Choosing a Background for Your Video

Learn how to choose which background is best for your next video.

May 20, 2020

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Chris Lavigne

Chris Lavigne

Creative

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. Plus, 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 want to know more about how you can set up a DIY video studio of your own, check out this post!

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

Pro-Tip
Have questions about how to make videos remotely? We thought you might! While folks continue to adapt to working from home, we’ve seen more people relying on video to communicate. If that sounds like you, check out this collection of videos for tips and best practices about shooting video remotely!

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 (or home office) 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.

Pro-Tip
Want some tips for looking your best on a webcam video?

- Raise your camera to your eyeline
- Position yourself about an arm’s length away from the screen
- Keep your lighting source in front of you, not behind you
- Clean up your surroundings
- Be mindful of your audio

Dive deeper by heading on over to this post!

Additionally, you’ll want your talent to look and feel their best, because after all, 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 six quick tips that’ll 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.

Things to consider with an office or “in-the-wild” background:

  • 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.

You might be wondering just how much time you should spend stylizing your background when you shoot “in the wild.” And the truth is, it’s totally up to you. If you work in a vibrant, beautiful office, this type of background might feel like a no-brainer. But what about all the folks who live in the land of cubicles? What if you aren’t shooting in your office, but in your home? Most of the time, you can create a great-looking set with what you already have in the room.

Here are some helpful pointers when it comes to set design:
  • Don’t be afraid to move some furniture around or grab something from another room to fill up your shot
  • Be sure to take a few test shots so you can get a feel for what the background will actually look like (you might be surprised!)
  • Try to match the colors of some of the accessories in the shot — this will make things look more visually appealing
  • Focus only on what you can see! This is a biggie — don’t forget that not everything will be in the frame
Get Inspired
See what went into the set design for our original series, One, Ten, One Hundred. In this post, Trevor digs into some learnings and considerations when it came to creating a beautiful set for this video series.

The whiteboard background

Our friends over at Moz have adopted a different approach to video backgrounds altogether. 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 from a soft light source) is the ability to control the power and brightness of the lights. At the end of the day, when it comes to lighting, if you follow some basic lighting principles and best practices, you can get some pretty nice results with even the cheapest of lighting kits.

If you want to see how you can pull together an affordable lighting kit for less than $100, watch this video!

The great outdoors

If you have an itch to shoot a video outside, there are many factors to be aware of that can prevent you from getting a well-balanced shot. For instance, different times of day yield different lighting on your subject. You’ll also want to be sure to consider the time of day for your shoot. 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.

If you’re starting to shoot outside more, we recommend picking up a 5 in 1 reflector like the one below. It has 5 different sides that can help you either add more light to a subject or diffuse the light on the subject.

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.

Start standing out with your backgrounds

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 deliver. 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

Creative

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