Headshot Theory: Portrait or Landscape?

Traditionally, headshots were done in portrait (8 x 10) dimensions. About a decade ago, New York photographer and headshot king Peter Hurley burst onto the scene, creating a new style with landscape (10 x 8) dimensions. This new style was fresh, exciting, and especially appropriate for actors, as it leant his headshots a cinematic quality. I have dubbed this style cinematic headshots.

 

Is one better than the other? In terms of design, a cinematic style headshot is more dynamic because it allows you to create asymmetry in the composition by placing your subject to the far right or left of the photograph. Asymmetrical compositions are off balance, which makes them exciting to look at. Traditional portrait-style headshots are usually centered in the composition, which makes them look more safe, stable, and also a little boring.

 

Studio portrait headshot examples
Asymmetrical “cinematic style” headshot versus symmetrical traditional headshot

 

Usually I try talking my clients into cinematic headshots, although I always give them the option for the more traditional portrait style. Most go for cinematic when they see side by side comparisons. Some clients, however, choose to stay old school, because it’s what they are used to seeing, or because they need to match the headshots on the company website.

 

Headshot session: Oliver

 

 

In studio business corporate headshot of man against a white backdrop
10 x 8 “cinematic” style headshot

 

In studio business corporate headshot portrait of man against grey backdrop
8 x 10 “traditional” portrait-style headshot

Oliver came into the studio looking for a headshot that resembled the one his boss was using for the work site. The boss’s headshot was your typical corporate portrait, done against a grey backdrop, with a background light providing a simple gradient. I gave Oliver the traditional business headshot he was looking for, but also decided to switch to horizontal dimensions, against a clean white background. Peter Hurley also made the white backdrop popular in headshots, although Steve Jobs and his affinity for the infinity had more to do with the popularity of that particular aesthetic.

 

In terms of expression, Oliver’s traditional headshot looks great. It is friendly, approachable, with a great big authentic smile (when in doubt, crack a Star Wars joke). He was pleased with his new headshot, but once he saw himself in the fresh, cinematic style, I could tell he was sold. The “Apple” headshot seemed to hit him like a cool drink of water, and for the rest of the shoot he seemed much more energetic. Oliver still chose the old-school headshot for work, but I have an idea which one he’ll be using for his LinkedIn profile.

 

Studio business corporate headshot portrait of man against white backrop

Conclusion:

 

If you want to look fresh, modern, stylish, don’t be afraid to veer from the traditional approach. We as humans are used to seeing the same things in the same way, and only when we are presented with something out of the ordinary do we take special notice. If you want to stand out, don’t be afraid to go a little rogue.

Which style of headshot do you prefer? Traditional or “cinematic?”