Is the background important in an actor’s headshot? – you bet your ass it is!
Remember the whole point of an actor’s headshot is to get casting directors, agents and producers looking at your headshot.
We want them to NOTICE you!
When they look at your headshot we want them to look at you, not what you’re wearing and certainly not the background. It is easy to see how a busy background can dominate an actor’s photograph.
I see the work of many headshot photographers who work outside using trees and bushes as a backdrop. This works sometimes but other times – generally on bright sunny days – it doesn’t. And the background becomes very busy and draws the viewer’s eye away from the main point of focus of the headshot, which is the actor’s face!
Is The Background Important in an Actor’s Headshot?
Sometimes a background can be too dark, or alternatively too bright so it dominates the photograph. It’s good to keep in mind the point of your headshot. It’s to make you stand out from the crowd. To make the casting director take notice of you. You want the person viewing your headshot to be focused totally on your face, on you the actor and not the background.
No matter how beautiful it is.
Busy backgrounds, including strong geometric patterns, bold brick walls and contrasty stripes and shadows can all draw the eye of the viewer away from the important part of the photograph – the actor’s face.
Plain, simple backgrounds work best or in the case of the filmic headshot, a background that is out of focus meaning, any of the details are soft and blurred and they don’t intrude into the main part of the headshot.
I prefer to work in the studio and use plain Colorama paper backdrops. I add depth and interest to them by using various lighting techniques. There are also times in the studio when I use a wall or a floor to create a different feel to the headshot, but I always make sure the backgrounds do not intrude or fight for prominence within the headshot.
The question is worth asking again, is the background important in an actor’s headshot? Of course, even with the increasing popularity over the last few years of high contrast backgrounds. I believe it’s photographers trying to make their headshots more interesting, but missing the point. I suspect it is either their desire to be more creative and develop their own style of headshot or not understanding the principles of actors’ headshots. More likely the latter I suspect.
Either way, these kinds of headshots do nothing for the actor apart from helping them get lost in the distracting background.
To sum up; an actor should be aware of anything that draws the eye of the viewer away from their face. It could be the backdrop, the location, what you are wearing or your jewellery. These are all detrimental to a successful actor’s headshot and should be avoided.
More on headshot distractions here.