Dress Your Streaming Background for Success with a Green Screen

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Looking to display an impressive background while streaming from home with Skype, Zoom, or similar interfaces? Whether you want to use a simulated starship deck, a tropical beachscape, or simply a photo of your true work office, read on to see how a basic green screen can up your streaming game (not that your home office/corner of the sofa is at all cluttered or less than picturesque, of course).

Green screen use is also known as “chroma-keying,” a technique where two layers of video are composited or “keyed” together so that your chosen background replaces the signal read by your camera off the green screen. For a simple virtual background, the live action (you, in this case) is one layer and the green background is the other. Green and blue are the most commonly used colors since they are not present in skin tones and therefore won’t add the background to the upper layer. Your video switcher/mixer or, in this case, your streaming service, will combine the two layers; all you need to remember is to not wear clothing in the same color as your screen. If you do want to delve deeper into live and post-production techniques, read this helpful Glossary of Live Production Buzzwords by my colleague Peter Ward.

When adding a virtual background, be sure to view the latest tutorials within the app you’re using to learn the process well ahead of your planned stream. For example, some of the virtual background settings in Zoom are accessed before you sign into your account. Different streaming services may offer various background options and some older computer models may not have the right processor or graphics to add a background; each service should have their requirements listed in their support pages. If you have the right computer hardware, try creating a virtual background without a physical screen, but as one of the Zoom tutorials reminds us, “Using a green screen will always yield the best results."

In terms of streaming bandwidth, still backgrounds are easier to add; a background consisting of a playing video demands considerably more bandwidth and will probably not be handled well by your home IP setup. Even streaming with a still background requires certain hardware. Without getting into the tech requirements too deeply, you’ll probably need to have a quad-core computer to create a background image without an actual screen, but a more common dual-core laptop or desktop will work when used with a physical screen.

If you’re employing one of your own images as a background, make sure you capture it in landscape (horizontal) orientation to avoid those annoying black bars on the sides, and aim for at least a 2MP (1920 x 1080) resolution. To avoid green “spill” (reflections from the green screen) on yourself or another host, try to use one light to illuminate your talent and another light (or two) on the green screen. Aim for lighting that’s neither too bright nor too dim and that’s spread evenly across the screen.

B&H carries a full range of green screens and other chroma-key backgrounds, as well as some in-stock kits to help get you started. Pop-up backgrounds like the green and blue ones in the Smith-Victor Work from Home AV Kit are easiest to use, especially for waist-up or talking-head shots. The Green Screen Photo Creator Kit from Savage offers an entry-level priced 5 x 7' green cloth background; note that the included software is for creating still photos, not streaming, but again, it’s available and reasonably priced.

Smith-Victor Basic Smartphone / Ring Light Desktop Work-From-Home AV Kit
Smith-Victor Basic Smartphone / Ring Light Desktop Work-From-Home AV Kit

To step up a bit from pop-ups and entry-level fabric background systems you can look into the Angler PortaScreen in Chroma Green. It can be quickly stored away and then expanded at a moment’s notice, meaning you don’t have to completely transform a room to have a green screen for your occasional streams or video calls. It works by using an internal scissor frame that stretches the fabric tight to remove wrinkles and have even lighting on the background. Then, when you are done just close it down and carry it away via the top handle.

Angler PortaScreen (Chroma Green)

For larger setups, the 10 x 12' Angler Chromakey Green Background gives you a larger area to work with if you have a co-host and enables you to put some distance between you and the screen for a realistic look. Cloth backgrounds generally require a hanging system like this Impact 12' Background Support System. If your goal is to get the whole family or your rambunctious pets in your streaming session, take a look at the 10 x 24' Impact Background Support Kit. This kit includes two stands and a crossbar along with the background, and if it’s larger than what you currently need, you can fold the cloth to the appropriate width and still have a wider option for future use. B&H also offers a variety of individual lights and lighting kits suitable for streaming from home.

Angler Chromakey Green Background
Angler Chromakey Green Background

Have fun with your green screen setup and share your experience with us in the Comments section, below.

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