Headshot vs personal branding infographic

Headshots vs. personal branding photography

A common mix-up for customers looking to hire a professional photographer for promotional self-portraits is the terminology of “headshots” and “personal branding” photography. While it isn’t the end of the world, at Focal we have seen more often than not that a customer comes in asking for headshots when they are actually wanting personal branding photos and vice versa. The goal of this post is to explain the difference between a headshot and a personal branding photography session in order to help you choose the right terminology when conveying what you want to a photographer. We will also cover some useful tips to help you choose a good headshot or personal branding photographer for your needs.

What’s the difference between headshots and personal branding photos? 

The clearest distinction between headshots and personal branding photos is the amount of the subject shown in the photo. Like in the name, a headshot is considered a photo of a person’s head and shoulders. While this sounds very obvious, it’s very common that a photographer has a client hire them asking for “headshots” only to find out during the photoshoot that they were looking for ¾ length or full length body shots.

Personal Branding Photography Cello Player - Jon Mark Photography
Personal Branding by Jon Mark Photography
Headshot Photo by Marlboro Wang Photo for bookfocal.com
Headshot by Marlboro Wang Photo

The second crucial difference between a headshot and a personal branding photo is the formality of the subject. With a headshot, the subject is usually looking directly at the camera in a fairly formal standard pose. With personal branding photos, the subject can be looking at the camera, or away, or even interacting with props. In addition, personal branding tends to use poses that are much more natural and casual. 

Lastly, headshots are generally shot against a plain white, grey or black background in-studio in order to accent the subject rather than the environment. In contrast, personal branding shoots tend to place more importance on the environment - thus, requiring on-location shoots instead of in-studio.

Do I need headshots or personal branding photos? 

Now that you understand the technical differences between headshots and personal branding photos, it’s time to ask yourself: which one is right for you? Here are some considerations to help your decision.

What are you using your headshot or personal branding photos for?

Generally the goal of a headshot session is to capture one or two perfect shots for the use on social media profiles or the “about” section of a website. Headshots work perfectly for these mediums because the closeup crop pairs well with small thumbnail images. Longer full body personal branding shots tend to get drowned out in small thumbnails but can work well in the about section of a website. Personal branding sessions tend to take a lot longer and are much more involved but they produce more photos, sometimes with multiple locations, wardrobes and backgrounds which can be useful for having a diverse array of content. If your business is in coaching, mentoring, consulting or real estate and highly depends on your personal brand, you should consider a personal branding session over just a headshot. That way you can have a wide array of photos to use on things like banner images on websites, advertising, business cards etc. Nothing is worse than seeing the same exact photo on every page of their website and social media profile. Plus, most photographers will include a more traditional headshot within their personal branding session.

social profile picture headshot vs. personal branding infographic
Website header image headshot vs. personal branding infographic

How much do professional headshots or personal branding sessions cost?

Headshots are typically cheaper than personal branding sessions. At Focal photographers offer headshot sessions ranging from $150 up to $600. These are typically in-studio and get you one or two finished edited photos in a 20-30 minute session. A lot of people don’t realize, but the editing process for headshots can be quite intense if skin retouching if required, be sure to check what sort of editing is include in the headshot package you want to book.

Personal branding sessions are normally a bit more costly than headshots. On Focal photographers offer personal branding sessions from $450 to $1000 for coverage starting at an hour. These sessions are normally much longer than headshot sessions and require a bit more planning. Typically a photographer will provide a consultation with their package to go over your vision with you and find out the types of photos you need. Discussing things like colours, environment and wardrobe will be important to ensure a match to the look and feel of your website or brand. 

Does your brand include more people than just yourself?

If you’re a larger business with multiple stakeholders sometimes you may be looking for more than just a headshot of each person. In this case a personal branding package that includes some branding group shots may be a good idea. Often photographers will offer a group rate for customers looking to do a personal branding session that includes individual headshots as well as team photos. Plus bringing your whole company to the photoshoot can be a fun team bonding experience as everyone helps loosen each other up in front of the camera!

about page headshot vs. personal branding infographic
group personal branding headshot vs. personal branding infographic

Why does a professional headshot or personal branding photos matter?

