Answers to your headshot questions

What are headshot photos? What is the difference between a portrait and a headshot? What is a professional headshot? Read on for quick answers to your headshot questions.

When English is your first language, you can probably guess what a headshot is. However some people don’t already know what it is, and that’s why we’re here to help you understand!

What is the meaning of headshot?

A photograph of a person’s head and face. This word and definition dates back to 1936, although one could argue that photographs of a person’s head and face date back to Robert Cornelius’ self portrait from 1839 which are of himself from mid-torso up.

Answers to your headshot questions
Answers to your headshot questions

What are headshot photos? / What is a headshot photo?

A headshot photo is an image of a person, anywhere from about mid-torso up to their heads. Therefore some headshot photos show the head and upper shoulders, while other headshots show the person’s entire arms.

Headshot are more than simple photos people. A headshot should portray the person at their best, and capture a bit of their personality. People can have serious or happy expressions in their headshot photos, and they can be taken indoors or outside.

Portrait or headshot: What is the difference between a portrait and a headshot?

Today the words portrait and headshot are used interchangeably. It should be noted they have different origins and uses.


The word “portrait” comes from the Latin “portrahere,” translated as “to drag out, reveal, expose.” Historically, portraits were paintings of nobility, politicians, and the rich. At the request of the subjects, artists often modified the appearance of their subjects. As you can see in portrait paintings, most of the subjects’ bodies are shown and they’re looking away from the camera. 

With the first photographs captured in the 1820s, it didn’t take long for people to be featured in photos. Due to early film’s long exposure times, people had to remain very still to get sharp portraits. Before the 1920s subjects were always serious or had neurtral expressions, possibly because it was difficult to stay perfectly still with a smile on your face or possibly because photographers tried to emulate the style of painted portraits with unsmiling subjects. Soon, “unimportant” individuals, like families and children were featured in portraits. Even criminals were captured in portraits, beginning in the late 1880s, when Alphonse Bertillon created portraits to help police to track and identify repeat criminals.

Photographers experimented with how subjects were photographed in their portraits, leading to candid portraits capturing the conditions that people lived in. In contrast, photographers also captured portraits of highly stylized and staged portraits for advertising purposes. As a result both the subjects and the environment told a story.


Not all portraits are headshots, however all headshots are portraits. Headshots only make up a subset of portrait photography. Headshots place a heavy emphasis on subjects rather than the environment. Thus photographers often choose to capture subjects against plain backgrounds. Traditionally, actors, actresses, models, and authors use headshots. In the entertainment industry, casting directors to pick people based on their appearance and their ability to convey emotion in headshots. Furthermore, casting directors pick models because of their complexion and beauty, as well as their perceived ability to advertise products. Meanwhile, author headshots help readers identify the author of their favorite books.

In the age of social media, headshots are an identifying and branding tool. Your face separates you from the thousands of professionals in your field of expertise. Businesses headshots show clients legitimate employees. People use headshots to foster reliability and trust in their audience. This means you’ll see headshots in all industries, from real estate agents to shop owners to lawyers to construction experts.

What is considered a headshot?

Traditionally, headshots show a person’s head and a bit of their shoulders. However, headshots can also show a person from their mid-torso to their head. Famous photographer Yousef Karsh’s subjects are often shown from their waist and up.

What is headshot photography?

Headshot photography is a specialized field of photography that captures headshots of people. Headshot photography involves special lighting, quality equipment. Photographers observe people to bring out their best angles and their best features.

What is a professional headshot?

A professional headshot is taken by an experienced photographer who knows how to expertly operate lighting, camera, and subjects to capture a flattering image. Professional headshots are technically good photographs that are detailed and in focus. A good professional headshot is also able to convey the personality of a subject through emotion. The right professional headshots can convey a sense of trust, passion, or sincerity not seen in expressionless images.

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Art of Headshots specializes in corporate and professional headshots for websites, social media like LinkedIn, and advertising. We have over 13 years of experience guiding you into authentic and professional portraits.

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