Why are you not you using a green screen when you Zoom? I ran an informal poll on LinkedIn this week and was surprised to learn that more than 80 percent of respondents do not use a green screen with a virtual background. That was disappointing but not surprising.
I spend most of my workweek helping individuals step up their presence and public speaking abilities on Zoom or other video platforms. I have observed that there is either indifference or resistance by many people when it comes to putting best practices for video meetings to work.
Many people are connecting remotely with the same equipment they owned pre-pandemic when video meetings were largely optional. Few have taken the time or made the investment in a few accessories that could make the difference between a low or high ZoomScore™. I created the ZoomScore last year as a measure of the elements that comprise a professional video presence. Using a virtual background without a green screen may cost you five points on the 10-point scale.
But let’s not take anything for granted. Some people who responded to my poll indicated they do not know what a green screen is. Let me explain.
Green screen is what the name says. It is a single-color physical background, a particular intense color green (sometimes blue) which enables your webcam and the video conferencing software to work properly when you replace your physical background with an image or video of your choice. Today’s video cameras are most sensitive to green which is the opposite of our natural skin tones and hair color. Color contrast is essential to create crisp differentiation between you and your background.
Green screens have been used for decades in movies, TV and video games in a process called chroma key compositing, which makes it look like the actor is somewhere else. The same process is used on TV weather reports with the presenter standing in front of a large map when they are actually standing in front of a large green wall. What we see on air is a composite created in the control room.
Now that we know that video conferencing for work is here to stay, green screens are becoming standard equipment if you want to up your Zoom game. Here are five reasons why you should use a green screen with a virtual background.
1. Video conferencing software works best with green screen.
The software used by video conference apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams is designed to work optimally with a green screen when you choose a virtual backdrop. You can get by without it but your image on the screen will never look neat and defined.
The two images at the top of this composite show me in screen captures of the Zoom video window with the virtual background feature enabled without a green screen, and with a physical green screen. The bottom row shows me in my natural real-life home office setting, and the one on the bottom right shows what you would see if the virtual background image was not enabled.
You can see that both images with the virtual background look fairly good around my head and shoulders, but the one on the left (without the green screen) is having a real issue with correctly processing the background between my fingers. Notice that some of my fingers are missing the tips and parts of the background are bleeding through. If you are eagle-eyed, you might also notice that my earrings are missing. The image on the top right shows all my fingers and my earrings. You might even think that my custom virtual background is a real office.
2. Use a green screen to hide your surroundings.
Not everyone has the space to create a home studio. But if you are streaming from your bedroom, I urge you not to show your bed, unless you work in the mattress industry. Some people do not like to reveal too much of their private spaces. Other people work in messy quarters, in temporary or co-working spaces where there is lots happening around them.
A portable green screen allows you to deploy an appropriate virtual background and create the most favorable video image possible.
3. Green screen lets you to be creative with backgrounds.
Depending on the context and business purpose, you can change backgrounds from meeting to meeting. Go from library to conference room. Use a daytime image of a city skyline during the day and switch to a night scene after dark. If you create a library of high-resolution images that fit the kind of work you do, you may bring some fun to the Zoom-doom of back-to-back video meetings.
But select your images carefully to ensure sufficient contrast between you and what you are wearing in the foreground and the virtual background. If your background is purple, for example, do not wear purple. Even with advances in video conferencing technology, it is impossible to make the composite image look completely natural. While your virtual background will look much better with a green screen, it will still look artificial, mostly because of differences in lighting, coloration, and focus between you in the foreground and the digital background.
4. Use a green screen when you want to showcase your brand.
Branded backgrounds are a great way to create a unified image across your company. You can combine imagery, logos, and slogans to complement your presentation or sales pitch. Green screen becomes critical when you want to project a polished professional image that reinforces your brand attributes. Yet for the green screen effect to work properly, you need proper lighting. It must be bright and even with no shadows. This may be difficult to achieve in temporary or shared workspaces.
5. Green screens do not have to be expensive.
To get the benefits of a green screen, you do not have to spend a lot of money. You can buy a color-keyed cloth photo backdrop for about $10 but you will need to hang it taught (no wrinkles or folds) with hardware that may cost four times as much.
Here are three reliable green screen options priced from $42 to $140.
Heysliy Green Screen Backdrop Kit with Stand. ($42 on Amazon). This is an economical way to get 5 feet x 6.5 feet of coverage. The durable fabric has a high thread count and comes with its own aluminum stand, clamps and a carrying case; the entire kit weighs just 4 pounds. If you have enough room behind you and can keep it in a fixed location, this may be a good entry-level option. Cons: The green fabric comes folded, which means you have you steam or iron it to get the creases out before using. The folds will show on your virtual background.
Webaround Big Shot ($60 on Amazon) is a portable collapsible green screen that mounts to the back of your chair with Velcro straps. It is lightweight, simple to set up and collapses into a tote. It is round and wide enough to cover a medium shot. It stays taught with a spring steel frame and has an integrated stabilizer that keeps the screen upright behind your chair and not angled. Cons: Even at 56 inches in diameter, it limits the amount of background you can cover. Also, the low-density fabric may show wear after heavy use.
Elgato Green Screen ($140 on Amazon). This is the green screen I use. It is collapsible and wrinkle resistant; sets up in under a minute and retracts into its own hard case so it can be stored out of sight. It is 58 inches wide by 71 inches high. There are similar models from other manufacturers, but you should note that Elgato is a top name in photography, video, and gaming equipment. Cons: it could be a foot wider and taller to allow me the option of standing to speak.
When you really need to look professional, communicate at your best, and be consistent in your brand, your background should help not hurt your video presence. If you choose to go virtual, take the extra step and work with a green screen so you do not “melt” into the background. A physical green screen with proper lighting will help you make a great impression every time you join a video call.
Ask Rosemary Live every Tuesday at noon ET on LinkedIn Live.
Do you have burning question about video conferencing? Let me help you. Every Tuesday in September at noon ET, Ask Rosemary Live on LinkedIn and Facebook will give you the chance to post your questions in the chat and get answers. I will be livestreaming for 30 minutes. Follow me on LinkedIn to get notifications. Or send your questions in advance to email@example.com
Stay connected for weekly tips and insights on Zoom mastery.
Download my 7 Essential Steps to Master Public Speaking on Zoom for more tips to improve your Zoom game.