What is the Difference Between Business Headshots and Portraits?

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By The Light Committee

If you are looking for the quick answer as to what is the difference between a headshot and a portrait, here it is. A headshot is usually a photo focused on a person’s face used for commercial or business goals in a way that directly or indirectly influences a work, sales transaction, or other business relationship opportunity. Meanwhile, a portrait is usually a photo of a person, not necessarily focused on their face, to be used for personal uses like sharing with family and friends. Examples of headshots include actor headshots and corporate headshots. But there is much more you might want to know.

salesman headshot in a studio with a blue background near Pasadena, CA
A Modern Professional Headshot Look

What is a Portrait

First, let us quickly cover what is a portrait? It can be defined as a likeness of a person, particularly their face, and can be a photograph, drawing, painting, and so on. From a professional standpoint, a person might hire a professional photographer to conduct a portrait session, and there are many types of sessions.

Likely the most common one people think of is family portraits. This might be photos of a family, say spouses and children, in a studio, their home or outdoors. But there are many more portrait sessions. Newborn portraits, maternity photos, engagement photos, couples portraits, wedding photography, and on and on. In practically all of these cases, the photos are for memories, to share them with family and friends, or other similar personal purposes.

What is a Headshot

A headshot is often thought of as being specifically a photo of someone’s face. In most cases, this is accurate. But a headshot can also be a full body shot. So, while how close the photo is of someone’s face might vary, the end goal of a headshot is its use being for commercial or business purposes.

Like portraits, there are many categories of headshots. A professional headshot can be for many types of professionals. Actor headshots are arguably one of the most important categories, in terms of it being the most direct use of marketing oneself. Model headshots – or modeling digitals – are also a category that is very important to marketing oneself.

In other professions, a headshot is used as an indirect or complementary marketing tool. They can be to post on company websites, online profiles like LinkedIn, to submit with applications, and so on. Various other professions rely on headshots as an active marketing tool. These include an attorney, doctor, real estate agent, and so on.

Having professional headshot made is an important aspect and differentiator between a cheap selfie or smartphone photo and commercial-quality photo. For any professional use, a person should go with professional-grade quality, especially in highly competitive markets like Los Angeles.

What is a Lifestyle Headshot?

As mentioned, a headshot is not always a closeup of someone’s face. It can be from around the waist up or even full body. The decision on how wide the shot is to be is largely dependent on how the photo is intended to be used. For example, will it be a vertical or horizontal banner on website? Another factor to consider is what message are you trying to convey? Often, a headshot goes alongside some’s biographical or professional information. But the photos created can also tell a story themselves, by making them lifestyle photos.

With a lifestyle photo, the main intent is to capture a lifelike representation of a person in action, usually while conducting their job or in a job-like setting. This might be a chef prepping a plate in a professional kitchen. It might be a lawyer in a library, and so on.

Examples of Each

Below is an example portrait, this one being of a high school senior graduating. The point is to capture the likeness of the senior as they are in that year, for family to have memories of it. Often, the photos are in an outdoor setting or can be in a studio.

A senior picture photo shoot of a young man outside after graduating high school at a park in Los Angeles.
An Example of a Senior Portrait in an Outdoor Setting

But a portrait can also be a lifestyle portrait. For example, maybe the graduating senior played an instrument in band. So, photos with their instrument might make for good portrait memories. The same can be said for a football player, basketball player, and so on.

Below now is an example of a headshot, in this case an actor headshot. Most actors have a commercial look made. This is commonly a photo of their face brightly lit, with a cheerful appearance. The below example is more a theatrical or dramatic look. This shot can be used for attempting to be cast as the bad person, villain, and so on. Equally, it can be for a serious character, such as a detective.

A theatrical actor headshot of a woman with a serious military look in a studio near Los Angeles
An Example of an Actor Theatrical / Dramatic Headshot

Now in the below example we see a lifestyle shot. Here, the chef is in the kitchen she uses to craft delivery services. The point of the shot is to create complementary images for a website being created to market her services, in addition to social media usage.

chef headshot in her kitchen in Los Angeles for promotional materials
Lifestyle Headshots are Used to help Brand a Product or Service of a Company or Person

These are but three examples of portraits and headshots. There are practically unlimited styles for such photos. So, when searching for what you need, look for either a headshot photographer in Los Angeles or portrait studio in Los Angeles, or whatever city you are in.