As a portrait photographer I have met many customers, inquiring headshot quotes, and also beginner photographers often confused identifying what are the differences setting apart Headshot photography from, conventional, Portrait photography.
In this blog post, we’ll go through and cover all the differences between these two, seemingly the same, styles – capturing images of people.
Before we dive and start exploring what sets apart these two genres of photography, will be good to mention that, essentially, headshot emerged as a branch of portrait photography – taking its place within the vast landscape of today’s professional photography industry.
Let’s analyze what exactly Headshots photography is:
What is a Headshot in Photography?
Headshots style is the more conservative way of capturing peoples portraits; this conservatism is mainly defined by the standard within the niche or industry segment where images will be used. For example, the main use of Headshot photography is in the corporate and creative (mainly actors, musicians etc.) industries where the main purpose of the image is to portray a person providing specific services, also introducing the subject to feature prospects within its professional scope.
The terminology of Headshots photography is relatively new (perhaps revolving, adapted too, around the new way of digital marketing and searching for services- online), better known during the day of analogue photography as a formal portrait.
Following from the above, certain guidelines were set, within the worldwide community of professional photographers, defining the way we capture headshots:
From the images above can be seen my personal, creative, approach to the traditional headshot photography:
A headshot is a head and shoulder close-up capture. In some cases, a slightly wider approach can be utilized to allow for cropping and more flexible usage of the image.
Studio headshots – background is white, black or variations of grey. Location headshots – background is blurred, out of focus, as it is not of importance.
Photographing a headshot is about facial recognition, Corporate headshots for interview attenders and Actors headshots for casting.
The subject is looking at the camera, revealing his/her best side.
Photography lighting set-up is simplified for quick turn-over, photographing and editing the headshots.
Headshot photography may look like a very simple and straight forward style. However, because of its wide usage across different industries, it can easily gather enough complexity to stand out as a photographic genre on its own.
Below you can see how versatile and specific, upon the usage and industry, a headshot can be:
As the name suggests, corporate headshot photography is a product designed to satisfy the needs of professionals working for businesses or corporations.
A headshot can be of a business owner or founder, displaying his/her personality and general appearance. While a corporation can use headshots, also like with the small businesses, to build a brand or identity with the appearance of the people working within its structure.
Usually corporate headshots are photographed in photography studio, however “on location” headshot sessions are increasing in popularity – this is mainly down to two reasons.
- A CEO or Staff doesn’t have the time to visit a studio.
- When location takes a significant part in the company’s brand and identity.
Despite backgrounds being blurred and out of focus, the feeling and atmosphere of a place can still be significant for the final result of the captured images. Also, very often a headshot photo session can be part of a more extensive campaign, where environmental portraits need to be captured too.
Where and how Corporate Headshots can be used and the purposes they serve, in a corporate/business involvement:
- Author page
- Marketing materials
- About us or Our Team page
- Company website
- Press releases – announcements
- Annual reports
- LinkedIn image profile
- Across social media
- Catalogues, brochures, advertising and complementary materials
- Marketing materials
Within an industry where model agencies need to establish two-way connections (model – agency, client-agency); Headshots of models, they represent, are of utmost importance for their work.
Modelling headshots are a selection of model’s images, building on profile and statistics, accompanying a relevant work resume. Specific requirement photographing model’s headshots will be the capture of a close-up, revealing the quality and complexity of the model’s skin – something very important for beauty work. And again, as the corporate headshots, models will need a mixture of portraits along with the headshots they’ll be required to have.
Where and how Headshots of models are used:
- Modelling portfolio
- Online agency profiles
- Advertising across different mediums
- Packaging for cosmetic products
From a business model perspective, Headshots of models is the most sustainable form of headshot photography; models need to upgrade their portfolio with images more frequently than clients from the corporate sector.
Headshots for the entertaining sector.
Professionals on the fields of theatre, film, TV, actors, musicians and in fact any other creative/entertaining industries, will be required, by standard, to provide a headshots picture with their job applications.
Headshots of artists will require, as you can guess, a more artistic approach; capturing the essence of the artist’s character and mood profile for better recognition in a feature process of selection. One good thing, when capturing artistic headshots, is working with people who should be very good at conveying different moods and expressions, something you may find hard to obtain from corporate clients.
Same as with Models, headshots of clients from the entertainment industry can be the more sustainable business opportunity for professional photographers. The reason being is that, for example, an actor’s headshots are intended to show the artist in his/her current state, reflecting on their best features. Many things can change easily in artist’s appearance in a short period of time, changes like this (body weight, hair colour, piercing, scaring etc.) will require newly updated headshots – reflecting on these changes.
