Many headshot backgrounds are either black or white, but there is a range of textures, natural elements, and other features that you can use to make a professional headshot stand out. Our tips for choosing the right background will help you select a better setting, and impress your clients is a headshot they’ll love.

1. Headshot Background Ideas

There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a background, and it’s essential to see what you’re able to capture with the camera when using dark colors, or portrait backdrops that include an image.

Solid Black and White Backgrounds

A white background is more popular than black for a headshot, but a dark backdrop can add compelling drama when used well during a photo session.

Image by Katarzyna Hasnik from Pixabay

DIY White Backgrounds and Black Backgrounds

There are a variety of materials that make a good background for a headshot, and many of these are very inexpensive. A white foam core board is one example of a widely available option, but there are also rolls of white paper commonly used as gift wrap, and pieces of white fabric.

If you want to accentuate a white background further, you can place a light source behind your subject, but be careful that this light isn’t too strong or the background will overshadow the subject. White is the most common request for a backdrop, and creating a professional photo background can be relatively inexpensive.

Not many headshot backgrounds feature black, but this dark color can help your subject pop. A professional headshot for an actor, for example, may require a black backdrop, and solid color clothing typically pairs best in this situation. Keep in mind that this dark color is not an ideal choice for all clientele.

Solid Backgrounds

Solid colors like white and black are the gold standard when it comes to solid backgrounds, and white background, in particular, is often requested. Headshots with a solid background often occur in a session alongside another setting, and this type of portrait may also feature a grey background.

Textured Backgrounds

Many forms of photography include a textured background that can use different colors such as various shades of grey, but this kind of backdrop may distract the viewer from the subject in the photo, and for that reason, you must balance the two.

Natural Backgrounds

Photography featuring natural backgrounds is trending right now, and many people love using a naturally occurring backdrop such as a water feature, plant life, or a location with special meaning to them. Taking a professional portrait under these conditions requires skill with a camera, and a willingness to improvise.

Image by Terrell Turner from Pixabay

A natural background is an excellent free option as long as it isn’t distracting from your subject. Pay close attention to color and texture to ensure that your subject remains the focus of the headshot.

Strong Lines and Buildings

Strong lines may not be appropriate for business applications or corporate headshots, but they can add some personality and uniqueness to a headshot. A typical background that features strong lines is a brick wall or other architecture on stone buildings.

These backdrops are relatively easy to find, and you don’t have to travel to a big city to find them. Even the brick wall of a home will do, and it’s an excellent time to try out camera settings and play around with blurring, and other effects.

Workplaces and Murals

Many clients will want their headshot taken where they work, as this backdrop is considered appropriate and also says a lot about who they are and what their business does. It’s a good idea to scout out this location in advance, so you’re familiar with the lighting and other features.

You’ll also want to confirm that your client has permission for you to shoot them in that space, and you’ll want to get a property lease signed so you can show the final shots on social media outlets or as part of your portfolio.

2. Tips for Choosing the Right Background

Finding the right background for a headshot doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive process. Black and white backgrounds are standard for most portraits, but you’ll also want to consider the purpose of the headshot. Headshots for business-related uses often appear on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and corporate websites.

Some headshots are for promotional materials, and depending on the specific needs of your client, you may want to select a background that is fitting for the message those materials convey. For example, a trendy brick wall background might fit a new start-up but may not be the best option for a more conservative business.

Image by René Bittner from Pixabay 

Color and personal tastes are other factors to consider when selecting a background. Your clients may have a preference for the color of the background used in their headshot, and you’ll want to consider your subject to ensure they don’t blend in with the environment or become overshadowed in any way.

3. Step By Step Guide to Headshots with a White Background

Setting up a headshot with a white background is an essential photography skill as many headshots used for passports, business activities, websites, and promotional materials request this backdrop. Here’s our step by step tips to setting up the perfect white background.

What Is A Seamless Backdrop?

A seamless backdrop is a photography staple and provides a large, smooth surface as a background for your headshot.

