Using “green screen” can open up a world of fun and creative possibilities. I am of course assuming you are going to use a green screen to help you communicate your message in a fun, creative way. As you read on, you’ll learn important principles and best practices to help you make the best creative choice for your video creations, as well as avoid any angst when editing your video.
But first, let’s get started with some of the basics.
The Green Screen Basics
Sometimes known as “chroma keying”, it is a film production technique where you use a background screen (typically green or blue) that is distinctly different from the color of human skin.
This enables you to “key out” (remove) the actual blue or green background, and replace it with another background image or some other video footage. The technique is a staple of action and sci-fi movies, as well as TV news and weather reports.
Why Green or Blue?
Chroma key screens are primarily green or blue because these colors are furthest away from our own skin tone. You can also use other screen colors that are uniform and distinct but exclude red because it’s common in our skin tone. Bright green or blue colors have been found most effective in getting a “good key”, provided that you or your subject is not wearing similar colored clothing.
Green screens are popular because current digital video camera image sensors are more sensitive to bright green. This creates less visual “noise” (where the footage looks grainy) and produces a cleaner key in post-production video editing.
Blue screens can be problematic if the presenter has blue eyes. Also, the color blue is common in fashion clothing styles. I read somewhere that blue screens do work better for blonde-haired people, but I haven’t been able to thoroughly test and verify this for myself.
Check Your Strategy. Why do you Want to use a Fake Background?
Before venturing down the creative rabbit hole of green screen “imagination land”, you need to get clear on your strategy first.
By its very nature, a green screen enables you to insert any kind of environment or background setting into your footage, and you are only limited by your imagination as to what you could use in your video. However, there are a few things to consider…
If you use the green screen production technique in an attempt to fool your viewers into believing (and yes I have seen this with some thought-leaders) that the high-rise office with the million-dollar views, the (fancy) boardroom background, or the packed out audience at a speakers gig is really yours? Think again; your viewers are savvy, they may even call you out on the fakery. And you may want to rethink the “why” behind your video strategy.
Not only that, in most instances, it takes editing skills and good production techniques to “sell” this effect, and most people simply don’t have the resources, time or experience.
With business videos, you want to show your best camera-ready self, and not present yourself as being something that you are not. It only takes one falsehood for you and your brand to lose any credibility and trust you may have built up.
It’s ALL About Your Raw Footage
It’s a challenge to hide poor quality green screening on video. To do it well you must shoot excellent raw footage.
Shooting high-quality raw video footage is the most important part of any video production, regardless of whether or not you choose to use chroma keying. Without high-quality footage, no amount of digital magic is going to give you a realistic or polished effect.
Setting up your Studio Lighting
Having even light sources while keeping your background screen free from shadows and creases is paramount to successfully pulling off a green screen effect.
Key Lighting Pointers
1. Both you and the screen require dedicated lighting sources
- 2 to 4 lights for the screen (depending on the size of your framing) and
- 2 to 3 dedicated light sources for you (the presenter)
2. Even lighting is essential
- Ensure that your lights are of the same intensity (don’t mix fluorescent with halogen)
- Position your lights at equal distance on either side of your screen, and that their position and angles mirror each other in their layout
- Look for “hot spots”, where one area of the screen appears more lit than the other. Identify the light that is causing the hot spot and keep adjusting the light position (usually further away from the screen) until the screen appears evenly lit. Note: You may need to adjust the rest of your lighting set-up to accommodate this. Although I don’t use them, there are Apps that can assist you to gauge your screen lighting – a quick search online will help you)
Real-World Example – Enter my Studio…
In my film space, I have a collapsible background that is 8′ x 16′ (2.5m x 5m) however my filming frame size is usually shot in a Medium to Medium-Close frame (from the hips or waist up), in a wide shot, with a stock standard lens. I’m not lighting the entire screen, only the space that resides within the frame.
To light this space, I use 4 screen lights. 2 lights are placed on either side of the screen, and are positioned at a 45-degree angle to the screen.
The first set of lights are positioned at chest height and the 2 sets of lights are positioned at hip height. This ensures that the area around me on the screen is evenly lit.
Your lighting set-up will also depend on the size of your room, how much space you have to work with, and how much of the screen you need to light. If you have a small film space, you’ll need to factor in whether or not your lights will fit the film space in relation to you and your camera setup.
Inexpensive Lighting for a High-Quality Result
The lighting I use in my home studio is an inexpensive entry-level kit the EPhoto VL9004S3. This gives me the following result.
Behind the Scenes – Keying Test
This kit comes with:
- 3 x Lightstand (able to extend to 6.5ft Height)
- 3 x 4 Light Sockets
- 3 x 16″ x 24″ Soft-box
- 12 x 45W 5500K (perfect daylight bulbs equivalent 2400W)
- 3 x Power Cords with Carrying Case
I haven’t had any issues with this particular product line. However, the square softboxes do take up a lot of space in my studio.
With my portable studio, I use panel lights, and a ring light (optional) these are lightweight and are good for lighting the presenter.
Panel lights offer convenience (you don’t have to assemble unlike soft-boxes), they take up less space, are portable and travel well. The slim build offers you more lighting options in small spaces or odd filming conditions.
Common Lighting Mistakes
Cast out thy Shadows
If you stand too close to the screen, you’ll cast a shadow. Unfortunately, this will not pull a good “clean key”. Yes, there are editing options you could use to save the footage, but this could all be easily avoided by creating a 4ft distance between you and your background. Remember to adjust your camera placement to account for this.
