6 MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HEADSHOT PHOTOGRAPHY AND PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY

differences between headshot photography and portrait photography

In article below, I’ll briefly discuss several key differences between headshot photography and portrait photography. I will also include some photo examples from my portrait and headshot images I’ve taken in the past. I hope this guide will help you to figure out what suits your needs best.

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1. Use

One of the main differences between headshot photography and portrait photography is what images will be used for. Headshot images are commonly used for LinkedIn profiles, business cards, About pages for corporate and business websites, etc.
Portraits on the other hand will commonly appear in more creative environment: magazine and other print media, About pages for creative people, blogs, etc.

same person photographed in two different environments is a good example of differences between headshot photography and portrait photography

Romulo Ueda’s in studio headshot (left) and more creative portrait for his photography website (right)

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2. Feel and mood

Headshot image will normally have more approachable feel to the because of where it is used (see above). Subject will often be smiling.
Portraits on the other hand could be more realistic with less fluff. They often will contribute to the feel of the story or article.

differences between a serious headshot and a happy portrait

A serious headshot of Bobbie Harte and a happy portrait of Brad Baxter with his Litter Robot

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3. Lighting

Headshots are usually photographed in the studio, using big light modifiers that help to create more traditional and pleasant look with soft (if any) shadows.
Portraits will have more experimental and unusual light. Besides less traditional light modifiers variety of other accessories like mirrors, glass, color gels could be to achieve more artistic effects.

two portraits under different lighting conations showing the differences between headshot photography and portrait photographyTwo portraits under different lighting situations: Monica Fan (left) is photographed in my studio and Anthony Rineer’s portrait photographed with natural light in his restaurant.

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4. Foreground/background

Headshots photographed in studio usually have neutral and clean backgrounds to exaggerate importance of the face. Environmental headshots will have a blurry background.
Background and foreground are commonly used in portrait photography as they help to tell the story better.

Steven Acheson portrait for Madison Magazine 2018 February issue shows differences between headshot photography and portrait photographyPortrait of Steven Acheson with his 2 week prescription medicine supplies. Photographed for Madison Magazine‘s 2018 February issue about medical marijuana

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5. Crop

A headshot photograph is usually photographed with a long focal length lens, is tightly cropped and shows just a face.
Portrait on the other hand often photographed with shorter focal length lenses to include more/full body and a surrounding environment.

6. Experimentation

Last, but definitely not least experimentation is one of the main differences between headshot photography and portrait photography. With headshots, usually there’s no experimentation involved- simple standard backdrop, framing and stylization make an outcome very much predictable.
When photographing portraits I definitely have way more flexibility and room for experimentation. Experimenting and utilizing different lighting scenarios, environment, variety of lens focal lengths, etc. helps to create original, non-cookie-cutter images that reflect client’s personality, occupation and help to tell their stories better.

examples of experimenting with light and post processing in headshots photography and portrait photography

Examples of experimenting with light and post processing. Samba Baldeh, Madison alder, District 17 (left) and Kajus Vitkauskas, Saka (right)

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