Choosing a Background for Your Video

Learn how to strategically choose your backdrop to set the tone for your video.

January 10, 2019

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Chris Lavigne

Chris Lavigne


Determining the background (a.k.a. backdrop) for the scripted on-camera lines of your video will have a huge impact on how your story is told. Strategically choosing where you shoot your video and what’s in the background can actually save you a ton of time.

For most of the videos we make here at Wistia, a conscious decision is made to shoot either “in the wild” around our office or in our studio using a solid-colored piece of seamless paper. If you’d like to know the tricks to set up a DIY office video studio of your own, check out this post in our Learning Center.

We’ll expand on various backgrounds from which you can choose below. Without further ado, here’s the background on our backgrounds. Is anyone laughing? Didn’t think so.

The paper background

The paper background has cemented its place in Wistia video history. Although its origins are somewhat unknown, it has certainly earned its stripes as the video background workhorse around this neck of the woods.

The paper background is actually a 107" roll of seamless photo paper from Savage Universal. It comes in a ton of different colors and costs around $60 a roll. Using a paper background setup will let you shoot literally anywhere and still get a great looking shot.

Want to know what’s neat about it? Your viewer will never know where your paper setup is located. Through the lens of the camera, viewers will only see a smiling face in front of a solid colored background. And, if you’re ashamed of your messy office space, worry not–the paper background can cover it all.

Mounting the backdrop

To mount the paper, you can use 2 light stands and a crossbar. Another option is to simply cut and tape it to the wall. For a more permanent solution, check out the Varipole system by Impact.

Choosing a color

One thing we struggled with was properly visualizing how each color would come across on video. To demonstrate, we ordered a bunch of different colors and shot Emily and James in front of them!

You can light seamless paper in a couple of different ways. We create a gradient by using one scoop light behind the subject pointed at the screen (left). But you can also flood more light onto the background to get a flat and totally different looking shot (right).

Bright colors like yellow, orange, or red will cause color reflections and can be unflattering to your subject. At Wistia, we like to stick with muted tones like gray and dark blue. But different colors have different vibes, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Experiment with what best fits your brand and your story!

Using a solid paper background can make the production process way more efficient. It eliminates the need to set up and break down multiple interview shots, so it’s a great option for shooting a bunch of people quickly.

Another consideration not to be overlooked is your talent’s outfit choices on the day of the shoot. No one wants to witness a color clash between backdrops and wardrobes. Additionally, you’ll want your talent to look and feel their best because confidence is key. If the goal of your video is to engage your audience, your wardrobe choices should help you achieve that goal, not hold you back. Learn all about dressing for the camera here. And while you’re at it, check out these 6 quick tips that will help your talent forget about their appearance altogether and focus on being their most authentic selves.

The office background

Using your actual office as a background communicates authenticity. Seeing people in their natural environment feels genuine and adds a sense of time and place to the scene. A natural backdrop feels spontaneous, rather than like an artificial setup.

An office background is perfect for testimonials and more casual video messages. But since your office is probably not a Hollywood set, here are a few things you should consider.

  • If the background doesn’t look interesting or isn’t important to the story, use a fast lens like a 50mm and blur it out. This keeps the focus on the person and away from what’s happening behind them.
  • Consider what’s in your shot. Take a minute and move any unnecessary or distracting items. Don’t even think about using fake plants.
  • If there are people in the room, ask them nicely to stay put for a few minutes while you record that perfect take.
  • Ambient light can ruin a shot. Lighting changes on a sunny day can look like jump cuts in your edit. If possible, wait for a cloudy day to get more consistent ambient light!
  • If you’re shooting multiple people with an office background, change up the location for every new person speaking on camera. Even just panning the camera over 90 degrees will yield a completely different shot and avoid a jump cut.

The whiteboard background

Our friends at Moz have adopted a different approach. They use a whiteboard to get their message across and help with their weekly teaching.

The biggest challenges of shooting in front of a whiteboard are the reflections and glare. Moz uses 4 lights with giant softboxes to get flat and even lighting that reduces shadows and harsh glare on the board.

Moz emphasizes features over brand when choosing their lights. What’s most important to them (aside a soft light source) is the ability to control the power and brightness of the lights.

The great outdoors

If you have an itch to shoot a video outside, there are many factors of which to be aware that can prevent you from getting a well-balanced shot. For instance, different times of day yield different lighting on your subject. Be sure to consider the time of day for your shoot. Grasp the basics to get off the ground running with a natural backdrop in this post. ND filters, reflectors, and silks are just a handful of things that will make everything look more flattering and help you achieve a well-balanced, properly exposed shot.

Depending on your budget and resources, all the possibilities with video might inspire you to explore your creative limits. When your conference room isn’t quite cutting it, scouting a location can be a great way to make your video or photos stand out from the crowd. When done right, location scouting can create an experience and look that will fool almost anyone. There are great hidden gems spread across the globe that can help bring any shoot to life and help save money or travel hassle when dealing with larger crews and equipment.

Start standing out

Knowing how to choose a background for your video will give your content a more professional look and help your audience focus on the message you’re trying to communicate. From picking the perfect hue to mounting your backdrop successfully, we hope these tips help you create video content for your business that will differentiate you from the competition. Don’t let a lousy background dull your sparkle!

Chris Lavigne

Chris Lavigne


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