Can Headshots Be Horizontal?

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By The Light Committee

It’s a question sometimes asked by actors, executives, models, musicians and other people in need of a headshot. The very quick answer is, sure. Of course, a headshot can be horizontal. There is no law stating otherwise. Some industries might have norms and some institutions might have requirements for a headshot’s orientation. So, it’s best to check before submitting. The better answer overall is your primary headshots should not be horizontal.

A headshot using studio window light of a woman in a black dress in Los Angeles
There are Usually No Rules On How to Crop a Headshot But There Might be Requirements and Best Practices.

Why Can Headshots Be Landscape or Not

A primary reason you get a headshot is to put the focus on you – your face and body. Humans stand vertical; thus, your headshot should typically match as it creates symmetry. Another reason is you want to fill the frame of a photo with you, not empty space or other backgrounds that take away from the focus on you.

Most corporate executives need just one headshot and it should usually be vertical – an 8×10” format, to be more specific. However, if you’re in an industry where you use multiple headshots – actors, models, real estate, etc. – you should consider employing “The Overlap Portfolio Technique.”  Yes, just made that up but here’s how it works…

The Overlap Portfolio Technique

It sounds complicated but, it’s actually simple. For fun, let’s give this a name: The Overlap Portfolio Technique. In this technique, you employ a mix of vertical and horizontal shots. The vertical shots you have done should be close-up shots that feature you. These are your primary headshots for submitting for career-oriented requirements. Generally speaking, because horizontal headshots will show more background, these headshots can use a strategy for the background.

“The Overlap Portfolio Technique” is When You Uses a Mix of Vertical and Horizontal Headshots

Examples of Vertical Headshot Uses

Actors know very well the importance of 8×10” headshots. There are also other common uses, not always in the 8×10” format. Some applications for medical residency require 5×7” vertical headshots. Most of us are familiar that passports also require a vertical headshot. If you write an article for a magazine, that magazine is usually going to also request a vertical headshot.

A corporate headshot of a woman in a suit in studio near LA
An Example of a Classic Good Vertical Crop Headshot

Examples of Horizontal Headshot Uses

If you have your own website and the brand is you – actor, doctor, lawyer, model, musician, real estate agent, etc. – you might opt for a headshot to be taken in landscape mode for branding opportunities. If you take such a shot where you’re off-center, now you can add a marketing message to make the headshot your website hero image. Actors and models commonly have horizontal photos in their portfolio to market their potential to specific roles – an actor theatrical look in a dramatic location or a model wearing a flowy dress in the city, for example.

chef headshot in her kitchen in Los Angeles for her website

Make Sure Your Headshots Are Professionally Done – Horizontal or Not

So, whether you decide all you need is a single vertical headshot or you need to employ The Overlap Portfolio Technique, be sure your headshot is professionally done. Do not settle for bad smartphone headshots. First, it’s too easy and a lot of people do it. So, you just fit right in and don’t stand out. Getting professional headshots done is your opportunity to stand out from those that don’t. The better the quality of photographer you hire, the more you’ll stand out. This matters more than you might think.

If you’re on the fence about getting a headshot at all, research has shown people will remember six times more about your profile if there is a picture to go with it. So, without a great headshot, LinkedIn and other online profiles without a picture aren’t drawing the attention they could be. You should have a professional headshot in your arsenal of career advancement weapons.

Need more tips on getting good headshots? Read the 7 Tips for Getting the Best Headshots.