Professional headshot background guide

Published:
by David Em
Last updated:

Portraits Refined may earn a commission on purchases made from links on this page. For more information, read Affiliate Disclosure.

When it comes to a professional headshot background, there are two types that you can use. The first is a natural background and the other is a solid color.

Headshot with a black background.

Why are backgrounds important?

Backgrounds are important because they play a role in how your subject is perceived. Different background colors can evoke different feelings and affect your subject’s skin tone.

Related: How to avoid glasses glare in photos

When you’re choosing a headshot background, take into consideration these important items:

  • Skin tone.
  • Color of clothing.
  • Emotions a color will evoke.
  • The mood a headshot will portray.

These are a few things that have a huge impact on the portrait. Let’s dive into different backgrounds.

Types of headshot backgrounds

The different headshot backgrounds we’ll cover are:

White background

Headshot with white background.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

A solid white background is one of the most popular options for a headshot background. White backgrounds are also known as high key backgrounds.

Solid white creates a simple background that ensures that there aren’t any distractions behind your subject. It’s also the most adaptable for web or print.

It’s also helpful to reach out to local corporations or financial institutions, and law firms as they could have potential clients for you. Often, these occupations require simple headshots with a white background.

When you’re photographing headshots with a white background, make sure your subject wears dark clothing. This will create a contrast between your subject and the background.

Related article: 15 tips for better headshot photography

Black background

Headshot with black background.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Black backgrounds aren’t as common as white ones are but you’ll likely shoot with them at some point in your journey.

This background stands out because many people use white backgrounds, so if being unique is important, this can be a great fit.

With a black headshot background, colors will pop. This is great because the color of your subject’s clothing will be more vibrant.

When you’re using a black background, be sure to have enough light to illuminate your subject’s face.

The great thing about a black background is that if there are any specks on it, you won’t be able to see it because the shadows will be pure black.

Grey background

Headshot with a grey background.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

A grey headshot background is the perfect middle-ground between white and black. Grey backgrounds are neutral which are great for most people, especially those with tan and brown skin tones.

With a grey headshot background, how dark or light you go depends on the mood of the headshot.

Dark grey will be closer to black which creates a dramatic look whereas light grey is closer to white which can be more lively.

Nature background

Person sitting in a field.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

A nature headshot background is great for headshots that are more casual.

The main focus is still your subject so you don’t want to create any distractions in the background. Nature can create more interest and creativity than a standard solid colored background.

It’s also important to shoot with a large aperture because a shallow depth of field is ideal for nature headshots. With a low f-stop, there’ll be a beautiful and smooth blur that looks incredible with grass in the background.

One of the best parts is that you don’t need anything except nature which is all around.

Wall background

Brick wall.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

This is a great choice for using outdoor light. Wall backgrounds include solid, textured and brick walls.

Wall backgrounds may not be the best option for corporate clients but they’re great for less formal and more creative headshots.

Often, you’ll find natural lines on walls. You can use this to frame your subject or guide the viewer’s eyes to them.

Like the nature background, you don’t have to purchase a background. Wall backgrounds are free and easy to find.

Colored background

Person with a pink background and confetti.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Colored backgrounds are most common for school portraits but they aren’t limited to just that. You can use blue, red, green, orange or any other colors for a headshot background.

If your client wants a headshot full of color and a lively feel, colored backgrounds are the way to go.

Colored backgrounds are also popular for creative occupations as your clients may want something less traditional.

How to choose a headshot background

To decide on a background, consider the needs of your client. What will the purpose be for its use and how simple or unique should it be?

When in doubt, stick to neutral colors like white, black and grey.

For a colorful background, you can always use a green background and manipulate the color in post-processing.

Professional headshot tips

Photography studio.
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Headshots will be used for social media, LinkedIn, company websites, and for personal use. There are many ways your client will use their headshots and here are tips to help you capture incredible headshots.

1. Get Close. You can do this by zooming in, using a longer focal length, or physically getting closer to your subject.

When you zoom in and use a longer focal length, there’s natural compression. This means that your subject’s face won’t look distorted and the background will be slightly blurred.

2. Turn Away From the Camera. When shoulders are squared facing the camera, the result is an unflattering portrait or headshot. Instead, have your subject slightly turn one shoulder away from the camera.

Not only will this make your subject appear slimmer but it’ll also add depth to the headshot.

3. Focus on the Eyes. A slight squint and catchlight will bring a headshot to life. With headshots, eyes are important because of how close the viewer feels to the subject’s eyes.

Therefore, making sure that there is the emotion behind the photo and light in your subject’s eyes will result in a great headshot.

4. Dress Your Best. Make sure that your subject knows to dress appropriately. Headshots aren’t a good time to experiment with fashion.

Instead, tell your clients to wear something that makes them feel confident and gives the right impression.

5. Keep it Simple. A clean and simple background is perfect for headshots because it keeps the focus on the subject. When the background is busy, it can take the attention off of the subject which is the opposite of what a headshot is for.

Conclusion

Whether it’s for professional or personal use, people need headshots. When you’re photographing headshots, keep these tips in mind so that you can make your subject look their best.

Also, talk to your client to understand if they’re wanting something in particular with the headshots such as a specific background or type of lighting.

More resourcses:

Featured photo by Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

Connect