Portrait vs headshot Photography: What is the difference?

Ten years ago I wrote this article about a the difference between portrait vs headshot photography, but lots has changed since then. In 2009 some agencies and individuals were barely learning about this new phenomenon called social media or were adverse to change, while the younger generation was embracing it. Ten years later and now its different. Since we no longer have phone books, marketing and advertising relies on Google, Instagram, Facebook, and countless other social media channels to survive as a business or entrepreneur.

Wikipedia Actor Headshot of Michelle Borromeo

What is a Headshot?

Headshot is a synonym for portrait but is used more commonly to refer to professional profile images. They can be photographed to brand an individual or photographed to match the branding identity of a corporation. Often people make the mistake in thinking that its an image of a person’s head but contrary to popular belief, it can also be full body  image. The intention is to capture the personality so viewers can understand the individual.

A head shot or headshot is a modern (usually digital) portrait in which the focus is on the person. The term is applied usually for professional profile images on social media, images used on online dating profiles, the ‘about us page’ or a corporate website and promotional pictures of actorsmodels, and authors.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_shot


What is a Portrait?

Portrait photographs now refer to images of people pre-social media era. Photographers would be hired to capture portraits of important people to be printed and displayed.

“Portrait photography or portraiture in photography is a photograph of a person or group of people that captures the personality of the subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses. A portrait picture might be artistic, or it might be clinical, as part of a medical study. Frequently, portraits are commissioned for special occasions, such as weddings or school events. Portraits can serve many purposes, from usage on a personal Web site to display in the lobby of a business.”

Historically, portraits were usually commissioned for special occasions, such as for weddings, military, or notable politicians. Due to the rarity of portraits, they were usually only commissioned by wealthy families. In the last century the frequency with which portraits were captured has expanded to celebrities, school photos, family portraits for middle class citizens, special anniversaries, and more. A portrait picture might be artistic, or it might be clinical as part of a medical study. Now a days, portraits can serve many new purposes, from usage on personal websites to display in the lobby of a business.

Main differences between portrait vs headshot

The following are some of the common differences when one refers to portrait vs headshot photography.

  1. Portrait photography can be one individual or group of individuals and also includes event sessions such as weddings and graduations.
  2. Headshots are referred to a singular image of an individuals.
  3. Portraits are printed.
  4. Headshots are rarely printed unless used as an 8×10 for actors audition or as a gift.
  5. Most portrait photography are captured through a film camera and processed in chemical labs.
  6. Headshots are usually photographed digitally and may be photoshopped for enhancements.
  7. Headshot images are produced in 72 dpi for monitor visualization or 300 dpi for printing.
  8. Portrait photography are archived in film emulsion.