I know. It seems like such a boring choice. Life is full of colour, let's use some!
Nope. Not in the background. Especially not for your professional headshot. And don't even think about using bricks, sailboats, shrubs or stuffies either.
when to use white
Whenever you want to look professional: LinkedIn profile, website, published article, book cover, conference proceedings, annual report, business card - all good opportunities for a crisp clean professional image with no distractions. Nice tight crop on pure white background is classic and timeless. It keeps the focus on you and works well in all situations. It's bright and open. It's perfect.
A white image also speaks to your professionalism. It shows you went to a professional for the headshot. Or not.
Getting a pure white background might seem easy to do, but it is surprisingly difficult to do well. I'm sorry, but you're not fooling anyone with that cut-and-paste job. Nor with that shot that throws so much light at the background that the bounce coming back is burning your cheeks.
A professional headshot shows you yourself went to a professional. That means something.
when to use black
Whenever you want a dramatic and powerful image that stands out. Perfect for actors to showcase range, crime-writers for that dark and moody vibe, competitive athletes who seek to intimidate, maybe lawyers who want all of the above. Like the white, a nice tight crop on pure black background is classic and timeless. No distractions keeps the focus on you.
Black is also an opportunity to highlight your colours that might otherwise wash out on white.
But this is not just taking a shot in the dark. Black backgrounds present their own technical challenges, primarily keeping the background black while maintaining the correct exposure on your face, yet still providing good separation between the two. Again, it seems easy, but is devilishly hard to do well.
People notice a professional headshot. They also notice when it's not one.
when to use gray
Whenever you want a professional image, but want something different from the white background that dominates print, web and social media, and where the black would be just too dramatic. Yes, you could use a thin black line to box a white image, but why would you when there are so many other options.
Perhaps a dark thunder gray for impact and intensity. Maybe a light gray for relaxed comfort. Perhaps a touch of gradient from light to dark to add an element of interest in place of the the solid edge-to-edge look. You could go retro with a vignette (but why would you). All of these options support your image while minimizing distraction (well, except for that vignette).
Which shade of gray works for you?
Headshots for professionals. By professionals.