Passport Photo Vs. Professional Headshot – Are They Any Different?

Woman posing for a passport photo, man posing for a headshot, text: passport photo vs headshot.

Passport photos and professional headshots can seem quite identical at the first glance. Both are likely to have white background, and essentially present the same thing: a person’s head and shoulders. 

Such a similarity can make you wonder what makes the difference between the two. 

It may even be the case that you are facing a set of meticulously taken photographs, which are currently exposed in your “About us” section on your website, or adorn your profile on LinkedIn, and think: can passport photos and headshots be used interchangeably?

Find out if those two can indeed be used alternatively, and what makes passport style photos different from professional headshots.

Can we call a passport-style photo a headshot?

Technically speaking, headshots are a broad category of pictures, and in delicate generalization could be described as photographs presenting a person’s head

In that case, a passport-style photograph meets the definition of a headshot – just like a square meets the definition of a rectangle – and could be referred to as a headshot.

However, the idea of a professional headshot that most people have in mind, may somewhat be different from the actual definition of a passport photo. 

You see, passport pictures are strictly defined types of governmental photographs that need to meet a set of thoroughly prepared regulations, such as size, format and purpose. These regulations are defined and listed by each country, which makes passport photos slightly different around the world. 

What is considered a properly-taken passport picture in the U.S. will be a simple photo in Canada, as these two nations have different definitions of passport-style photographs.

Professional headshots, however, are not bound to any official regulations. There is no institution that sets forth specific characteristics of such a picture. Headshots are mostly taken for private and business purposes: a picture for your business card, website or social media profile. 

The take-away here is that ‘headshot’ is an open term, whereas passport photo is a strictly defined one.

Passport style photo vs. a professional headshot – an example

Although we try our best to describe things as accurately as possible, sometimes it is best to visualize things. 

With the example below, you may be able to spot the key differences between a passport-style photo and a professional headshot.

Indeed, both photographs present a person’s bust, but the way they do it is fundamentally different. 

As said, passport photos are defined and regulated by a nation’s governments. In the case of the United States, it is the Department of State that is responsible for setting guidelines for passport pictures. In short, a passport photo must have a plain white background, the person must be seen frontally, a neutral facial expression is required and no accessories are allowed. 

Headshots are more flexible. Depending on the final destination and your equipment, the photograph may have a more extravagant background. You do not have to pose frontally with a neutral face expression, and accessories (such as glasses) are allowed. 

Although headshots are not strictly defined, there is a set of good practices on how to get a good-looking photograph. We cover that in more depth below.

Side to side comparison of passport photo and headshot with key differences: pose, accessories, background and cropping.

Headshot vs. passport-style photo: a sneak peek into the differences

To fully comprehend how different passport photos and headshots are, we invite you to follow our in-depth comparison. 

The following paragraphs may also be beneficial for you to understand what makes a proper passport photo and what makes a good headshot.

The purpose

First and foremost, it is the purpose that makes the main difference.

Passport photographs are used for official, government-issued documents, such as passports, visas, green cards, etc.

Headshots are taken for private and corporate purposes, and the most prominent example here would be actor’s headshots, but it could also be a profile photo for your social media platform or for your business card.

Your pose

Posing is crucial. It is what makes the difference between an accepted and rejected passport photo.

For passport photos, there is a standardized  set of conditions (with individual exceptions) regarding your pose. For the majority of nations, including the United States, you need to stand frontally toward the camera, remain in an upwards position and have a neutral facial expression – no smiling is allowed. 

Headshots, on the other hand, allow for some levels of freedom of expression. You may pose frontally, but you are equally allowed to present your profile. If you feel comfortable, you may present your toothpaste-commercial-like smile and have your arms crossed. The only thing you need to bear in mind is the aesthetics.

The background

Passport photographs require a plain white background. No objects, shadows or people can be visible behind you. Small deviations in terms of the background color are allowed, but it has to stay within the white-grayish tones.

Headshots often come with a plain background as well, but these can have any color you desire. Companies often decide to use their organizational palette. What background you decide upon in your headshot is up to your personal liking. According to professionals working in the niche, however, a non-distracting background is recommended – it could be layers of brick behind you, or a blurred interior of your company.

Size, format and resolution

As you may have already probably figured out, passport photos are regulated also in technical terms. 

