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Yes, they are one to the same thing. but why do people think headshot photography and portrait photography are different?

It’s in the final use of the image that makes them slightly different, the taking of the image follows the same eprocess. The definition of a portrait is a way of capturing the true likeness of person. That can be using photography, painting, drawing or even sculpture. And the reason d’être of a headshot, particularly, an actor’s headshot is to show a true likeness of the actor.

Is headshot photography portrait photography

headshot or portrait photography

The actors’ likeness needs to be as they are now, not as they were 10 years ago if they want to be successful at their audition. The actor must look like the headshot they are using!

5 Key elements of a headshot / portrait

1. Likeness
2. Connection
3. Composition
4. Message
5. Light


As mentioned above an actors headshot has to look like them as they do now. This is the number one complaint from casting directors. It’s when an actor walks into an audition room and they look different from their headshot. It may be a different hair style, more or less weight or looking older than they did in their headshot. What ever the reason it’s a mistake by the actor. Obviously this doesn’t apply to a portrait where there is more creative latitude.


Is headshot, portrait photography? - Nick Gregan Headshot Photographer in London

Headshot or Portrait?

The connection between the actors in the headshot and the the viewer of the headshot. This includes where and how the actor is looking, are they staring off into space, or over your shoulder as in headshots of the 1940’s & 50’s? Are they storming straight at you or are they looking into your eyes? Are they expressing emotion or are their eyes blank and lifeless?


There are many elements to the composition of an actors headshot including horizontal or vertical framing. I’ve seen tops of the head cropped off and hands in the shot. An actors headshot shouldn’t included distractions such as hands, jewellery, bold patterns or strong stripes. Anything that can distract and divert the eye of the viewer away from the actor. this applies to the background too, busy or distraction backdrops can influence the viewer’s focus.

Is headshot photography portrait photography?

Headshot or Portrait?

Portraits can be contextual or environmental meaning, placing the person in a surrounding that adds colour and context to them. An example could be an artist in their studio with paint, brushes and canvases helping to give context to the portrait. This is the wrong way to go for an actors headshot as background can be distracting. Clean and simple backgrounds work best for acting headshots.


Many actors don’t bother to think of the message their headshot sends. Are they portraying a strong powerful image or softer friendlier one? Are they trying to appeal to a direct character such as the sweet girl next door or a hard nosed street urchin?

Is your message warm and welcoming or cold and distant?

It is crucial that an actor thinks about ‘the message they want their headshot to send’ before and during their headshot shoot. When considering why is headshot photography portrait photography different we can look to the message each one sends. There is much more creative license in a portrait as the actors’ headshot’s message is  more limited.


This might well seem like an afterthought but it’s not. Even if all of the above are working well together and there isn’t enough light ot it’s the wrong type of light the message can be muddled or worse still remain unseen. A badly exposed headshot will leave the features of the actor unseen because they are either too light or too dark. If the actor is portraying a dark, intense, aggressive character and the lighting is bright and flattering this will detract from the intended intention.

As you can see there are many similarities between headshot and portrait photography and the queastion; is headshot photography portrait photography? as raised at the begoinning  is yes they are but they are different!

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