These backdrops are non-reflective for the most part and will need periodic replacement regardless of the material used. You can find seamless backdrop paper or vinyl in a wide variety of colors and patterns. 

Paper is inexpensive and easy to use, but vinyl or PVC are other material options offered. These materials have many of the benefits of a paper backdrop but are also easier to clean and longer-lasting.

Setting Up and Raising Your Seamless Backdrop

Many photographers will have a specialized stand that holds a roll of seamless backdrop material up high so it can easily roll out, but you can make do with a more straightforward setup.

Make sure you have enough space around the backdrop stand to move when using the camera. You’ll also want to secure the stand and backdrop to each other and the ground using tape, clips, or weights.

Once the backdrop stand is in place, and you’ve selected your background, you can set up for your session. It’s best to place the backdrop at the top part of the stand, high enough that it won’t be in your shot, and secure it in place with a mounting device, or a pole and clips for safety.

The end of the backdrop should be dangling downwards at this point, and it’s best if you can easily rotate the spooled backdrop to unwind as much material as you need.

Unrolling The Backdrop

Pulling the backdrop downwards, you should be able to unspool plenty of material to cover the space behind your subject and the floor beneath them. Don’t be shy about how much you unspool for this as full coverage is the goal. Secure the backdrop on the floor with some tape, so it isn’t a tripping hazard.

To preserve the backdrop that you’re using, you can also place a piece of plexiglass on the floor for your subject to stand on. Although this isn’t necessary for all shots, it can keep the backdrop free from smudges and dirt and provide a surface that is easier to clean between subjects.

Lighting The Shoot and Your Backdrop

Soft lighting is best for most headshots, and you can employ the use of a reflector for under the face of your subject and a second reflector opposite the primary source of lighting. This setup might seem simplistic, but it’s a good starting point for headshots, and you can make adjustments as needed.

Lighting your subject is only part of good lighting for a headshot, and adding some light to the backdrop helps to provide a sense of depth in the shot. Truly professional headshots typically require lighting the backdrop evenly, but there are other effects you can try, such as a spray light or single light if you’re feeling creative.

If your subject looks washed out, it might be because the backdrop lighting is too bright. It’s best to do a few test shots to find the optimal light for your subject, and good backdrop lighting can accentuate positive features like hair or jawlines.

Dialing In the Camera Settings

After you’ve done some test shots to tweak the lighting, you might find yourself needing to tweak your camera settings as well. As a general rule, the ISO should be at 100, and the shutter speed should be near 160/second to 1/200 second. For the sharpest results an aperture, of f/8 is best, but you can always move to f/11 if needed.

The subject’s eyes are the best focal point for your shots, and you may need to select this area on your camera manually.

Lighting Your Subject

There are several ways that you can light your subject, and playing with shadows and varying amounts of light is part of the fun. If you place a black reflector opposite the main lighting source in front of your subject, you can get some dramatic shadows that many find attractive.

If you use a white reflector, you’ll get a more evenly lit shot without as many shadows, but you’ll want to be sure and do some test shots to verify your subject doesn’t look washed out.

Subject Positioning

Position your subject at least nine inches in front of the background and take some test shots to orient the lighting around them from where they stand. If you are taking a headshot of a single person, placing them is easy, but if you have multiple individuals, you’ll need to move them or the lighting around to avoid unnecessary shadows.

You’ll also want to move in close for the headshot to ensure your backdrop fills the shot, but if you have some edges not covered by the background, you can always edit these out later.

A relaxed and happy subject will produce the best shots, and allowing your subject to take on a natural position will help the process. Many photographers have their subjects sit on a chair, but standing is also acceptable. Arms and hands should be relaxed, but out of the shot, and good posture and appropriate facial expressions are vital.

Final Thoughts 

Although a white background is the most requested headshot background color, it doesn’t hurt to try out other options like black, brick walls, buildings, and different textures like lines or plant life. 

Natural backdrops are very popular for headshot backgrounds, and you can play around with blurring backgrounds or adding lighting to create different effects. Regardless of the backdrop chosen, following our guide will help you achieve amazing, well-lit results.