Headshots vs business portraits

Today is the day that we are going to cross that blurry line. Is it a portrait, or is it a headshot? Which one do I need, and why do I even need one?

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Is a portrait the same thing as a headshot? Well… yes and no. I mean, a headshot is a very specific type of portrait, but a portrait is usually not a headshot. 

Clear? Probably not; the nuances are subtle, so let’s see if we can paint you a better picture. 

Portrait v.s. Headshot

When someone talks about headshots, in their mind they are usually picturing a professional photo that will be used to represent them in their working environment. Therefore, a headshot is usually a very clear and simple image of a professional, on a white or black background (mostly) without any context of environment. It is a bit like a passport photo, where you can clearly identify the person, but usually you wouldn’t get much information about their personality, character, values, etc…

Most of the time, a headshot is, as its name suggests, a close up of the head of the person (usually including the shoulders) looking straight to the camera in a fairly neutral environment. It can show a bit of personality, and that is what we work towards in our headshot sessions, but the main purpose is for people to be able to identify you. It is like your presentation card.

Contrastingly, a portrait is an artistic representation of the person and gives the viewer an insight into the individual being photographed. A portrait, or series of portraits, are meant to tell us your story. They give us a peek into your personality, your values, what you care about, and they transmit a feeling of who the person behind the lens really is.

A specific environment will help tell that story, but a great portrait can also have a plain background, because that “feeling of who the person is” comes to life and captures your personality. The expressions, the moment, the lighting, the angles, the poses, they all shape the image to evoke that feeling.

If you are wondering how that “feeling” is evoked, take into account the vast research about how much of our communication is nonverbal. Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language, was the first to break down the components of a face-to-face conversation. He found that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only. With this in mind, and knowing that a photograph doesn’t speak (yet!), we can see that the person and the photographer can communicate a great deal of information in a simple still image.

A portrait doesn’t necessarily have to be a close up of the face. Think about the damaged hands of a factory worker, the worn boots of a hiker, the crisp silhouette of the business man looking at the cityscape through the window… They all tell us a story about the person.

Therefore, the subject doesn’t have to look straight into the camera (and thus the viewer). This means that the spectator could have an even better understanding of who that person is by getting a glimpse into their real life (a bit like spying into their lives). Showing the person in their element allows the viewer to get to know them better.

All of this comes to say that the rules are much more bendable when talking about portraits in comparison to headshots. 

So having said that, why would you want a portrait or a headshot?

You may have heard that “people don’t buy what you sell, but they buy YOU”. You may have also heard that “people don’t buy what you do, but WHY you do it”.

Many times your portrait or headshot is the first visual representation that a potential client has of you. Needless to say that whichever one you choose, it should be of a high quality and represent who you are. However, a portrait will certainly allow you to connect faster and more naturally with your audience. Assuming that you know who your audience is, and how your unique personality relates to their wants, needs, desires, etc… that “feeling” evoked by your portrait will subconsciously attract the right audience.

Let’s say that a professional headshot is your bare minimum to have a good image in your marketplace. It is necessary for every employee that has contact with the business community and desirable for every company that wants their customers to inherently trust them.

If your brand is you, i.e., you are the business (sole trader) or people “buy from your business” because of you, a great portrait or series of portraits will become your best ally. We live in a world divided into real and virtual lives. Whether we want it or not, people spend a great deal of time online, especially when they are looking to buy or hire a service. Even if most of your business comes from recommendations, your potential clients will look you up online. Which means, your portraits will be doing the talking for you and facilitating a warm introduction with your potential clients.

So, should you get your portraits done?

I bet you can “hear” a bit of my excitement in my words and notice how biased I am. That is because as business owners, we know the importance of personality (after all, we spend a great deal of time with clients, we don’t want to be a transactional business, and we want our audience to have FUN with us), hence why we take the time (that we never seem to have) to create those portraits of our team

Selfishly, we love being able to discover and capture the personality of the people that we photograph. We know that we can help your target audience have a “feeling of who you are” and that is truly exciting.

So. YES, you should have your portrait taken, or as a bare minimum a great up-to-date headshot that will accurately represent you within your profession. Ask yourself, is my profile picture a representation of me? And more importantly, is it helping me connect with my ideal customer?

Leave us a comment to keep the conversation going, we’d love to hear your opinion.

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