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FAQ: What’s the difference between Headshots and Portraits?

When booking clients to shoot at my photo studio I am often asked, “What’s the difference between Headshots and Portraits?” Both are listed under “services” on but the differences can be often missed. To help you decide which you are interested in when calling to book me, here are my top 3 differences between the two…

First, “All Headshots are Portraits, but, all Portraits are not Headshots”:

Headshots generally, when framed in editing, are not cropped below the bottom of your sternum, commonly referred to as your breastbone, or bust line at the lowest. It is simply a shot of your head and shoulders or your head, shoulders and chest. This really allows those for whom you are shooting, people seeing your business card or website, LinkedIn, agents, auditions, etc, to really get a good view of you and see into the “windows of your soul”, your eyes. Full body Portraits do not, at times, account for the intimacy of Headshots and something can be lost while trying to make a connection with the subject of the photo. Potential clients, contacts, or people hiring you want to see your face and, yes, judge it. They want to see you and you alone, sometimes with you physically being unseen in person, and decide, “is this someone I want to work with?”

Second, “Portraits can allow you to bring the drama“:

Lighting, props, positioning, cropping, posing, background, spiciness… in Portraits, nothing is off limits. In Headshots, you and you alone are the feature, so everything else is put to the side and you stand out. In Portraits the entire picture itself is the feature. You are trying say something very different in a Portrait shoot than a Headshot shoot. While it’s true in both you want the person looking to feel something, the range of feelings is much wider in Portraits than in Headshots. While you want to convey trust, confidence, and even competency in Headshots, Portraits could invoke anger, love, allure, humor, or a just plain “wow, that’s a cool shot” among just a few reactions.

Finally, “Headshot shoots are usually shorter in length than Portrait shoots”:

Headshots are generally pretty short in time to shoot, sometimes as short as 10-15 minutes. Portrait shoots can stretch out much, much longer depending how many looks, poses, and amount of photos are required. I will say headshots for “entertainment”, most often for auditions or your portfolio, also can stretch out, but this is commonly one of several crossroads that inspired me to say originally that “All Headshots are Portraits, but, all Portraits are not Headshots.” Most clients in the market for Headshots are looking for “Bing, Bang, Boom, everyone leaves the room” while Portrait clients are looking for an artistic collaboration that often extends the time spent shooting. Sometimes even to the point of requiring… a snack (which I provide depending on the type and time spent shooting)

Can you tell the difference now?

Hopefully, this is helpful when you call and alleviates some of the confusion when booking me. If your next question is “do you prefer one over the other?” I would have to say I enjoy the brainstorming and time spent shooting Portraits to shooting Headshots but honestly, one is not “better” than the other. Any time spent in my studio with my clients is time well spent to me.


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