The Dreaded Incredible Hulk Spill
Standing too close to the screen can reflect (or spill) a greenish hue onto your hair, skin, and clothing. The below image is a good example of this and yet I have no direct light source pointed at the screen. I’m simply standing too close to it.
This green halo can be near to impossible to “key out”. Again, position yourself at least 4-5 feet (1.2m – 1.5m) away from the screen. Standing at that distance will give you a clean, sharp, key-line (outline) around your body.
Don’t Get Caught in the Cross-Fire
Keep your screen lights and your presenter lights separate so that your presenter lights don’t spill over onto your screen. You want to keep the illumination of the screen lights and, the illumination of your presenter lights as separate as possible. If you are caught in the cross-fire where these light sources mix it will be much harder to get a clean key in when editing your video.
Aim for a 2ft space between you and your screen lighting. See the red X in the diagram above.
Never light your green screen from behind or set your screen up in front of a window
- Use a plain blank wall behind your screen
- Set your green screen up in a dark room with the least amount of windows
- Cover or blackout your windows to give you complete lighting control over your filming space
- Use adhesive blackout paper designed for windows
- Use blackout thermal curtains
Yes, perfecting your lighting set-up will take some time, and some trial and error
Once you have your light set up finalized, shoot some test footage of yourself. Move around on camera, rock back and forward, present some material then check the raw footage in your edit suite. If you are happy with the result and there are no glaring issues, you are ready for the next step.
Lock it off – Create a floor plan
Once you are happy with your test footage, now you can “lock-off” your lights, your camera position, and your presenter placement by putting down markers (duct tape or clear packaging tape) on the floor to indicate their placement and positioning.
For example, I’ll number my light stands and the floor markers i.e. Screen light #1 goes on floor Mark #1 and so on. Then I’ll lock off my foot placement, and any on-camera movement (see next section on movement), then my own presenter lights, and lastly I’ll lock off my camera position, its height, and level.
Mark your Measurements
Once you have your markers taped to the floor, you are ready to take measurements i.e
- Measure each light distance from the screen i.e. Screen Light #1 = 4ft from the screen
- Presenter mark 5ft from the screen
- Presenter Light #1 = 6ft from screen etc
- Camera mark 10ft from the screen
Photographing your light set-up can also act as a rough guide, but it’s not as precise as carefully measuring out your marking. This detailed re-production planning will save you so much time in the long run. Plus, if you have to tear down your film space you’ll be able to do so with the peace of mind knowing that you can easily recreate it in a matter of minutes not hours, trying to figure out it all out again. Do it once, do it right!
Screens and Equipment
I have trialled various products over the years, some with great results, and some not so great. Hopefully, the following will save you a bit of time and creative disappointment.
My recommendation is to avoid the “hanging curtain” type screens (see below).
- They’re not user-friendly and are time-consuming to set up
- They don’t transport well and the fabric is generally cheap and see-through
- They wrinkle and crease easily and have to be kept hanging, and clipped or taped into place to prevent this
- They are not an ideal choice if your setup has to be packed down and stored after filming.
I’ve had excellent results with these backgrounds. In fact, I bought two; a 5’x7′ Green/Blue reversible and a Black/White reversible screen. They are lightweight and come with a sturdy spring steel frame that folds down into a disc carrying case.
They are portable, they travel well, and best of all they show no hideous creases! This particular brand has been good so far, and since 2010, I have not experienced any issues with them.
For filming versatility, I’ve hung these collapsible screens on my studio walls or have filmed them leaning against walls. A support stand is also an option, and the screen clips easily onto the frame in a verticle or horizontal position.
Check that the screen is made of professional-grade material from 100% muslin cotton. It’s important that your screen absorbs light and does not reflect it. A matte surface will have a more even color range, which is essential for getting a good key.
I have seen cheaper brands and versions of these screens using materials that are shiny or reflective. This is a big no-no! A shiny screen surface will reflect the lights and create a “green spill” all over the place; rendering your footage difficult to edit.
Hair, Clothing and On-camera Movement Fails
Does and Dont’s Hair and Clothing
- Smooth hair gives a cleaner key and looks better on screen. Flyaway wisps of hair, backcombing, large curls, ringlets are a nightmare to key out
- Avoid wearing any clothing that is close to the color of your background screen
- Avoid shiny garments, fabrics or items like big jewelry. Reflective surfaces on props can appear greenish looking once keyed, and this can be extremely challenging to fix in the edit suite.
Minimize your Movement
- For a standard “talking head” video using a static, single-camera set-up, it is important to minimize your onscreen movement. Movement can create a blur which will result in a poor key
- Also, changing your focal length midway through a shoot can also affect the outcome of your key. Instead, I recommend that you lock-down your setup so that neither you nor your background moves around until you become more skilled at green screening.
There is much more to cover this subject like post-production techniques etc which I cover in my forthcoming book. But for now, I hope this information will help you make some wise choices with your video creation process.
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Cheering you with your video creations. You can do this!
Established in 2006 Bianca Te Rito, founder of STEBIAN.com provides an exclusive, consulting service helping business thought leaders, speakers, award-winning authors & VIPs productize their thought leadership and present themselves, their products, services, or brand message to their target audience in the most effective way possible on video. Get the tailored expertise from a real-world operator with over 20 years of TV/Film industry experience working in front of and behind the camera. Learn more about our custom offers here.