How to use a green screen: A beginner's guide

Photo by Jose Escribano from Pexels

A staple in action and fantasy blockbusters, a green screen allows filmmakers to bring their extravagant visions to life. With this production tool, no background or visual effect is too outlandish or preposterous to achieve.

However, that doesn’t mean that green screens are only exclusively used for explosive and big-budget films. Many video production teams use creative green screen ideas to create movies and clips that may not be intended for the box office but are still fun to watch on smaller screens.

What is a green screen, and how does it work?

A green screen is a green background used in video production that allows a video editor to add visual effects in post-production through an editing technique called chroma keying.

Visual effects are not only limited to explosions, intergalactic travel, and other fantastical visual tricks, however. They also include inserting ordinary backgrounds into a scene.

How a green screen works is it sets up a mini-studio when filming on location is too expensive or logistically impossible to do. For example, sunset scenes in TV shows and films are usually done with a green screen. That’s because the golden hour when the colors of the sunset would register beautifully on camera lasts for only a few minutes.

Why green?

Before chroma keying became a norm in the television industry, blue screens were widely used in film production. Both blue and green screens actually work from a technological perspective since they lie opposite people’s natural skin and hair tones in the color spectrum. However, since weather anchors, newscasters, and other TV personalities tend to wear blue clothing more, production companies found it easier to use green screens rather than implement a dress code for a variety of talents.

Modern video cameras have also been developed to be more sensitive to the color green, and so the use of a green screen results in cleaner effects.

With its cost-cutting and editing benefits, content creators like you can come up with a variety of green screen ideas to make fun and creative videos that you can post on YouTube and Twitch.

How to make your own green screen

You can create your own portable green screen by buying a large roll of green paper or fabric and putting it up against a frame or a wall. Both options are affordable, though they are also equally susceptible to wrinkling. But while a wrinkled fabric green screen can be remedied through ironing and steaming, a paper background with creases and folds would be more difficult to clean up in post-production.

Another DIY green screen background idea is painting a wall in green paint. This one requires a space where it’s okay to change a wall’s color. However, it’s inexpensive and eliminates the issue of wrinkles and creases. If you go this route, pick a paint with a low sheen to reduce the reflection or glare of light in your video.

How to film using a green screen

Once you’ve set up your DIY green screen studio, there are a couple of things to remember.

1. Use proper clothing.

Plan out your video subject’s wardrobe. Don’t let them wear any green clothing. Avoid using green-tinted makeup as well, like green eyeshadow or hair mascara. Otherwise, parts of them might end up invisible on the screen once the chroma key editing is done.

Video subjects should also avoid reflective clothing and accessories. Aside from creating a glare on camera, they might also reflect the green screen background. This would make the editing process lengthier and more difficult.

2. Use proper lighting.

For a cleaner key effect, check that your lighting won’t create unnecessary shadows and dark spots. Experts recommend using three sources to light your video subject: one from each side of the green backdrop and one illuminating them straight on.

Place softboxes near your lights to ensure a more even distribution of light. A cheap and easy green screen idea to diffuse lighting is to hang a white sheet in front of your light sources.

Remember to match your lighting with the background you plan to insert in post-production. Check if your video is meant to look shot in daytime or nighttime, outdoors or indoors.

3. Maintain proper distance between the green screen background and your subject.

Have them stand a few feet away from the green screen background to avoid casting a shadow. The farther the subject is from the backdrop, the better. However, if space is an issue, make sure to light the scene properly.

How to edit videos filmed on a green screen

So now you’ve learned how to use a green screen for your videos. All that’s left is to edit and enhance your content! Thanks to the amount of free software available online, you can edit your video on your own.

If you’re not quite an expert yet in the post-production process, don’t worry. To help you determine which one can help you best, check our guide on the best video editing software where we compare and contrast the functions of different programs and answer some frequently asked questions. You can also check Wedio’s review of the best mirrorless cameras for beginners.

If you want to bring your original green screen video ideas to life and post them on various social media channels, we highly recommend Canva’s free online video editor. It offers thousands of templates for a variety of video formats: YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

Customizing these video templates is easy and straightforward. They let you create title cards that fit your video’s aesthetic and add graphics to different scenes. Our user-friendly tools make the process easy to understand, even for novice video editors.

No matter your choice of video editing software, remember to use the chroma key editing tool to remove the green screen background. Replace it with your intended video background, which can either be a still photo or another video.

Tip: You can check out the Canva media library for high-quality images that you can use as your replacement background.

Don’t forget to save your work as you go. Constantly review your green screen video to finetune its pace and check for glitches. Once you’re happy with your work after a final run-through, save and download it in high-quality mp4 format.

Congratulations, your very first green screen project idea is now a real video!

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