Headshot vs. Portrait

September 24, 2015

There’s still uncertainty for many of the differences between a Headshot and Portrait. I’ll start off by stating that every headshot is a portrait, but every portrait is not necessarily a headshot. Since many of my clients are actors, dancers, and singer/musicians, we’ll make that our main focus. 

 

When people are first breaking into the entertainment industry a headshot is essential. It's their calling card. As they become more well known and audiences become more familiar with their personality, more portraits of them are created.  A headshot is tightly cropped, realistic, with a very natural and practical expression. The focus is the person. That’s why most headshots have less distracting backgrounds with very simple even lighting. It's often shot on a standard backdrop or in a location where very little can pull focus from the person. The lighting and composition is never too dramatic. 

 

A Portrait, on the other hand, gives room for the photographer and subject to take more artistic liberties. Portraits are often person specific; to show their character/personality in an environment. It may aim to tell a story. Portraits can be captured close or far back. The environment can be used to enhance the feeling, idea, or message the photographer wants the photo to convey. You can also take many artistic freedoms with lighting and perspective; using hard-light to create more dramatic shadows or shooting from a very high or low point of view. More autonomy can also be taken in post-processing with portraits. The actor in the two photos below is Andrew. One is a headshot and the other a portrait. They were both shot in the same location. However, the location was used in two different ways.

 

 

The headshot is a tightly cropped shot. The subject is the main focus. The environment is used to add to the tone of the photo, but if I gave people three chances to guess the location, many wouldn't guess correctly. It's not distracting and doesn't overshadow Andrew. The black and white portrait beneath it is a full body shot, with a different camera point of view, lighting, and an environment being used to help tell a story. A guitar was even added as a prop. 

 

The below images of Brad Pitt are a good example as well. (I'm not the creator of these images)

 

 

 

 

It's a bit interesting how in Brad's headshot, which I'd assume were in his early years before he was a star, it's cropped very close, inviting but still a bit edgy, and a lot of life in his eyes, so that any agent, casting director, producer, or director will be drawn into him. Over the years as the world became more familiar with his image, the photographer of the second image could have almost made most of his body a silhouette, and we'd still be able to determine it was Brad Pitt. I promise, if Brad's image was replaced by mine, you'd think "Who is this guy? What is he doing in the middle of the beach/water standing like that with no swim gear or surfboard? What is going on here??"  :-)

 

So to give an example and tie it all together, as an actor Andrew and Brad's headshot are showcasing them.  Features, etc. Their portrait is manifesting more about their personality, interests, style, skills/talents, etc.

 

So the next time you take a photo or schedule a photo shoot, think about whether you're aiming to get a headshot or portrait. They can serve two different purposes. 

 

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