What’s the difference Between Branding Photos and Headshots

Don Orkoskey | January 12, 2022
What's the difference: Branding Photos vs. Headshots | Branding portrait of Cheryl Capezutti, Pittsburgh artist and sculptor

Branding portrait of Cheryl Capezutti, Pittsburgh artist and sculptor

What is the difference between branding photos and headshots. Branding photos, or personal brand portraits, are similar to headshots but they tell a more detailed story of who you are.

You need a new profile photo or a headshots for your business and your search results turned up a lot of photographers pitching branding portraits. Chances are high that the cost of the branding portraits you see are higher than you expected. There's a good reason for that. Branding portraits tell a more detailed story of you and your brand. When done correctly they tell people who you are, what you do, AND how they should feel about you and your work. That's a lot more than the average headshot can do.

First, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a simple and clean headshots. In fact you likely want one of those as well so you can use them for occasions that don't call for branding portraits. You may think that you only need a headshot but branding portraits will help you from a marketing standpoint.


Headshots are standard portraits that help people put a face to your name. They let people know who they're dealing with, that you're real, and help them connect to you on a human level. They're taken in front of a studio backdrop and best used in your company's directory or in places where you want people to pay attention to everything else but to see that you're real.

Headshots can be done quickly, in as little as a few minutes. A good photographer will take time to make sure you're relaxed and to help you craft a pose and the right expression. Headshots are vital tools in your marketing toolbox. They help people see exactly who you are but they don't tell an in depth story like branding portraits do.

Executive Portraits

Before we talk about branding portraits I want to tell you quickly about executive portraits. Many large companies have provided headshots for their important team members. However if you're a c-level executive you probably had a photographer come to you to create executive portraits. These often hang in the hallway or other prominent places.

Your portrait is taken against a modeled backdrop possibly with your hand on a leather wing-back chair or in front of your large imposing desk. Traditionally there is a lot of dark wood in the background of these. These are the portraits you typically see of banking executives. They emulate painted portraits that were done of royalty and aristocrats. They're still popular but the styles are a little different. In many ways branding portraits have grown out of executive portraits and of photojournalist stories that filled magazines starting in the 1970s.

Editorial Portraits

Starting in the 1970s magazine articles and even local newspaper articles began to appear with editorial portraits of business people. In the 1980s these really took off. These editorial portraits were a point of pride for the often young upstarts that appeared in them.

Editorial portraits done by a local photojournalist required you to do something newsworthy. To be covered in a major magazine required something really big and impressive. The photographers who took these pictures were helping to tell the specific story that was being written. They provided a visually interesting image to go along with the story.

Branding Portraits

Branding portraits tell a more complex story. Whereas headshots do give people a glimpse of how you want to be seen they don't tell the whole story.

Executive portraits were traditionally styled to show imposing, strong figures. The captains or industry looking old, wise, and intimidating. They were all about appearing very important and imposing.

Today's society has become a lot more relaxed and casual. Too more and more people want to emulate the editorial style portraits they saw in magazines starting in the 1970s.

One noticeable characteristics of today's business climate is the blurring of lines between personal and business. This often means including more personality in your branding portrait vs a static headshot.

Mixing Business with Personal

The blurring of lines that is mixing business with personal lives can be intrusive. That said, one positive aspect is that we can be more authentic. We can build real relationships with clients when we're being ourselves. This might seem small but it means our customers are more connected to us and therefore more invested in our business.

If you run your own business or rely on commissions you can use this blurring of lines to your advantage by become closer to your clients. To do so you need to build a brand that connects with your clients and demonstrates that you're someone they can trust and rely on. This is why branding portraits exist.

Why You Should Have Branding Portraits

You're wondering why you should have branding portraits vs headshots. Unlike simple headshots, branding portraits can show off your personality and give your clients someone they can connect to on a deeper level.

You've likely driven past countless bus benches and billboards with the faces of lawyers or real estate agents on them. The days of those faces just being a simple headshot are gone. People want to know more about you so they know they can trust you.

Branding Portraits Build Trust

Branding portraits build trust. They tell potential clients who you are. They might also show them what you do. Ultimately they give your clients and potential customers a sense of your personality. If done correctly they help people connect with you and generate good feelings about working with you.

Branding portraits can be somewhat editorial. If you're in an industry where power and prestige matter then showing your corner office high up in a skyscraper makes sense.

People want to know they can count on you. People are more likely to hire a real estate agent, lawyer, doctor, or other professional if they've seen your photo and gotten a good feeling from it. That's why your personal brand and branding matter.

Personal Brand

Your personal brand matters to your clients because it tells them they can trust you, that you are someone who matches the expectation of what they're looking for when they think about your profession. Having branding portraits that reflect who you are will help you build your personal brand. It will also help you land clients that want to work with you.

This also means that potential clients that cannot see themselves connecting with you will more often than not avoid contacting you. This isn't a bad thing, it's actually great. Your customer satisfaction and the time you spend working with clients who you enjoy working with will increase.

Why Are Branding Portraits So Expensive

Even if you're on-board with branding portraits now you may still be wondering why branding portraits are so expensive. As times have changed so have expectations about your appearance, things like camera and display resolutions, and the number of places and size at which your portrait will be shared.

This has lead to a lot of photo studios, especially those that specialize in branding portraits, to hire in-house make-up and hair people or at least contract with those people. A lot of personal brand photographers even have wardrobes that they churn through as styles change. All of these things cost money but they also are all used to help you look incredible.

Make-up and Hair

Do you need make-up and hair or a closet of outfits to try if your goal is to look like your authentic self? That's really up to you. It certainly makes sense to look your best for your branding portrait and there are considerations when it comes to make-up or hair that can make or break a portrait but if you have stylists that you trust who have experience doing this type of work you might be able to avoid some of these fees. Just be sure to look for a photographer who doesn't have such stylists on staff and that offer packages that don't include these services.

Headshots vs. Branding Portraits

Not sold on the idea of branding portraits? That's okay, this doesn't need to be an either or situation. A simple straight-forward headshot still has a lot of uses. If you're looking for a quick picture for LinkedIn or maybe you're a therapist who needs a headshot for Psychology Today then headshots make more sense than branding portraits.

Should you just get a simple headshot? That depends on what it's for. Headshots are very useful for accompanying your information. For example, on business cards, in a company directory or about page, in the program for a conference you're speaking at, etc. Branding portraits wouldn't make sense there.

Headshots still very much have a place. I recently was contacted by Intuit looking for a quote on headshots for some employees. If you've ever used TurboTax or one of their other products you'll have seen that all of their employees with customer facing roles have a headshot so you can feel more comfortable about who you're talking to. This is a great use of headshots. Any customer facing employee should have a headshot next to their contact information or bio.

Corporate Headshots

Corporate headshots still drive a lot of corporate photography business. If you have employees that have customer facing roles, like the folks at Intuit do, then it makes sense to have consistent headshots that match your company's brand identity rather than the employee's personal identity. That corporate identity and brand needs to share the spotlight with the employee because it's that identity, not their personal identity, that the customer is connecting to.

If you or your company doesn't have an established brand identity it's a good idea to speak with marketing experts about how to create this identity before doing any branding portraits or ordering headshots for the entire office. Once that's established it makes sense to bring that information to any photographer who is going to do portraits even if your employees are scattered around the globe.

Headshots vs Branding Portraits

I hope this article answers all of your questions about headshots vs branding portraits. If not feel free to reach out through my contact page. If you'd like to see some examples of my headshot and branding portraits check them out under branding portraits. Thanks so much for reading!

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