The Quarantine of 2020 has been instrumental in most of us finding ourselves spending a lot more time on camera than many of us ever have before. A good-looking interview or talking head largely revolves around designing the overall look of the shot, not just deciding how to position and light the talent. The most difficult part of the shot to effectively design, art direct and light is almost always the background.
Your FOV and Why It Means Everything
What is FOV? FOV is Field of View. Most people use the camera built-in to their phone or computer. These built-in cameras have tiny sensors so their lens is typically wide angle so that they can fit a person into their FOV when handheld, in the case of a smartphone camera, or in a small office in the case of a laptop or desktop computer. Another factor to think about besides the wide-angle field of view is that these tiny sensors typically have very deep depth of field, a side of effect of tiny sensor size. This means in most cases, forget about obtaining that nice, shallow depth of field look where the background behind you will fall off to a softly focused blur. This means that whatever you have in the background of your shot will be plainly in your audience’s view.
For Simplicity, Seamless Paper
Used by photographers and video shooters for decades, seamless paper comes in various size and length rolls and offers a quick and easy way to achieve a limbo look. The advantages of using seamless paper are numerous, but much of it stems from how simple it is to utilize no matter what you’re trying to do. You can find a variety of seamless paper in a huge array of colors, widths and lengths from most video and photography retailers but numerous options are readily available over on Filmtoools. https://www.filmtools.com/expendables/seamlesspaper.html
Zoom Virtual Backgrounds
Zoom has emerged as one of the most popular tools used holding multi-user on-line meetings during the quarantine. It has an interesting virtual background feature built in that allows you to place yourself in front of a moving video or still image background. If you have an ugly, cluttered or boring location that you are live streaming from, this feature allows you to effortlessly replace the background of the real location you’re in with a pre-chosen video or still image background. The program comes with a selection of videos and still images you can place yourself in front of or you can load your own videos and stills. You’ll never mistake the feature for quality compositing done with tools designed for this but all things considered, it does a good job.
Helping The Virtual Background Do A Better Job
If you’d like to help Zoom clean up the edges of the key around your face and body, the two main variable are how well and evenly lit you are and by placing yourself in front of a green screen, the quality of the key improves. The Zoom virtual background even has a checkbox that allows you to select that you are using a green screen. Fortunately, there are now collapsible green screens that can be unfolded in seconds that fit around the back of your office chair to hold them in place. Webaround makes a nice Portable Webcam Background.
Classic Black, White or Gray FJ Westcott X-Drop Background Kit
If you’re using a live streaming application that doesn’t have green screen keying functionality or like me, you simply prefer the look of a real cotton cloth background, FJ Westcott has the X-Drop 3-Pack Backdrop kit. This kit features a few things that make it stand out from the competition, making it a perfect choice for live streaming.
- For U.S. $179.90, the kit includes a white, black and gray cloth 5’ x 7’ background, a lightweight stand with a carry case.
- The backgrounds are made of cotton and are machine washable
- The entire kit with the three backgrounds, stand and bag weighs less than 10lbs, allowing for easy transportation
This kit is readily available on the Filmtools website:
Tips and Tricks for Using Your Room As Your Background
It’s the trickiest to get right but the best-looking background for a live stream is a nicely lit, well-composed real background. We cannot effectively cover lighting in this short article but here are few tips and tricks you can utilize as you choose your background from around your home or office.
- Depth is your friend. The more distance between you and the walls behind you, generally the better.
- Corners can look more interesting. Putting a flat wall behind you is generally a recipe for a boring background. A corner has converging and diverging lines from you to the backdrop and vice versa.
- Avoid putting a window in shot. Most smartphone and computer cameras have little to no exposure control so if you place a daylight window in your background, the sunlight and bright landscape out the window will compete with a relatively darker scene of you inside in front of the camera.
- Clutter is generally bad. The best composition will support your appearance on camera. Too many things in the frame in the background will be distracting. Keep it simple and clean.
- White walls are boring. If you must have white walls in your background, try to minimize the large white area with a plant, picture, and wall tapestry, something to break up the wide expanse of white.
Choosing The Right Background For Your Live Stream
Think about the context of your live stream. If you are speaking with colleagues, something professional in appearance is appropriate. If you are talking about gaming or something more technical, green screen with a cool, suitably technical-looking background works. Black, white or gray limbo behind you looks appropriate for any occasion. I hope that these tips and tricks help you design a better-looking background for your next live stream.