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Graffiti Walls and Other Backdrops

So, you love the bright, modern, urban look of a graffiti wall. Yes, it can look outstanding as a backdrop to pet portraits or graduating senior portraits and maybe even wedding portraits, but not so much for headshots.  Well, I will admit I chose an extreme example to illustrate a point. But it is surprising to see how many headshots are taken with a distracting background. The background can be an out of focus rainbow of colors, an urban setting, or a busy office setting.  Let’s talk about why a clean, non-distracting background is the best choice for headshots.

First of all, you are the star of your headshot.  It is about you, not your environment.  Headshot real estate is limited. There is only room for one star.  Most headshots are taken for display on the web, LinkedIn, a company site, Facebook, a dating site.  The space is limited especially on the professional job-related sites.  Admittedly, the dating sites do allow you a little more screen real estate. But that real estate is probably best used with additional photos, such as a ¾ pose, a sitting pose, not headshots with distracting backgrounds. You get the idea.

So, it is best to fill the limited space allotted to you with an image that gets your message across clearly and with impact.  Your expression, your face, your hair, your clothing all contribute to the success of your message.  Admittedly, your message can vary depending on where your headshot will be displayed.  But the variances should be in your makeup, hair and clothing choices.  Again, you are working with limited real estate and you want to be the star of that real estate, whether you are seeking a job, new clients, or new social partners.

My favorite headshot backgrounds are plain gray or white.  It is easy to set up these backgrounds in a studio environment. In addition to the simplicity of the background, it should be evenly exposed. Again, this takes the background to be just that, a background, not an element competing with you for star status. 

In a good headshot, the viewer’s eye focus on the most expressive elements of your face, your eyes & your mouth.  Your eyes express confidence and your mouth expresses approachability. Your makeup, hair and clothing are all supporting characters to your expression. If the expression is not there, the headshot fails no matter the rest of the technical excellence.  And the background should be the most minor supporting character. It should not take attention away from your face and expression.

A professional headshot photographer has the appropriate tools to create this environment.  In addition, in most cases the tools are portable and can be taken on location. That allows the professional photographer to set up an excellent backdrop on location in an office for example. Portable lighting equipment also allows the photographer to capture on-location environmental shots, shots of employees working together for example, or a ¾ shot of the CEO in their office.But again, these additional shots should not replace the clarity and simplicity of the headshot.  They should be in addition to the headshot. My fellow headshot and portrait photographer, Florence Catania, a San Francisco based photographer, has a style which exemplifies these ideas.  To quote her, “I love clean, modern, and elegant photography, and images full of emotions and life.”



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