Green screens have become increasingly popular among amateur videographers and at-home Zoomers alike. Instead of showing off the background of our messy remote workspaces, we can use a Zoom virtual background to transform our space into anything we’d like. Learning how to use a green screen is easy, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a lot of money. 

Green screens remain an affordable option for creating stunning videos, but using them properly is key. There’s nothing more off-putting in a film or video than when your audience knows you’re using a green screen. Unless of course, that’s the look you’re going for. 

So here are some ways in which you can set one up at home, the equipment you’ll need, and how to convince your viewers that you’re in a completely different world.

How and Why Do You Use a Green Screen?

Green screen backgrounds have been around since the 1940s. Back then, they were actually blue screens. Filming an actor on a monochromatic backdrop, then replacing that background with something else entirely in post-production, was an innovative way to introduce special effects to films, both in black and white and color. 

Fast forward to today, and green screen effects are used both in major Hollywood productions and at-home filmmakers making their own DIY green screen productions. But why do people choose to use a green screen? It could be to add an exotic feel to their videos, or it could be to add a funny background and some humor that engages their audience. 

When you set up a green screen, you’ll need some equipment. Here’s what you’ll need to get started on your own green screen background. 

  1. The green screen itself, free from wrinkles or tears. 
  2. A lighting kit that includes a key light, a fill light, and a backlight. 
  3. A tripod and camera 
  4. Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere editing software 

Steps to Setting Up Your Green Screen

1. Set Up Your Green Screen

green screen
A simple, paper green screen is a great choice and offers little-to-no seams or wrinkles.

When setting up your green screen, it’s recommended to have a seamless paper green screen and a stand. Fabric can work as well; just make sure that it doesn’t have any wrinkles or tears in it to ensure high-quality footage when bringing it into the editing software. 

2. Set Up Your Lighting

lighting set up
Rahim Samad describes his three-point lighting formula in his Skillshare class.

Using the diagram above, set up your three-point lighting. Your key light is the light that will highlight the subject. The fill light fills in the shadows created by the key light. And the backlight or hair light works to separate the subject from the green screen. 

When you’re setting up your lighting, make sure that there are no dark or bright spots on the green screen and that the lighting is uniform throughout the screen. Always look through the camera viewfinder to see how the subject and green screen appear through the camera’s lens as well. 

3. Prepare Your Subject 

green screen set up
Filmmaker Paul Trillo sets up his small-framed green screen in his online Skillshare class.

An important note: Don’t dress your subjects in green clothing or accessories! This includes any green in patterns or jewelry. This can compete with the background and be challenging to avoid in the editing process. 

You should also set up your subject at least two feet away from the green screen itself. This, along with the backlight, will promote separating the subject from the background and give a more authentic look. 

4. Edit Your Footage

What software do you need to use on a green screen? Whether you used an iPhone green screen or you shot your footage using traditional techniques, you can bring the files into Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X to swap out the background for whatever you’d like! 

Both software options give you the flexibility needed for custom backgrounds. To replace your green screen footage with different photos and videos, you’ll need to use each program’s specific green screen effects. 

Editing your green screen footage can be a learning curve for beginners, so be sure to check out a step-by-step class in green screen editing

Using a Green Screen for Zoom 

Using a green screen for Zoom is a bit different—and (good news) a bit easier! You don’t have to bring your footage into another software to see your green screen take effect. Instead, you can set up your camera and lighting in front of the background, and let the platform’s software superimpose you onto a new background. (Zoom has built-in options, or you can upload your own fun virtual backgrounds.) 

The same principles are true for using a green screen with Zoom calls. Ensure the lighting you have is consistent with your subject (you). Ring lights do a good job at highlighting you from the front, but try keeping on other lights to contribute to your backlight and fill light. When you use a green screen for Zoom, you’ll have your colleagues wishing their backgrounds looked as real and unique as yours! 

Master the Green Screen

DIY Green Screen for Film: Creating Surreal Visual Effects

Written by:

Mindy Morgan Avitia