This blog discusses some things to consider when choosing a background or color for a portrait or headshot photoshoot.

Common Perceptions about Photography Background Types and Colors

You made an appointment to have a professional portrait or headshot photo shoot. You consulted with the photographer ahead of time about what to wear and bring, but now you are wondering whether to use a solid black, gray, or white background or a textured scenic background. You think black backgrounds might not work because they are too dark. You think white backgrounds are too stark, and you think gray backgrounds are boring and plain. You don’t like scenic backgrounds because they look too stuffy, dated, and antiquated. And shooting in the city can easily end up with too many distractions behind you. All of those perceptions hold a degree of truth, but they can also be made invalid, depending upon the photographer, lighting, and post processing. Here are some things to ponder when choosing a photography background and color:

Where the Image Will Reside

First, the most obvious and immediate consideration that everybody discusses is how and where you will use the image including what specific room it will reside in, what kind of lighting will fall on the image, what color scheme is in the room, what specific magazine or web page the digital image will be placed in, or what kinds of images will appear next to your image. In general, formal settings warrant formal images. Casual settings lend best with other casual images. Also, the lightning in a room will affect the look (and life) of an image. If a room is very dark or just not well lit, you might want to opt for a background color, canvas, or texture that will contrast well with the room. Likewise if a room has a light and airy feel, you might want to make sure the image also has a light background, composition, and feel to compliment the room. Wardrobe colors may contrast or blend, depending on the overall look a photographer wants to achieve.

Lighting Gear and Usage Considerations

Second, consider the photographer’s portfolio and lighting capabilities. Take a look at how the images are lit. Black backgrounds can produce stunning, formal portraits when well lit, but there are some things a photographer needs to do to light a black background, based upon the type of image or look he or she wants to achieve. Not all black backgrounds are too dark. White backgrounds can be made white but also to go to all shades of white, gray, and total black, depending on how they are shot. In short, what color you see is not necessarily the one you end up with. So don’t rule colors in or out for that reason.

About Gray and White Photography Backgrounds

Third, gray backgrounds provide a great deal of flexibility in post processing for a photographer. They also provide a clean look and a non-distracting background. Gray backgrounds blend well with textures layered over them. (See the fine art image with a brown textured canvas as an example. Its background was actually shot on a gray seamless background and the woman sat on a green colored stool, not a brown one. In the portfolio, the solid light green background with the blond woman was created with a light tan background. (The sample retouching image with a pink background was also shot on a light tan background.) White backgrounds can end up looking a very dirty gray, perfectly white, too white, or even totally dark depending on how a photographer chooses to shoot it and the lighting he or she has available.

In summary, do have an open mind and select backgrounds based on the look and feel you want to achieve, wardrobe colors, and setting requirements… and then do a little research on preferences. Share them with your photographer. And have fun during your session experimenting with backgrounds and composition, if time allows. Sometimes, the best images from a session are not the ones expected. I tend to photograph required images first (i.e., specific client requests) and then based on time remaining, experiment with other backgrounds and looks. More than once I’ve heard, “oh… I love that image…I thought the ____ background would be too ___, but no! It’s my favorite!”