Larkin Small Photography | Headshots Vs. Portraits

Headshots Vs. Portraits

May 12, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I love putting my website together bit by bit, which has brought me to answering this question:

What is the difference between a headshot, versus a portrait? I'll tell you the subtle and not-so-subtle differences from my perspective as a photographer who runs her own business, and must be cognizant of time, aesthetic, and cost.


A headshot is fairly standardized, in terms of look, time, and end-use.



Let's talk about a standardized aesthetic:

When I am working for a company, they might have specifications that the image needs to adhere to: for instance, I always ask the aspect ratio I'll need to be delivering. Portrait (3:2) and square (1:1) aspect ratios are the most common to work with, as a head can easily be framed and a standardized output generated with these two options. Shooting to a square is great these days as it fits profile spots for LinkedIn, Facebook, and even circles, like Instagram, Twitter, and Gmail.

When I'm running a headshot session at a company, having a standardized aspect ratio does 3 things:

It allows me to work more quickly, since I know the look I am going for, both aesthetically and technically. I don't have to fiddle around much with either my camera or the subject, and I can communicate efficiently to my sitter what to do. This means I can maximize my short time with each individual in order to get their best angle and work around any quirks such as a nervous laugh, or misbehaving hair.

It lets me process the photos more quickly in post, thereby keeping costs down for both me and for the company.

The deliverables can quickly and easily be plugged into the company's existing framework without any extra work on their part.


When I'm working for a private client, a headshot's aesthetic will still be fairly standardized, but there is a little more play in what I am able to do with my client: how we can work together, and what I can offer in terms of feedback, ideas, rapport, and artistry. 

In my studio, I offer standardization by offering one background, expecting hair and makeup to be ready upon the client's arrival, and setting expectations about time spent and images delivered. 



Another way to standardize a headshot is the element of time: A series of headshots done in a "school picture-day" sort of way simply isn't going to be as artistic, or allow for as much creative freedom, as a portrait session will.

Whether I'm shooting a traditional headshot in-studio or at a workplace, making a connection with my client is crucial in order to capture a genuinely comfortable looking smile or other expression, but there's simply not going to be as much "switching it up" as there is in a portrait session. After all, if only one image is needed, then you only need the best one. Anything extra will be too much!


Finally, the cropping on a headshot is fairly standardized. If I am working with a 1:1 aspect ratio (square) then I will limit the frame to 1-2 inches above the head, extend out to the shoulders (+/- 1 to 2 inches) and end the bottom of the frame just above bust height. (I have noticed that if my sitter is a woman, they sometimes like to have a bit more body showing so as to minimize how much real estate their head takes up. I happily accommodate this request.)

When I am working a standard headshot for private clients, I will shoot in portrait orientation for a 3:2 aspect ratio, and get the full range of their shoulders in the shot, as it gives a more easeful aesthetic to the image. (See two images above.)

Some of my clients like to have alternative, more creative headshots. This is great! We can go for color, texture, and tell a little more story about who they are. At this point, the variables that determine what I call the end result, is the intended use. This is why I have "creative, artistic headshots" for private clients.  

A portrait offers a deeper look into the heart of personality inherent in an individual, not just a "thumbnail snapshot." Artistic headshots blur this line.

For portraits, I tend to throw all of the rules out the window! I will shoot in any aspect ratio I please, with a final composition in mind. Time spent is longer, we can move to different locations, outfits may be changed, and we'll be chatting a lot, which leads to a very sweet spot where the energy starts flowing between us like liquid gold. I call this experience of divine grace - Love.

So, now that you know more about what I do and how I do it, you know who to call!

Love and Snapshots,



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