Video background and choosing the right one to improve your video

Paul Shillito backgrounds 1 Comment

The video background, every video has one even if there is just you and a plain white or black back drop it’s still there. Choosing the right video background can really make a difference to how your viewers perceive you and your videos.

How many times have you been on Youtube and seen a video where the person is in a room that looks like a tip or with massive posters on the walls or in front of a computer with a dodgy wallpaper. All that works a great distraction to the viewer and also sends out unspoken messages too, after all do you want to advertise the fact you live in a bit of a mess and you might have some “unusual” views of the world, best leave that bit out if you wanting to get over a meaningful message and especially if you’re making you videos as part of a business presentation.

In this video I go though 8 different types of video background both physical and virtual and also show some of the pitfalls and benefits to each. Video backgrounds can cover almost anything but hopefully these cover to most common and most useful.


{Video Transcript}

Even if you’re the only person in the scene, there are two players at work, you and the background and choosing the right background can make or break your scene.

A lot of people when they starting out, often concentrate on the presenter, and that’s a perfectly logical way to think, after all that’s who you will be watching. However after a very short period of time, the viewers eyes start looking beyond the person to the background and the last thing you need is to be upstaged by a distracting back drop.

You only need to look on Youtube to see bad backgrounds, and more often than not they seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But its not hard to sort out the back ground issue, and if you want to put over a more professional image, its something you will need address sooner rather than later.

So I have put together a list of 8 different backgrounds that range from the super simple to the technically complex, that will suite anyone from complete beginner to the seasoned video maker.

1. The painted wall.

Now this is the of our first backgrounds and it is probably the simplest background you can come across its basically a white wall, in this case it’s the brick wall in my garage that has been painting white, very simple, very straightforward and is available in almost every house and building across the land, across the world.

If you don’t happen to have a white wall available or a brick wall which could be painted like this then you could actually just use a large sheet of wood hardboard for example or chip board, paint it with matte paint and stand it against the wall. You just stand in front of it and that becomes your background.

Like I say this has been done in a garage so it sounds like echo and there are cars going past outside. The brick work shows up, gives it a bit of character, it got that urban, industrial look about it. But also you will notice that I’m not getting much shadows behind, this is down for lighting and the lighting on white background is important. You need to like the background almost separately from you.

Now there is limited space here so managed to get in three lights I got my twin strip light here, another twin strip light here and also an LED light here. The reason for this is that white backgrounds tend to look grey if they’re not illuminated enough, although you can tweak the settings in post and you can crank up the contrast and brightness, you tend to overdo the whole image and then you can end up yourself looking really washed out or over contrasty when your trying to massage a grey background to become a white one.

If you light it properly in the first place you don’t have that issue. So this is pretty much it there is a simple straightforward and background it can be done by anyone, anywhere almost and is very simple.

The backgrounds that will follow will become more sophisticated as we go along but basically, to start off with this is an excellent starting point and gets used the working on a more professional looking background.
Apple use it, not a brick wall like this but it is a white background, so it’s good enough for Apple, it good enough for you and me.

2. The room background.

Now you may think that this is a bit of a cop out because there isn’t a background..  ahhh but there is. What ever is behind the presenter becomes the background by default. Now this is where the problems start. Its very easy to have all sorts of distracting and potentially more interesting items in the background than the presenter. Most of the time all that is required is a quick tidy up or if you cant do that, try to frame the shot so that you get the cleanest back ground area behind you.

Another problem comes from the type of camera you are using to shoot the video with. You see with most consumer grade camcorders and certainly devices like smart phones and tablets have a very deep depth of field, which means that not only  the person is in sharp focus but everything behind them is too, making it all too easy see.

Here is an example, I have two cameras filming, a Panasonic SD900 consumer camcorder and a Canon 600D DLSR with a canon 50mm f1.4 lens.

With Panasonic you can see that Im in focus, but so is most of the background and you can easily make out the record deck with pens and boxes on it.

But now with the Canon and the f1.4 lens, Im still in focus but the background has been blurred so much that can not make the record deck let alone what is on it

This out of focus background is called BOKEH, and is exactly the same technique that is used in film and photography and is so common that you probably dont even notice it. Once you have this ability to control the background focus, the normal room background becomes much less of a problem.

3. The Pop up Background.

Now we are coming on to one of the most popular type of portable backgrounds that are used by video makers and photographers alike and this is the Pop up background.

The great thing about these is that not only are they relatively cheap but you can just fold them up and pack them away when not in use. They are ideal for when you need a solid colour background but dont have a fixed area to video in or if you are videoing out on location.

They most commonly are supplied in black or white or ones like this, which is white on one side and black on the other. They are also available in green or blue for chromakey work.

The main drawback is that they are not very large, so if you want  a longer mid body shot then you wont be able move  much sideways and if you use them in landscape format then they aren’t very deep so you can only really do head and shoulder shots.

