Difference between headshots and portraits

In photography, headshot and portrait are different from each other. You cannot call them the same because each one of them may have a different purpose. A headshot is a very simple picture of a person. Technically, the headshot is a close-up picture of the face. The framing sometimes includes shoulders. Generally it does not require any kind of information or instructions. On the other hand, a portrait is more polyvalent. It can be anything from a close-up view like a headshot (the opposite is not true!), to a large depth of field picture including the model. It could include way more information about the model itself, his environment etc. In studio conditions, a very close framing of the head would be a headshot, a full length photo would be a portrait. Simple as that! So let’s study all the differences.

portrait of black woman on red background
Portrait Photography
headshot photography

Corporate headshots purpose

It is by far one of the basic differences between a headshot and a portrait. You need to identify the purpose of the image. Generally headshot images are used for business websites, business cards and LinkedIn profiles etc. Small to large businesses rely on professional photographers to realize their headshot pictures. It is not limited to corporate headshots, but it is the main use today.

Editorial, Family, personal and corporate portraits usage

Portraits are commonly used in magazines, quality environment, print media, blogs and business websites, social media etc. The usage is larger than headshot photography as it covers anything ranging from editorial, personal, family portraits and corporate portraits. It is particularly suitable for corporate photography, where it is often necessary to showcase a brand’s spirit. Environmental portraits show more about the offices, the ambiance, the teams and dynamic conveyed by a particular company.

The lighting effect : corporate headshot vs portrait

Lighting is yet another major difference between a headshot and a portrait. Normally a studio photographer takes headshots with the help of light modifiers that are relatively big in size. The purpose of using modifiers is to create a pleasant, cool and traditional look. On the other hand, a portrait can be more creative. On location, it could use natural light only, or combine natural light and strobes, make use of experimental lights etc. Even in the case of less traditional lights, the accessories such as color gels, glass and mirrors will prove to be handy for creating quality effects. Portraits are unique in terms of effects and arts. They are more suitable to depict a particular personality, view, or company spirit etc. However portraits can be created in studio light as well as natural light. 

Background or foreground of the image

Now it is quite obvious that the background of the image will determine it whether it is a headshot or a portrait. In the case of a headshot there will be a neutral background. Studio photography has clean backgrounds to create a clear image and highlight the face. Blurry backgrounds are used in order to create these headshots. Whereas in the case of a portrait, foreground and background help writing a personal story, linked to the model or the company being pictured. Creating a portrait in studio or on location requires bit of thinking and creativity. Which foreground and background should the photographer use? Should he use colored background, accessories? 

Headshot vs portraits : which focal length?

Corporate and family headshots are generally made using long focal lenses, such as 135mm and 200mm. This is the theory, as headshots only pictures the face and sometimes a bit of the model’s shoulders. In real world, some photographers would use wider lenses and crop the image in post production. When a portrait is photographed, shorter focal lenses are generally used, as it aims to capture more background and full body. The more common lens focal would be 50mm. On full frame cameras, it is the equivalent of human vision. Other commonly used options are 35mm and 85mm, whether it is editorial, family or corporate portraits. The photographer would capture more background or more body in the image.

The experimentation effect

It is perhaps the most exciting thing especially when you are going to photograph a headshot or a portrait. In a headshot you don’t need to experiment with too many things, the only thing you need to do is to focus the face only. Framing and simple standard backdrop is enough to photograph a quality headshot. But the scenario is different here with portraits. It needs to experiment many things to make the best portrait possible. It will take into account the the model’s personality, or the company’s values, the environment, the type of lenses, strobes etc! It adds a degree of difficulty and creativity! 
So you made it! You read it all! Hopefully you can now differentiate between a headshot and a portrait!
At Paper Prod, we make your portraits and headshots! Feel free to contact us!
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