What goes on behind the subjects of your video can have every bit as much impact on how your message is received as any other component of the shot. A subject with all the charisma and class in the world can’t make a video shot in a messy bedroom look professional. Likewise, a bland background can make your production seem boring or uninteresting, especially if your subject is a talking head with one camera and very little cutaway.
So, what is the happy medium? What should you consider when choosing the right background for video? In this article, we’ll focus on several types of backgrounds and how they can be used to enhance your production.
Chromakey, or green screening, allows you to film a subject in a controlled environment and “place” them in virtually any environment in post. You could have a completely still subject appear to be sitting on top of a moving train, or speaking from the summit of a tall mountain. Likewise, you can replace that basic green with any color or image you could imagine, saving you from having to create a physical set.
Whatever your choice, it’s important that the subject be lit in a way that would reflect the environment you’re putting them in. If you light the subject up as though it was a bright sunny day, and place them in front of a sunset scene filled with a yellow hue, then the entire shot will come off looking wrong to the viewer.
The trick to good chromakey is to make it look as though you’re not using that technique at all. The more you believe your subject is sitting in a library filled with books (and not a wall covered by a giant green sheet) the better your chances of becoming absorbed in the content.
Basic colors, whether they’re flat or textured (like curtains), can be a great way to simplify the look of your video and keep the focus on the speaker and/or PiP (picture-in-picture) image over the subject’s shoulder.
Big Think does a great job at producing immersive content with the most basic of backgrounds. Its videos are shot using chromakey (see above) and the green screen is replaced by a basic white. This puts the focus directly on the speaker.
More importantly, this look makes all of Big Think’s videos uniform and immediately recognizable. Consistency is key when you’re making a series of related videos. It makes it far easier to find the next video to watch at a glance.
News shows are constantly taking advantage of indoor activity. Anchors commonly sit at a desk with a room full of people working diligently behind them. This allows the show to be produced in the same space that the majority of the work is done, in addition to adding to the ambience that you’re receiving your news from an organization dedicated to working hard to find the truth rather than wowing you with fancy sets.
Another type of indoor scene to be aware of is basically any one that takes advantage of the space of a room to add ambiance to the video. Be it a bookcase behind someone being interviewed for a documentary or a well-decorated wall in the office. There’s a lot to be said about presenting material inside of a space that has some connection with the subject.
In a Kickstarter pitch video for Double Fine Adventure, a crowd-funded adventure game, the development team’s office made for an excellent set. The viewer was taken for a virtual tour through the office while a pitch was made explaining who the company is and why they would be capable of making an excellent game.
In cluttered and/or poorly lit environments, there might need to be some thought put in to alternative background arrangements. You should never have a brighter light behind the subject than you have on the side of the camera, and a little clutter comes across as a huge mess from the perspective of a camera lens.
You might be able to hide an ugly background by using an aperture wide enough to blur everything but the subject. Doing this can be tricky, especially of the camera and/or subject is moving, but a little blur can go a long way to making an ugly background look a little less off-putting.
Filming outdoors is surprisingly easy, especially on a cloudy day. The sun provides plenty of light, and there is often more than enough space to shoot just about any type of scene. Clouds diffuse the sun’s light a bit and make for excellent even lighting in cases where shadows and directed lighting aren’t necessary.
Fraser Cain of Universe Today uses the beautiful scenery of Canada to great effect. These backgrounds add an interesting aesthetic to the presentation, and can be changed very easily by walking a few meters in any direction. Lighting is also free, which is good news for anyone. On a sunny day, the most you’ll probably need is a reflector to soften any shadows that might appear during the morning or dusk hours.
There are downsides to working outdoors, however. In a busy city, you’ll find that background noise is difficult to overcome unless you have the right equipment. Additionally, the sun is very unforgiving. A blemish, wrinkled clothing, or any other visual quirk is sure to be uncovered and even amplified by the big bright ball in the sky.
Whatever your background of choice may be, you’ll find that producing quality content is much easier when you think of anything behind the subject as part of a set. Even if it’s your own bedroom. Take a moment to consider lighting, clutter, and how the objects behind you influence the story you’re telling.