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.
Here’s the background on our backgrounds. Is anyone laughing? Didn’t think so.
The paper background has cemented its place in Wistia video history. Although its origins are somewhat unknown (read: forgotten), it has certainly earned its stripes as the video background workhorse.
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.
Your viewer will never know where your paper setup is located. Through the lens of the camera, viewers will see a smiling face in front of a solid colored background.
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.
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 you can, 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.
Our friends at Moz have adopted a different approach. They use a whiteboard to get their message across and to 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.