Sometimes clients ask me which background I think is best. Other times they tell me which background they think is best. Either way, I always try to provide some value-added consultation on this topic.
Here are my five considerations for determining the best background for a headshot. Please understand that there are exceptions to each of these tips. But the point of this post is not to delve into those exceptions. Instead, I am trying to lay the groundwork necessary for you to get the most out of your headshot.
1. A headshot is fundamentally a communications tool. As such, the background should lend itself to the intended message. If you already have a background in mind, ask yourself this: In what way does this background communicate my intended message to my target audience? If the answer is "it doesn't," then ditch that particular background idea. It will just muddy your message.
2. A pretty background usually isn't the objective. I do have a lot of people say they want their headshot in a particular location because it is pretty. Keeping in mind that headshots are a communication tool, do you want your target audience to see a pretty picture, or do you want to communicate something to them relevant to your brand? Your background's job is to keep your communication on message. Two of the biggest (and most distracting) "pretty" backgrounds are cityscapes and greenery. If either of those do not add to your message, you may need a different background.
3. If you must sell yourself, and your workplace adds nothing significant to your story, use a solid background. To clarify, I'm talking about occupations like insurance salespeople, counsellors, advertising professionals, mortgage brokers, etc. Put another way, if people must like you personally to do business with you, your headshot should tell them something likable about you. So it is usually best to focus on capturing a facial expression that displays confidence and approachability without diluting your headshot with useless background distractions.
4. If you have a profession in which the background can actually help tell your story, then get creative with the background. For example, a pilot in front of his plane could make sense and tell a good story. An attorney (while often a solid background is best) might consider having a bookshelf full of legal books in the background. A winemaker in front of oaken barrels ... see what I mean? In these cases the background augments the communication rather than detracting from it or confusing it. But like everything else, wisdom must be used. An oral surgeon in the operating room holding a scary device may not be a great idea.
5. Corporate employee headshots usually should be on a solid background so that the background works well with the look-and-feel of the website. I suggest this for visual branding purposes, but there could be exceptions. For example, It could also make sense to use specific story-telling backgrounds for employees in particular departments.
If you need some help with your headshot, I'd love to help you capture the right message for your intended audience. Feel free to contact me.