It uses to be a norm for, mainly, actor’s headshots to be in black and white. However, like everything in life this aspect has evolved too – nowadays norms are much more relaxed which allows for both colour and B&W captures. The standard way of presenting headshots, when applying for roles, within this industry is by providing 8 x 10 inches prints; this is a standard size of printed headshots actors are using in their portfolios. In some cases, casting associates or extras agency may require only 3 x 5 inches prints of artists headshot.
This pretty much outlines what Headshot photography is, the purposes it serves and how is been utilised across different platforms and industries.
Now lets, briefly, see what accounts for the conventional Portrait photography.
Portrait photography is everything that Headshot photography is plus much more. The essential aspect of portrait photography is capturing images of people; in variations far exceeding the conservative norms and standards headshots photography is wrapped into.
This variation accounts for the complexity involved in regards to capturing portrait photography and the use of it. Portraiture, as a genre in photography, reaches much further into people’s professional, creative or personal life.
Due to the, already, lengthy nature of this blog post, as I don’t want to bother you with too much continuous and long reading, I decided to emphasize on portrait photography in a feature blog post – entirely dedicated to the topic. A topic revolving around Portrait photography can not be simple and explained in just a few lines of text – there is so much to portrait photography that perfectly can justify a long, dedicated, blog post on its own.
Answers to most common questions regarding headshot photography:
What is the difference between a Portrait and a Headshots?
The main difference setting headhots apart, as stand alone genre, from portrait photography is the very rigid format of capturing people’s personalities. Such formal constrain, dictated by various industries standards, is the main factor forcing “formal portraiture” to deviate to what we know today as Headshot photography – a style of its own.
Should Headshots be a portrait or landscape format?
Although the most common format of displaying and printing headshots is a portrait format, in reality, there is nothing standing in the way of capturing landscape headshots too. Ideally, you can have your headshot photographed both ways for greater convenience and flexibility of usage. Also, nowadays most cameras capture very high-resolution images which can be cropped in any format ratio – if further required.
Should I smile or be serious in my headshot?
This can depends on several factors such as:
- Styling and identity of your headshot – Where company/industry guidelines in place , defining (for identity, consistency or styling reasons) what the final expression of the sitter should be.
- Personality – If smile don’t come very easy to you, as personality, the best practice will be to act naturally rather than ending up photographed struggling to pull a smile.
- Outfit – Outfit can be a contributor when comes down to where should you smile or reveal more stoic nature of your character.
What is the best background for a headshot session?
Although most usual choices of background colours such as grey, white, black and any tonality in between are the most common choice for most headshot photographers, my personal choice comes down to client preference and outfit chosen for the session. It is always a good practice of deviating from standards as long as this is acceptable by both client and photographer.
How to look good in for a headshot?
Here a three, perhaps, the most important and simple rules to begin with.
- Have a good sleep the night before your headshot session, makeup or coffee can not compensate for your fresh and smart look.
- Be on time for your headshot session. This will ensure smooth photoshoot, with enough pictures taken in a more relaxed atmosphere.
- Don’t waste to much time in changing outfits. Better concentrate on spending more time in front of the camera, ensuring the best of your personality is captured.
It is very easy to get confused do to the way, an industry defined, branches of portrait photography are called – in this case Headshot photography. However, a better understanding of the underlying foundation in portrait photography can only make us better at photographing people – regardless the way we identify the style.
Portrait photography, perhaps, is the most diverse genre among all others. With its diversity occurred the need of naming and defining certain styles of photography as stand alone, as to say. Headshot is nothing more than just definition of a product adapted to the needs of any professional industry.
It makes it much easier if you are looking for, or offering, a headshot photography services to clarify what exactly is on offer and what exactly a client is looking for. This wouldn’t be the case if, for example, a client contact you and say that he/she (or perhaps an agency) need a portrait, from this point further just try to imagine the forth and back correspondence until establishing; how to, of who, for what will be used, visuals, where and any other possible specifics (upon clients requirements) to establish how to approach the photo-shoot and quote for it.
It’s clear that is much more efficient to build a business model upon simplicity than on general platform such as portrait photography.
Speaking of simplicity doesn’t mean that the approach to photographing headshots should be taken lightly, but the opposite.
Always put your best skills and intent when photographing headshots as this will define your style and place among other professionals within the industry.