Can Headshots Be Black and White?

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By The Light Committee

This is a question that comes up only on some rare occasions nowadays – can headshots be black and white? Some might argue it depends on what it is for. For example, for actor headshots, nowadays full color is expected. For corporate headshots, sometimes black and white is used for branding reasons. So, the quick answer is, yes, headshots can be black and white. However, you usually will not want your primary headshots to be black and white. But why?

black and white professional headshot of a woman in Los Angeles
A Black and White Headshot is a Classic and Looks Good, Like this One. But, It’s Usually an Outdated Process and Inaccurate Representation of You.

Quick History of Color Digital Photography

Most people might be surprised to hear digital photography has been a capability since the 1950s and that the first commercial digital photo was published in 1972. The first DSLR then came about in 1986. For the past 10 years, it is arguable digital photography resolution from DSLRs became clearly superior to film.

As digital photo resolution has improved so too have the resolutions of the displays people view photos on. As such, expectations for sharpness, contrast, and color accuracy have also increased. And as a result, black and white photography has slowly faded from use, especially for commercial applications. Headshots are clearly for commercial use.

A corporate headshot of a finance executive woman in a suit in studio in Glendale
The Color Version of the Same Headshot Above for Comparison

Headshots in Color or Black and White?

Whether you are an actor in Los Angeles, business executive, model, etc., the purpose of a headshot is to show an accurate representation of you. Today, the world operates in full color. So, a black and white headshot is not an accurate representation of you.

With a black & white headshot, you might try and guess as to the color of the person’s hair, eyes, clothes, and so on. And you are probably not going to get it all correct. It just leaves too many questions. So, if you are an actor or model and submit only black and white headshots to a casting director or agency, you simply create more guess work for them. It likely increases the possibility to get your photo tossed from potential selection.

Black and White Headshots as an Option

Black & white photography, also known as monochrome photography, is not without its commercial applications. But it is usually for a clear artistic reason. There have even been recent acclaimed movies made in black and white, such as Roma. So, what might be an example of when black and white headshots might work?

Perhaps you are a business and your brand colors are simple. They are black and white. There is at least one retailer that has such branding elements and occasionally uses black and white photography as a result. So, other businesses might do the same thing.

You might be a real estate firm, a law firm, an accounting firm, etc. If your color scheme is black and white, using black and white headshots might be suited to your marketing. You might even employ it in your lifestyle photography. Or, you might consider the opposite – use color headshots for accurate representation of your team and black and white for the lifestyle photography you employ.

A vibrant colorful commercial actor headshot of a woman in a studio near Los Angeles
When Colors Pop In a Headshot, It Becomes Clearer Why Color Is Typically Preferred Over Black and White

Using Black and White Headshots in Your Portfolio

So, is using a black and white headshot a bad thing, period? No. But, if you want to use them as part of your portfolio, they should be used sparingly if at all. For example, if your actor headshot portfolio consists of seven photos, you might first ask if there is a color photo that would be better put to use ahead of a black and white headshot.

Having a black and white headshot ready to go, just in case, might be a good idea. Maybe there is a movie coming out that will be shot in black and white and a casting director wants black and white headshots to consider. Anything is possible.

With digital photography, accurate color correction is possible. So, this means converting color shots to make a black and white headshot is also possible. The professional photographer you work with to make headshots should be able to produce these for you from the color shots they already took.

black and white actor headshot of a woman in Los Angeles
The same actor headshot above but as a black and white version

The Art of a Headshot

As an art, black & white photos can be great. But your headshot is primarily for business purposes. Make sure that it addresses that. It should be an accurate representation of you. Remember too – because it is for business purposes – if your look changes you should update your headshot.

What does this mean? If you have grown out your hair or cut it, if you have lost or gained noticeable weight, if you’ve aged and it shows, for these reasons and some others you might need to update them with a good headshots photographer in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

Actors and models should consider getting fresh headshots at least annually, particularly to replace any that are not being fruitful. It is always good to change things up and see what is working. Corporate executives can stretch it out a bit longer. But, whatever you do, make sure it is a professional headshot and not a selfie. Do not do that to yourself. There are many reasons attempting to settle for a selfie is a poor option.

Black and White Portraits

Some people are confused by the difference between a headshot and a portrait. To quickly summarize, a headshot is for commercial usage while a portrait is for personal usage. So, a portrait is a better candidate for black and white photography. Artistic expression for portraits is more lenient than it might be for a commercial headshot.

Some professional photographers will conduct photo shoots for black and white by setting their camera to capture natively in a black and white format. However, if you are hiring a photographer to do black and white photos for you, you might consider having them shoot in color and later convert the photos in post-production to black and white. In this way you will have the option of getting the color versions later on should you want to.

Adding color to black and white photos is now possible, though it will never be as accurate as having captured them in color to begin with. And making photos black and white – thus removing color – is more easily possible and results are as good as having shot natively in black and white.

General Black and White Photography

Black and white photography and photographers have a rich history. Likely one of the most famous is Ansel Adams, who can literally be credited with helping carve our national parks system as a result.

Another very famous one is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Anyone looking into inspiration to create artful black and white photography would do good to start here. But there are many others to consider for inspiration.

Summing it Up

Today, it is highly unlikely you will want to use black and white headshots for just about any purpose. They simply do not provide an accurate representation of who you are. Therefore, since headshots are primarily used for commercial purposes, not providing an accurate representation of yourself is not a good idea.

There are some possible scenarios for using black and white headshots, such as if it is suited to your branding or if a casting director just so happens to be requesting one for a black and white movie to come. But for most cases, leave the black and white photography for portraits or other more artistic photography.