4. The Stand Background

Now if you find the pop-up background too limiting and you have the space the you can opt for the stand based ones.
These normally use two stands which then hold up a telescopic crossbar on which a roll of paper, vinyl or cloth is then draped down to form the background.

The big advantage of these over the pop-up ones is the size. Most can be up to 3 meters (9 feet) wide and up to 2.5 meters 8 feet tall, so you have a lot more room to move around in or you can have more than one person in the scene.

You can get the paper roll backgrounds in many different colours and if it get creased or torn then you just cut of the offending piece and unroll a new section.

You can also get the rolls in vinyl, which is more hard wearing and can be cleaned. Again if it gets too bad you can cut off the bad bit and unroll some more.

Finally you can hang cloth like this green screen on the bar, though you need to make sure that you pull out the creases and wrinkles out with clamps and weights so as to make the background as smooth and even as possible.

These are ideal for when you have area that you can dedicate to doing you video work in as they can be a bit of a pain if you have to keep take them up and down everyday.

5.  The outdoors background

Shooting outside can give you some backgrounds but it can also present you with some rather awkward headaches as well.

One of the things is that you can’t control what is going on in the background. If look at the moment I’m standing beside a busy main road, with traffic going backwards and forwards and people walking around. I can’t control that but what I can control is how much of the background you actually see.

Depending upon the camera, here I’m using a Panasonic SD900 and virtually everything is in focus including me and the background, so you see is really quite clearly what going on.

But if I switch to the Canon 600 DSLR with the 50mm f1.4 lens, you can see it is blurred out more.

Now this enables you to really focus in on presenter rather than what is going on in the background. It also give you a more cinematic sort of look which a lot of people quite like.

So again when you doing outside you might not necessarily be able to control you background but what you can control is the amount of detail in the background and how it’s going to affect your shot.

6. Vehicle Backgrounds

Videoing in a vehicle can give you a really interesting shot and in particular the actual backgrounds can be really nice depending upon the scene where you’re actually shooting and what you’re shooting.

The great thing about this is that you’ve got something like a GoPro which I have here at the moment it has a wide angle lens, not only can see me and passenger and anything behind me but it can also see out this screen, that screen, outside the big panoramic windscreen we got here, basically you see everything and you got an awful lot of extra movement going on which can be quite interesting.

Another way to do this would be to fit a different camera or use a different camera and mounted on the side window like this. I’m using my iPhone 5 at the moment which is mounted on the passenger window here and it’s looking at me directly and obviously you’re seeing me and you’re seeing what’s going on outside my driver side window so now that becomes my background.

Depending where your driving you can’t control what is going on outside so you’ve got to be careful if you’re shooting into the sun. At the moment the Sun is pointing there so I’m being lit this way so with that side camera there is actually is ideal.

So there are a few other little things to sort of look out for in respect but otherwise shooting in a vehicle can give you some really great interesting shots and the background that go along around it can also be really interesting but you don’t want to be too overpowering on the background and make sure you do concentrate on the person and not too much going on outside.

7. Green or Blue Screen
Now this is not so much a background in its own right but it is more of a means to an end. Its rather unlikely that you going to want to be videoed on a vivid green or blue background, but with and bit of video special effects, your lurid background can be made to disappear and be replaced by pretty much anything you want.

The thing to note here is that we are moving into the realms of special effects and not only to you need a good clean smooth solid colour but you will also need good lighting and the software to do the chromakey removal of the green or blue screen.

Good chroma key work is a skill that takes time to master, it is one of those things that looks great when its done right and it looks easy to do, but in practise can be a real pain in the backside and can take a lot more time, effort and equipment than you may first realise, if you are to get a realistic results that wont embarrass you.

Just look around Youtube or very early 1980s video chromakey effects to see what I mean and just how bad it can be.

8. Virtual Background and Virtual Sets / Studios
Now we are coming to the end of our roll call of backgrounds and these are all only available once you have mastered chromakey or green / blue screen technique we talked before.

Once you can electronically remove the background, a whole new world opens up. The problem here is that you now have so many options, that can get a little out of hand and you can end up with a back ground which looks worse than if you had shot it with any of the normal methods.

You need to exercise caution and make sure that the background you choose is complementary to the subject matter you are presenting.

Having said that it, something which can work well is an abstract or completely made up or un-natural background. The great thing about this method is that there are 1000s abstract video or photo backgrounds available from companies like videohive.com or videoblocks.com

And finally we move on to virtual sets or virtual studios. This is where the persons or presenter is placed in what looks like a real studio, complete with set furniture, video screens, even a back office with banks of monitors. In reality none of it exists, the whole scene is a CGI or computer generated image. You can make your video in a room in your house but it can look like your presenting from a super slick studio that looks just like you would see on TV.

You can buy pre-made virtual sets to use as your background or if you are willing to learn a 3D modelling software package  like Cinema 4D or even the free one called Blender, you can make your own.

Once you have reached this point you can compete on looks with the TV professionals but at a fraction of the cost and you don’t need a multimillion dollar studio to do you work in.

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