Headshot Style Ideas
The concept of a headshot is simple enough. You know that you need an updated image. It needs to make sure that you’re recognisable. The image should be professional, and it should relate to what you do.
But when it comes to a headshot or branding portrait, there are so many choices and considerations you can make.
Many of my clients give me creative license to help them with choices like backgrounds, lightings and outfits. I love being able to help my clients in this way, and my process is highly tailored to each individual. With my pre-shoot guides and surveys, I get an idea on what each person I work with is like, and what they need.
But for those of you who like to plan, have a bit of control, and prefer to visualise the results beforehand, I’ve put together this guide which outlines some various headshot and branding portrait styles:
Relaxed, Soft, and Candid (In A Studio):
With the controlled environment of a studio, there’s a perfect setting to ensure you can achieve flattering lighting, soft backdrops, and no-distractions.
A headshot or branding portrait is all about you. You should be the star, you should stand out!
You don’t have to go for a glamour shot with vaseline lens from the 80s (please, don’t do that!). It’s reasonable to want flattering lighting. In the studio, it’s easy to control light and shadow. As photographers, it’s our job to change the lighting to suit each individual (and their ideas and preferences too).
In my opinion, a good headshot should have lighting that is even and doesn’t put too much shadow on the face (unless you’re after a creative actor headshot, for example).
This style is all about being relaxed: from the soft grey background to the flattering lighting and the candid pose.
Relaxed, Soft and Candid (Outdoors):
Similar to the image above, you can go for a relaxed and candid portrait in an outdoor setting.
Sometimes my clients prefer outdoor images, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Think about your personality and profession. If you think it makes more sense for an outdoor image, then go for it.
Luke, in this portrait, is an environmental engineer. He’s passionate about the outdoors, and so a studio portrait didn’t feel like him. We went for a range of shots in a natural environment, but this one also hit a good balance. A little urban, a little nature. Still, the same flattering lighting and that relaxed, candid feel to the image as well.
If you’re not into posed, or if you don’t want to look like you did the whole ‘photoshoot thing’, this is an easygoing option that still captures professionalism and personality.
Corporate Headshots with a White Background (studio):
It’s easy to immediately think of headshots on a white background when someone says ‘studio’. There’s a reason white backgrounds are so popular. Their versatile, easy to adapt to different mediums (think business cards, flyers, websites, billboards). They can be matched, to look streamline (such as staff on a company website), and they look clean.
There’s no denying that you’ll stand out on a white background. The focus is on you, and it screams professionalism.
Standard Corporate With A Neutral Background (Studio):
For a professional, corporate look (hey, it actually doesn’t even need to be corporate!), a neutral tone like grey is a versatile and professional result.
With a grey background, it gives a different feel to the overall image. I feel it both adds softness and depth at the same time. It adds depth to the shot because you can perceive a background. It adds softness by taking away the stark feeling that white often gives.
When you’re talking about a grey background though, be specific. You can get a nice pale grey like in this shot, or deepen it up to a darker slate grey. Both look classy, in my opinion.
Darker Backdrops (Studio):
You might be feeling a darker background suits you a little more. As in this shot, a darker background adds depth and contrast. Depending on what you wear, it’s a good opportunity to stand out too.
I find lighting is everything with a dark background like this. Controlling the mood is important, and how I would light a portrait like this depends very much on the person, their profession and what they want to say. Considerations, like where the portrait will be used, are important as well – if it ties in well with other branding material it can be a very powerful statement.
I find darker backgrounds are popular with creative fields: actors, artists, writers – etc. For corporate headshots, we often opt for a slate grey – just so it’s not too deep and contrasting.
Soft, Relaxed Outdoor Portraits:
I love outdoor portraits. Especially considering my studio has so many beautiful natural settings that make for stunning backdrops.
This style of headshot photography allows for professionalism with a relaxed feel. It’s not as ‘straight-edged’ as some studio headshots are, and I have found a lot of my clients feel more open and comfortable outside.
With professional photography, our equipment allows us to capture outdoor portraits that still look clean, crisp and high-end. The depth of the lenses allows for that lovely blurred background – which sets it apart from that photo at the park you may have had a family member take.
Natural, on-location Portraits:
For some people and professions, being on-location is really important. It might be your home, your shop, your office or warehouse. If location plays a big part in who you are, and what you do, then consider having an on-site photoshoot that can capture you in your environment.
These portraits are generally relaxed and candid – capturing you being you, in your space. Often it gives the photographer a chance to capture little details as well (your space, decorations, shop fittings, and little details that communicate who you are).
It’s also an opportunity to grab branding portraits of you ‘at work’. Doing what you do best, to communicate what sort of person you are and the type of work you do.
If you’re getting a photographer on-site for these style of portraits, generally you’re after a good set of branding portraits and a range of headshots.
Colourful, Playful and Bold Branding Portraits (Studio):
Nothing wrong with enjoying some colour! The best part about headshot photography is you get to decide how you want to portray yourself. I love including colour in my work! It adds a point of difference, and it’s a bit of fun as well.
If you’re going for a bold colour, consider where it will be used. Certainly, if you have a lot of colour on your website, your headshot can tie in with it nicely.
If you want to stand out against your peers (I’m talking to you, actors), then this is another good way to do it.
When it comes to choosing colours, I always chat with my clients about what will work for them. We consider what you’re wearing, eye colour, skin colour and all of the little things to find combinations that work.
The colour doesn’t need to be too outrageous either. Even a soft blue or green can add a point of interest that takes your headshot beyond a standard corporate look.
Choosing A Style:
When it comes to deciding and communicating your chosen style(s) with your photographer, I always suggest providing visual references. If you can use images from your photographer’s portfolio, that’s a bonus. It means you know they’re already accomplished in what you’re after. It’s fine to find other images as well – there’s maybe a celebrity headshot that you love, for example!
Communication is the key – talk about what you think will suit you. Discuss your ideas for the look and vibe. If you know what you want in terms of lighting and colour, jot it all down in an email, or write some notes before your session.
If you know what you’re after, that’s great! Good on you.
But if you don’t know, and just want to update your shots, that’s okay too. That’s what we photographers are here for. To guide you, and to help you discover the styles, poses, backgrounds and lighting that will work for you, as an individual.
Based in Melbourne and want to update your headshot?
Check out my information for business headshots, actor headshots, and Staff headshots.
Julia Nance is a headshot and portrait photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. Her vibrant creativity is inspired by her experiences. From photographing whales underwater to travelling in Europe. With a vast background in a range of photographic areas, it is Julia’s natural ability to connect with her subjects that ultimately drew her to the art of portraiture.