of art for their clients. Thinking outside of the box is how portrait photographers take their subjects to the next level.
Elevating the subject begins with planning a portrait session that tests the limits of creativity. Taking risks to create a photo with visual interest will make the most lasting impression. See this portrait photography gallery of a hair stylist in a pool at the W in Philadelphia.
We’ll explain. You can crop your portrait photo to look like a headshot, but a headshot cannot function as a portrait. Therefore, headshots have more limitations than portraits.
While headshots act as formal profile pictures, a portrait works best in ads, billboards, and magazines. Generally, portraits are more captivating with more areas of focus. A headshot will always show above the shoulders. It is easier to convey your message through a portrait photo than a headshot.
In conclusion, a portrait and a headshot are borderline terms in photography.
There are some headshots that function better than portraits, and vice versa. Both practices are forms of creative people photography that photographers should embrace.
For over 35 years, Phil Kramer has captured stunning portrait photography for clients in Philadelphia, New York, and across the nation.
Contact us for your next portrait or headshot project.