Based on the U.S. example, passport photos need to have a 1 x 1 (square) format. On the other hand,  European countries follow a rectangular (close to 3 x 4) format. 

For consistency, let’s stick with the United States. 

U.S. passport photos must  measure exactly 2 inches by 2 inches after printing.Moreover, the accepted resolution ranges for digital photographs  start at 600 by 600 pixels, up to 1200 x 1200 px. 

You cannot print your passport photo bigger or smaller than the recommended size. If you apply for your passport using photographs with different measurements, your application will be denied. 

The size of your headshot photograph depends on the purpose. If you want to use it for your business card, you should keep it small, so it fits the standard business card template. But you are welcome to print your photo in  poster size, and hang it around the corridors of your company. 

The recommended resolution for your headshot is anything starting from 600 px. Values below that number may result in poor quality photographs. 

Post-processing and alterations

I am pretty certain that you may have already gotten  the gist of what passport photographs should look like. 

According to the U.S. Department of State, passport photographs cannot be modified in any way. If you want your passport application to be accepted, you should not perform any post-processing to your passport pictures – and that means no filters, no enhancing the light, no removal of any imperfections.

The only modification that is allowed to be done on your passport picture is simple cropping to the required size. 

Headshot photographs may, and usually are, enhanced after the shooting. Professional photographs take care of post processing so the pictures look as favorably as possible – and that can include filters, pimple removals, or skin tone changes. 

Photograph taking

You may have already noticed a certain pattern here. Passport photographs are strict, whereas headshots are flexible. Although such a relationship is true in the previous aspects, things get a bit more relaxed when it comes to taking photographs. 

Both passport photos and headshot photographs can be taken using any suitable device – and by suitable, I mean capable of meeting the minimum technical requirements. 

You can use your smartphone, you can use your digital camera, and you can ask a professional photographer to take both your passport and headshot picture. 

And selfies are not recommended for either one.

And here is how to take a U.S. passport photo with your smartphone.

Ahead of the game way to take your passport photograph – PhotoAiD

Passport photographs are bound to numerous regulations, and there is no way around that. The good news, however, is that there is a way to take passport photos from your own couch.

PhotoAiD is a professional passport photo tool that transforms your smartphone photographs into passport photos in fewer than 10 (ten) clicks. 

The app removes the background of your photo and replaces it with a plain white one. Within 3 (three) seconds the software adjusts the cropping to fit passport standards, and simultaneously checks your photograph’s compliance with official requirements. 

PhotoAiD requires no prior experience in taking ID photos, as it has been designed to create perfect passport photos automatically. The program’s easy and intuitive interface, with exposed buttons and no distractions, ensures a smooth walk through the process of converting your ordinary images into passport photos.

See the selection of available documents and take your ID photograph with PhotoAiD. 

Headshot vs. passport-style photo – FAQs

Can I use a passport photo for a professional headshot?

There is nothing stopping you from using your passport photo as a professional headshot. A passport photo is snapped against a white background with a neutral pose and expression, and can easily be used as a headshot – regardless of what purpose it serves. 

What is a passport-style headshot?

Passport-style headshots are the type of photographs taken according to official passport requirements and used for governmental purposes, such as passports, green cards or driver’s license.

Is a headshot photo the same as a passport photo?

The passport photo is not the same as a standard headshot. A passport photo is a governmentally regulated type of photograph and its main purpose is to serve in official photo documents. A headshot, on the other hand, can be taken according to one’s tastes and is used privately.

What is a professional headshot photo?

A professional headshot is a portrait-style photograph that usually presents the face and shoulders of the person. Generally, headshots are used for private purposes, and they are not suitable for administrative or governmental use.

What is a passport-style photo?

A passport-style photo is a government-regulated photograph, mostly used for administrative purposes, such as your passport or driver’s license. A photo must meet all the necessary requirements in order to qualify as a passport-style photo. 

Passport-style photo and a professional headshot – a summary

In our opinion, the easiest way to distinguish a passport photograph from a headshot picture is by examining the background and posing. 

Due to its low aesthetic attributes, plain white backgrounds are not the most common choice for headshots, and are mainly associated with passport-style photographs. Similarly, a neutral facial expression is not considered to be the most charismatic one, which makes it a better fit for passport photos, rather than headshots. 

Another take-away here is that passport photos can be used as a headshot. However, your headshot cannot be used in a passport application.