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What is the difference between a headshot and a portrait?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

When you are looking for your portrait photographer you will see that some photographers offer headshots and some offer portraits, so what is the difference?

Summarizing a headshot will comprise just the head or up to head and shoulders and a portrait is the same including more of you in frame but there is more to that as I will explain below.

Example of a headshot with painterly feel.
Rembrant portrait photography

Headshot does what it says on the tin, the most basic version is a passport photo and among the most sophisticated will be actors headshots.

Headshots vary from just capturing the head and up to head and shoulders.

Once we go broader than head and shoulders and start including from chest up to a full body shot, then we are talking about a portrait, think about Mona Lisa for example.

Example of a portrait

Both headshots and portraits aim to display the person as the centre of attention, the most important happening in the frame, for that reason we can still have a wide shot of a person in an environment for example a craftsman in a workshop, and it will still be a portrait as long as the person is the most important part of the photo, also known as environmental portrait.

Example of an environmental portrait
Moody summer portrait

It is commonly accepted that portraits are best suited to make a statement or express something and headshots best suited to show who you are and look like, however there is no shortage of exceptions to the rule. Where the intentional focus of attention is not the person, for example could be jewels, then is not longer a portrait, could be categorized as fashion or commercial and that's why when you commission a portrait photographer it is best not to wear anything distracting.

Portrait photographer or headshot photographer?

Well a headshot is actually a type of portrait just with tighter framing and both a portrait photographer and a headshot photographer should be able to do both.

Choosing is simple, a photographer that you really like that has work that shows it has done before something similar to what you want.

Photography is more of an art and highly subjective for that reason is important than when you choose you go with your gut.

If you are looking for a family photographer, then portraits is what you are looking for.

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