Why London Headshots shoots on a white background
I had an email the other day from a potential client asking me if I use different colour backgrounds in my headshots. I told him that I used only a white background, unless there is serious justification to use otherwise. This got me thinking
Back when I first started shooting headshots, I offered an absolutely horrendous range of backgrounds, locations, lighting setups, and anything else I could throw in to the mix. I used to tell myself that it was because I wanted to offer as much variation as possible. I mean, it’s a fair comment. Variety is generally a very good thing. I’d do one look where I’d have just a softbox and then some shadow, then I’d switch backgrounds, then we’d leave the studio and head over into some of the derelict buildings opposite and try and find some nice natural light. The headshots would come out really nice, and the clients would be happy, but I generally created something different each time. I had headshots that would turn out brilliant, but just couldn’t be replicated with any degree of success. Certain faces wouldn’t suit certain lighting, and only certain faces would suit certain lighting setups, it was a minefield! I was so wrapped up in offering the client as much variation as possible that I overlooked the most important thing in a headshot – YOU!
I took a look at my business and asked myself what I was trying to accomplish with my headshots. Was I trying to take beautiful photos, or was I trying to give actors the best chance of being cast? I realised there and then that up until that point I’d been trying to take beautiful photos. I was trying to seduce casting directors with my photography and not allowing the actor to shine in the headshot. The headshot was about me, not them. I wasn’t making conscious decisions on what kind of lighting to use for which actor, I was simply trying anything I could in the hope that it would look good when I clicked the shutter. I had no connection with the work.
Truth is, I just wasn’t confident shooting headshots. I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d been shooting advertising campaigns, and other commercial photography for a long time, but I wasn’t prepared for the degree of difference between those disciplines and the discipline of headshot photography. I didn’t understand that the subject matter is the only thing
that matters in a headshot. I countered this lack of understanding by offering huge amounts of variety in the shots – lighting changes, background changes, location switches – all the while, missing the entire point of a headshot.
I decided there and then that I was going to completely remove myself from every headshot I took. I was going to make it about the actor. I wasn’t going to embellish my photographs and turn them into portraits.
I reduced the headshots down to their most minimal. Nothing to distract the people who mattered – Casting Directors.
I dropped the background changes. No blurry backgrounds, no coloured backgrounds, nothing. I opted for white. No colour, no detail, nothing to distract the person looking at them. It would give full attention to the actor in the headshot. I then realised that in giving full attention to the actor, I had to find a way to consistently present the actor with a style of lighting that wouldn’t bias any particular face shape or benefit any particular gender. I had to create a lighting setup that was reproducible and completely neutral, while being more flattering than any other headshots on the market. In doing so, I realised I’d created a style that was completely unique to London Headshots. You won’t see my lighting style anywhere else.
I started concentrating on making a connection with the actors that came through my door. Working early during the session to break down their inhibitions, get them relaxed, and then maintain that relaxation throughout the headshot session. The result was an honest headshot that contained all the emotion I wished I could get in my portraits. Everything then became geared towards bringing out that person’s confidence and making sure that confidence came through in the headshot. Instead of wasting time messing around with backgrounds and lighting setups, I started spanding time just talking. Sometimes up to 90 minutes before we’d even taken the first shot. The result was an actor who wasn’t tense or nervous.
At London Headshots, the headshots are about showcasing the actor. The intention is to keep the headshot pure, simple, with no embellishment. Funky backgrounds, blurred backgrounds, coloured backgrounds – they don’t make a better headshot. They distract the viewer and pull attention away from the face. My aim is to create a headshot that gives you no choice but to study the only visual information available: the actor.