Headshots vs. Portraits - tastes great or less filling

You’re looking to update your LinkedIn profile, or you want to have photos of the executive team, or you’re an aspiring performer and you’d like to have a professional photograph completed. You’ve seen references to headshots and portraits – what is the difference and which one is most appropriate for you?

Let’s start with some definitions:

Headshots – A headshot is typically a style of photography that shows the head and shoulders of the person. The idea is to show the person “up close and personal”, generally (unless for some artistic reason) with an inviting, friendly, and easily recognizable expression. The eyes, smile, and overall “look” is key, and ideally you’d want to convey something about the person’s personality utilizing expressions/posture of the face and head. Businesses, actors, or virtually any situation is appropriate for a headshot.

Portraits – portraits are generally considered to be any other type of shot of a person or group of people – full, ½, ¾ body shots. The environment/surroundings/backgrounds can be more prominent/important in this type of shot – whether it’s a lawyer being shot in front of a shelf of books, or a musician holding his/her instrument, a group of people/family, etc.

So which should you use?

As with many things, it depends – and you can use both for different messages/purposes. For example, businesses or companies may want to have headshots of their principals or leadership team in one section of their website, and portraits of them in their work environment, with other team members, etc. in others.

Your personal brand can be represented by either, it depends on what you want to convey. A singer who plays the guitar may want to have a portrait of him/her with their guitar if that’s key to their brand – or if the guitar is really very secondary, then a headshot may be more appropriate.

In my work with my clients, we first discuss your overall goals, objectives, the purpose of the photographs, what you’re looking to convey, etc. to help us define your brand (if you don’t already know). For example, as a business person, you may want to convey confidence with approachability – vs. an actor who wants to convey a sense of humor or drama. We can then jointly decide the best approach to communicate who you are and what you’re about – that approach will not only include headshot vs. portrait, but lighting, background, expressions, pose, etc., etc..