Are you unsure about the difference between a portrait and a headshot?

Whether you’re an aspiring model or actor, understanding the types of photographs can help you create stunning images that make an impact. You’ll be equipped to ace your photoshoot after learning the key features of these two popular photography genres.


The terms “portrait” and “headshot” are often used interchangeably, but there is a technical difference between the two. Generally speaking, a portrait photograph is any shot of a subject where their face is the focus. It is usually taken within a larger context and attempts capture the personality of the subject with an artistic quality.

A headshot, on the other hand, captures only the face and upper body of the individual – typically with no background. It is usually used to show one’s identity or profession in a clear and concise manner.

When choosing between creating a portrait and taking a headshot for your needs, consider both why you are taking the picture as well as who will be viewing it. Understanding this distinction between these two genres of photography can help you create photographs that are both meaningful and meet your end purpose effectively.

Definition of Portrait

In general, a portrait is typically photographed from a distance, providing the sitter with more context. This type of photography focuses on recreating a scene that captures the spirit of the person in the photo. Portraits may be shot in a variety of settings and can vary in terms of both location and backgrounds. A posed portrait may involve fancy studio lighting, while an environmental portrait may opt to place the sitter outdoors or within a specific setting that reflects their occupations or character. This type of photography may even incorporate props such as musical instruments, books or clothing.

The primary purpose of taking portraits is to convey something significant to viewers, such as telling a story or showing personality through visual expression. When taking portraits it is important to consider elements like space and design, wardrobe advice, facial expressions and body language—all to create an appropriate atmosphere that accurately reflects the subject’s personality and life-style.

Definition of Headshot

A headshot is an image of a person’s face, usually depicted from the shoulders up. In photography, headshots are often used to portray actors as well as other professionals in the media and entertainment industry.

Headshots are typically less formal than portraits and focus on capturing a person in a more relaxed pose. The goal with headshots is generally to make people look approachable and friendly yet professional.

Headshots are commonly taken for use in applications including publicity or corporate websites, theater programs, employee directories, and for business cards, portfolios or advertisements.

Difference in Focus

When deciding between a portrait and headshot, it’s important to understand the difference in focus. Generally speaking, a portrait is used to capture an individual’s personality, mood, feelings and character. A photographer typically works with their subject for a longer period of time in order to capture these characteristics.

A headshot is focused more on the individual’s appearance than their personality or character. Headshots are typically used for business purposes like marketing materials or job applications, where the photograph must adequately and accurately represent the individual in a professional manner.

Although both types of photographs may use similar settings and backgrounds, headshots are often shot tighter on an individual and capture less of the background or surrounding environment compared to portraits. The majority of headshots utilize plain-colored or simple backgrounds that allow attention to be placed solely on the subject without any distractions. Headshots may sometimes include shoulders, but almost always capture only the face and neck area of an individual.

In contrast, portraits usually feature non-plain environments that provide a more dynamic look while capturing more of an individual’s surroundings—perhaps within scenery that has significance or importance to them as well as their overall “look” that contributes towards conveying their personality instead of just their physical attributes.

Difference in Usage

Portraits and headshots are both types of photographic images, similar in composition but typically with distinct differences in purpose and use. A portrait is a photograph that captures the unique personality of a person or group of people by portraying their character and emotion. These types of photographs are commonly used to commemorate special occasions such as graduations, anniversaries, engagements, or other events that serve as milestone occasions.

Headshots are typically used for business purposes such as obtaining a job or auditioning for roles in film or theater. These kinds of photographs highlight the face and the facial expressions more often than the body language and context associated with a portrait. Headshots tend to have a very simple background; usually plain white or off-white walls without any furniture, props, or decorations being featured. This clean look helps keep the focus on the subject’s face, allowing recruiters to get an immediate impression of what someone looks like from head-to-toe before meeting them in person.

Difference in Style

The biggest difference between a portrait and a headshot is the style in which they are produced. Generally, a portrait will capture the subject in more of a lifestyle setting, allowing for more movement and creativity to be used. A headshot is more of an up-close photograph that is used to showcase the expressions or look of the subject.

Portraits often capture multiple people or larger group shots and allow for various poses and styles to come across within the image. The photographer will use their skills to give direction on how to best pose, as well as bring out different lighting effects, location backdrops, and moods within their images. All this helps capture moments that aren’t so scripted looking but can portray real authentic emotion.

Headshots typically feature just one person in tighter close-up shots used primarily for marketing purposes or branding materials meant to display someone’s professional look or potential character type needed for auditions. The photographer has less flexibility with using creative lighting or locations as they often need to stay indoors…this also means minimal wardrobe changes if any; usually one outfit works best for these types of photos.. Additionally, headshots focus more on facial expressions instead of being concerned about capturing full body shots like portraits do.

Difference in Setting

Portraits and headshots – these two types of photography often get confused and are even used interchangeably. Yet, there are actually some distinct differences between the two. The primary contrast lies in setting: portraits often take place in controlled environments such as indoors or staged outdoor settings, while headshots can take place in both controlled or natural settings.

Portraits are ideal for capturing a moment, telling a story and conveying emotion. Generally taken at a distance, they provide a bigger frame that focuses on features other than the face. In addition to the person(s) being photographed, props like furniture, plants or art may be placed in the frame to help set up the scene and convey your message. Furthermore, photographers will usually spend more time during a portrait session in order to carefully craft every element of your picture.

Headshots are typically closer up, focusing on just the face or even just one eye. These can be taken both indoors (in front of an artificial background) and outdoors (in front of a natural backdrop). As opposed to portraits which require some additional setup including props and lighting considerations, headshots don’t require these additional elements as the focus is solely on one person’s facial features supported by minimal surroundings. Photographers will typically spend less time during a headshot session compared to more involved portrait shoots that involve setup considerations like props, backgrounds and staging setups mostly for fashion or editorial styles shoots. While portraits can tell stories with many factors shaping their appearance, headshots rely heavily upon proper lighting retouching to create their final look since they don’t include any distracting elements apart from what you see in the frame: one person staring right into your eyes!

Regardless of which type of photo you choose for your headshots, the most important feature is still the same: a quality portrait that captures your personality and charisma and conveys it to clients, brands or any other interested parties.

It’s also important to remember that what may be considered a “headshot” in one industry might be something else in another, so keep your expectations realistic while researching photo types.

Finally, always go with a professional photographer who will be able to give you quality shots and invaluable insight into the details that make up the perfect headshot.

Mike Haller


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: