Headshots | Backgrounds and colours matter
What do we mean by a headshot? After all, it’s a term that wasn’t widely used until just a few years ago. It refers to a portrait of a person, with the emphasis on the face and little else. In other words, it’s a shot that shows you what the subject looks like. In the circles I inhabit it tends to refer to a business headshot (though there are other kinds, specifically actors’ headshots). As it’s a photo used for business, there are a few unwritten but important rules about what makes a good headshot.
Principally, it has to look like the person being photographed. Beyond that, the best headshots convey an aspect of personality; one that is best suited to the business that person’s involved in. I shoot a lot of headshots for professionals – I’m often working for accountancy and law firms – and almost everybody is striving to walk that thin line between appearing approachable yet professional. We spend a lot of time on getting that expression right in a session.
Because the emphasis is on the face (the shot is little more than head and shoulders – though some companies like to zoom out a little wider), the expression has to be right. So too does the image created by the few ingredients present – does your business sector require formality or is it relaxed? Do you need to wear a shirt (and tie)? A jacket? Or can a sweatshirt pass muster? All these are individual and sector-specific elements.
One area that isn’t much dwelled upon is the background, beyond the requirement that it’s plain and doesn’t distract from the subject. I agree with that completely, but a recent job has got me thinking about the power of introducing colour to this part of the headshot.
Because the majority of people I photograph want a headshot for Linkedin and are professionals, I tend to use a white or pale background to the shot. This is not a distraction, and the pale neutral tone blends well with pretty much anything that the subject is wearing, as well as with all hair colours. The pale backgrounds acts to push the subject forward, so the emphasis in on them – exactly the point of the shot.
Sometimes, though, a dark background can add impact. It’s a bit more dramatic, and there is the danger of the subject receding into the shot – though with good lighting to create separation from the background this can be avoided. I’ve shot against dark backgrounds for people who work in creative industries, or who want something a bit moodier than the ‘standard’ headshot.
And then there are left field choices, and what prompted this blog post. I was shooting Linkedin headshots the other week and had a specific request for a brighly coloured background. Sara is a laughter yoga teacher – her whole image is very anti-corporate, very bright and cheerful. After a chat about what we wanted to get across, and a chat about what clothes would be worn and wouldn’t clash with the background, we opted for a cheery, sunny yellow. It shouts out at you, but Sara isn’t going for a restrained ‘professional’ look because of what she does for a living – she’s bright and vibrant, and the colours reflect that.
So, if you’re booking a headshot session, please think about colours, and how they can make a huge difference to the image you’re sending out. Feel free to contact me to talk more about this – I can be reached on 07766 815703 or via firstname.lastname@example.org