When it comes to choosing a background for your professional headshots, you have plenty of options without having to break the bank. I’ve previously written about my top 5 professional headshot tips, and one of the questions I still get asked the most is, “What type of background should I use for my headshot?” Over the years I’ve created photos with many different backgrounds, some of which are free or very cheap. So, I went digging through my photo archives and assembled this list of professional headshot backgrounds you can use for any style of headshot.
Let’s start with the standard. Most corporate headshots require a plain white background. It’s tried and true, and looks great for anyone, male or female. Sure, you can go out and buy an expensive, white seamless background, but keep in mind you’re just shooting a headshot. All you really need is a white background large enough to cover the head and shoulders.
For the longest time, my white background was a 2′ x 3′ sheet of white poster board. White foam core also works well. I used small tabs of scotch tape to hang it behind my subject on a light stand. Sure, it wasn’t fancy, and I may have received a few strange looks from clients, but it worked for me for a long time.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of a headshot photoshoot where I used white poster board as my backdrop. For the final image, I cropped out everything outside of the white background and made my normal exposure adjustments in Lightroom. The photo here is straight out of the camera to show you my old setup. Anyone can easily recreate this shot.
If you really want the white to standout, place a strobe or flash behind your subject pointing at the poster board. Don’t go too strong on this light source, though, or the white may overpower the shot. Zoom your flash out wide to get the widest, most even light possible. This will eliminate any hotspots behind the subject.
Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve actually never had a client request a black background for a headshot. That being said, as I was assembling the images for this post, I remembered a recent senior portrait photoshoot where I shot on a black background. I wanted to include it as an additional option in case you’re looking for something a little more unconventional.
In true DIY style, my black background is just a large piece of black felt. The trick is to place the black felt (or some other thick, black cloth) far enough behind your subject so the key light and/or fill light does not illuminate the background. Other than that, this option is just as quick, cheap, and professional looking as the white background option above.
Brick Wall Backgrounds
One of my favorite headshot backgrounds is a brick wall. I especially love shooting at a slight angle, which sends the bricks off into background blur oblivion. A brick background might not work well for a traditional corporate headshot, but if you’re looking to add a little extra style to your shot, brick walls are a great way to go.
I created the shot you see here in less than 10 minutes. This gentleman was in town for a convention and needed an updated headshot. We shot in open shade, which created a nice and even light across his face. All I needed to do was show up with my camera because the background was already there. As in almost any portrait situation, just be sure to separate the subject from the background to help throw the background out of focus.
The best part about shooting a headshot on a brick background is the price. It’s 100% free! That’s tough to beat.
Another FREE option for headshot backgrounds are natural backgrounds. Trees, bushes, rocks, or in the image here, grass can create a very simple background. Again, just be sure to separate your subject from the background enough to make sure it’s not distracting. The focus of a headshot should be on your subject, and nothing should distract from that.
For this shot, I stood on a park bench and shot down on my subject. This placed the grass in the background. When zoomed in at 85mm and shooting at an aperture of f/2.8, the grass fell off into the beautiful land of bokeh, with only my subject’s eyes and face in sharp focus.
Every headshot background I’ve mentioned thus far has been either 100% free or very inexpensive. However, last but not least, my final option requires a little bit of an investment. A collapsible background is perfect for an on-location photographer like myself because it’s large enough to shoot either single subjects or small groups, while still being small enough to fit in the trunk of my car.
There are plenty of options when it comes to collapsible backgrounds, but the Lastolie 5′ x 6′ collapsible white/grey background has set itself apart as a leader. I’ve used both the white and grey sides and included examples of each here. At about $110 on Amazon as of this writing, it’s tough to beat because of its versatility.
I love the editorial look of the dark grey background. In this example shot, I positioned the key light overhead and allowed it to spill onto the background, creating a lighter spot in the center. If positioned properly, you could almost make this background turn completely black.
The same is true with the white side. Without any background lights, the background appears to be a soft grey, similar to what you see in the example below. However, with a background light, you get a perfectly white background.
These are some of my favorite backgrounds for headshots. No matter what type of headshot I am shooting, I have a portable, inexpensive solution that still gives me great results. Just keep in mind that above all the background needs to not distract from your subject. Separate your subject from the background and shoot with a zoom lens at a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus.
What backgrounds do you like to shoot against? Let me know what you like to work with whether it’s DIY, inexpensive, or a full-blown studio. Either way, as long as you get the shot, that’s all that matters.