In 2020, we got put on lockdown and became weirdly self-conscious of our bookshelves when Zooming with friends. Or in my case, I spent several months trying to make the perfect YouTube backdrop.
Here’s 7 background ideas to help you win Zoom calls or YouTube videos.
1) Vinyl Backdrops
I went ahead and bought this faux wood vinyl backdrop from Amazon. Vinyl backdrops are fantastic, and they look good on camera.
They’re also very lightweight, so it’s effortless to use a few thumbtacks to pin them to the wall behind you. They’re easy to take down, fold up, and store. Wrinkles also come out quickly, making this the perfect backdrop material.
Amazon also has many other vinyl backdrops that would look good, like this brick backdrop.
2) Paper Backdrops
This is a less expensive version of vinyl backdrops that were custom made to look like wood. Backdrops with a consistent color can look pretty good. You just have to apply the right lighting. They’re cheap and lightweight, making them easy to pin to the wall behind you.
It’s possible you can find colored paper at your local craft store. If not, they have them on Amazon. And if the paper doesn’t work out it doubles as wrapping paper.
3) Go Outside (With A Lot of Overhead Shade)
The outdoors is naturally more appealing to our eyes than the great indoors. But, when you go outside the rain, heat, wind, noise pollution, and Sun all present unique challenges.
Particularly the Sun. Bright sunlight will make seeing your screen difficult (for zoom calls). It’s also going to create harsh shadows around your eyes that won’t look good.
Everything looks better outdoors, but you will need shade. Direct sunlight won’t look good and will cause a lot of problems.
4) Green Screen
I wrote an entire post on how to set up a green screen. You only need a consistent color behind you that’s distinctly different from the foreground to make this work. How hard can that be?
Surprisingly hard. Luckily, Zoom has some pretty forgiving software that tries to make a green screen out of anything. You should be able to pull it off with a consistent background behind you and decent lighting. Even if your backdrop is a normal wall.
That said, people are going to be able to tell it’s a green screen. Making it look perfect is difficult to pull-off. If you’re going to do a green screen, I recommend doing it ironically rather than trying to fool your audience.
5) Frame Yourself
This goes for any backdrop you choose to use. Try to move any objects in your shot to the left, right, top, or bottom of the screen. Our brains are weird, we want people to look like they’re in a picture frame. Being on the edge of the frame doesn’t do it for us.
This is something you can do regardless of what your backdrop looks like. Any two objects balanced on the left and right of your frame will give this effect. If you have two floor lamps, try putting them on both sides of you. It helps.
6) Use Lights with Gels on a Plain Wall
This option is a cool idea, and on its face, it seems easy to do.
But, it’s actually harder than it looks. You need lights (which can get expensive fast), gels (which are cheap), and you’ll need more light on your face than on the wall behind you (plus, owning an expensive camera and knowing how to use it would definitely help with this one).
Do you see how dark my shirt and under my beard looks? Not good, this is what happens when there is too much light on the background wall and not enough light on the subject. That said, I’m pretty happy with how crazy my ordinary wall looks in this shot.
Also, you have to check out this guy’s YouTube video on how to set this up. This guy wins the Internet!
7) Embracing Your Crappy Bookshelf
For YouTube, a professional-looking backdrop helps to project legitimacy. People stick around longer when they can tell your video isn’t just a guy with a cellphone camera.
But, for Zoom calls, we all get a kick out of seeing each other’s crappy homes. Authenticity becomes more critical on Zoom than it is on YouTube.
We all have that one coworker that looks like they tried way too hard to make their backdrop look fantastic (and still didn’t do a great job). Sometimes being authentic and not caring goes over much better. I feel drawn to the authenticity over the guy who has the perfect backdrop.
So if your backdrop isn’t perfect just yet, don’t sweat it.