Headshot Background Options and Examples

Thursday, March 16, 2017

actress portrait with white headshot background

I consider a variety of factors when choosing a background for someone’s headshot. What is their hair and skin color, and what are they wearing? What mood do they want to convey – bright and friendly or more serious? Do I need to match a style or color that their company is currently using? 

During a longer studio session, there’s time for me to play around with different options, but for larger group sessions (20 people and up) we usually have to pick something and stick with it to keep things moving. 

Here's a list of the most common background options: 


A white background is upbeat, bright and happy. It is one of my first choices when shooting a headshot. White also provides a great contrast with most clothing and matches any website color scheme.  

If you want to add a digital background, it’s also really easy to separate the white out and replace it with something else:  different colors, out-of-focus office backgrounds, dappled forest glades, exploding cars…. 

artist headshot with a white background

Below is an example where I put in a blurry office background. 

Digital background on a headshot


Grey is similar to white in that it matches everything, provides nice contrast with most hair and skin colors, and is easy to separate out and replace. 

The difference with grey is that it conveys a slightly more serious tone.  If you’re a dentist trying to look friendly and approachable, you might want the white. If you’re a cybersecurity expert  trying to look tough on hackers, you may want to go with the grey. 

headshot of an actor with a grey background



This one is getting more popular. I don’t use a photo background at all, but instead photograph with a long lens that throws the background out of focus. It’s amazing how cool a copy machine and an air conditioner can look when they’re really blurry! 

This effect works best in larger spaces. 

cinematic or out of focus headshot background



These are not my first choice. Colored backgrounds can look strange against some skin tones and clothing, and may clash with a website’s color scheme.  

Colored backgrounds are also hard to replicate between shoots. For example, if I use the same blue background paper on different shoots, and the lights are not set up exactly the same way, the blue will look different. If you work for a national company that is hiring photographers in different cities, then the color becomes even harder to match. 

If background color consistency is important to you, I’d consider shooting against white or grey and then adding the background digitally. 



These are going out of style and I don't use them often. However, some companies have been using these backgrounds for a long time and continue to do so for consistency’s sake, so I do own one (but I hide it so my photographer friends won’t  see it and make fun of me). And they can look nice when they are thrown way out-of-focus.

Below is a photo of Mexican wrestling legend "El Huracan" who is a bit bummed out at my choice of background. 

mottled photo background

Posted by Dennis on 03/16 at 11:33 AM