First impressions really are everything - at least that’s what a study by the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found when they studied the effects of viewing a photo of someone prior to face-to-face interaction. Their study found that the judgments people made from seeing someone’s photo influences their perception of that person even when they meet them in-person

These findings are nothing new, there are plenty of articles from publications like Forbes to Linkedin touting the benefits of having a “good” headshot. 

But how do you get a “good” headshot? Articles like these always tell you to hire a “professional”, but what does that mean? And how do you go about finding a “professional”? 

What these articles fail to mention is that finding a professional headshot photographer can be a very intimidating and daunting experience. It’s because hiring a photographer is very different from the majority of transactions that we experience. Photographers usually don’t display their prices publicly, there isn’t an easy way to determine who is truly a “professional” and things like photo licencing or session fees vary wildly from photographer to photographer. It’s why we often get customers who know they need a great headshot, but have no idea where to get started.

Thankfully the team at Focal has got you covered. We’ll go into detail on how to find the perfect headshot photographer, as well as touch on common mistakes people make when trying to get a “good” headshot. Lastly, we’ll leave you with some questions to ask your potential headshot photographer in order to make sure they’re a good fit.

How to choose the perfect headshot or personal branding photographer 

Figure out what you want

A lot of advice out there will tell you to “look within yourself” or “be on brand” when deciding the style of headshot you want - but at Focal, we’ve found that the easiest way to figure out what you need is to look at a bunch of different headshots and make a list of the ones you like. This is because people often have very varying concepts of what a “headshot” is. Some people think of your typical head and shoulders real estate agent photo, while others imagine a ¾ length on-location casual candid. These days, a headshot seldom means your typical linkedin business photo. It can mean anything from an actors portfolio headshot, to a personal branding photo for your solopreneur business. 

Regardless of what you’re looking for, our recommendation is to pull up Pinterest and make a quick “style board” of headshots that you like and are comfortable imagining yourself in. Then when you’re perusing potential photographers, you can show them your board to give them an idea of what you’re looking for. This will greatly help your photographer in understanding your vision, and will minimize the potential for any missed expectations as they try to bring that vision to life. 

Make sure you please yourself

Because headshots are so deeply personal, there’s a lot of pressure on photographers to make you happy with how you look. But the thing is that most people aren’t that comfortable seeing an enormous closeup shot of their face at maximum resolution. Therefore, photographers have to tread lightly in order to make you happy with how you look. Don’t be afraid to ask the photographer to see some of the shots in the middle of your shoot. Some photographers will even tether their camera to a screen so you can see the shots in real time.

Find a photographer who's done it before

The best way to guarantee that you get the photos you want is finding a photographer that has the photos you need but just with the wrong person in them! Find a photographer whose photos match your brand’s style needs and then tell them you want just that but with you in them! One of the most common mistakes that customers make when hiring a headshot photographer is asking their family or wedding photographer to do them. 

Ask about the experience

Most people have no idea what to expect going into a photoshoot if they haven’t worked with that photographer before. And because each photographer provides a very unique experience, it’s important that you find out if it’s a good fit for you. For example: some photographers shoot with a very traditional style, they use lights, direct or pose you in specific ways and take their time to conduct a very formal photoshoot and get the perfect shot. On the other end of the spectrum, some photographers might be very energetic, fun and even just silly - cracking jokes, trying to get you to laugh and then capturing authentic expressions as they come. It’s important to discuss with your photographer what their style is and what your expectation is because the worst situation is when a customer is matched with the wrong photography experience. We have seen very traditional customers get uncomfortable with photographers that are trying to be too silly and we have seen very fun and silly customers get frustrated with more regimented photographers. After all, great experiences equal great photos, so make sure you choose the right experience for you!

Where to find the right photographer for your headshot or personal branding photos

If you’re having trouble finding the right photographer for your headshot or personal branding photos. Be sure to check out the Focal Marketplace for an array of headshot and personal branding packages to choose from.

Focal Marketplace

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