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Wishing you all a very happy new year! My first blog post of 2020 is going to address a very common question: is there a difference between a headshot and a portrait?

Now this is up for debate but in my opinion there is a distinction to be made, albeit slight. Here’s my rundown of the key characteristics of the two to help ensure that you’re on the same wavelength as your photographer.

1. What’s in the frame?

A headshot will be specifically framed for your head and shoulders. Think of the classic actor’s headshot – the emphasis is very much on the face.

A portrait can be framed however you wish: full body, waist-up, three-quarter body and, yes, even head and shoulders.

2. Where are you looking?

Headshots are typically shot with the subject looking directly into the camera. Again, the emphasis is on the face and the expression.

Portraits can also have the subject looking to camera but can also include off-camera looks to create a more candid, intimate feel often seen in lifestyle or documentary portraits.

3. Where are you being photographed?

Controlling the light is important for headshots and so they are usually shot in a studio (or on location with a studio setup) with neutral backdrops and strobes or continuous lights.

Studio lighting can also be used for portraits but there is also more latitude to utilise only natural light and incorporate elements of the background to create environmental portraits.

4. How is the image being used?

Headshots are most commonly thought of for use in a more formal professional capacity such as a profile page on your organisation’s website or on LinkedIn, for example.

Portraits have greater scope to be used in an editorial manner or as part of a branding project where you need the image to give context to a wider story.

So in a nutshell...

I define a headshot as a type of portrait with a narrower, more specific remit. In other words, a headshot is a portrait but a portrait is not necessarily a headshot.

Another way I view it is that a headshot is when you want others to know what you look like; a portrait is when you want others to know who you are and what you are about.

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