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3 Essential Things You Must Know Before You Choose A Video Background

Learn what you need to know about video backgrounds BEFORE you hit the record button. You can listen to episode 30 of Camera Ready With Val Brown here:

In today’s blog post we are going to take a look at three things you need to keep in mind when you’re choosing a background for your videos. Especially when you’re in a hurry and need to get a video out quickly.

These tips will help you no matter what type of video you’re shooing whether it’s for social media, product launch, webinar or corporate communication.

We've all watched videos where the background seems out of synch with the person on screen or there is so much going on, you are focused on that and not the speaker. 

And that’s completely avoidable.  In today's blog post I’m going to cover a simple checklist to make sure your background is appropriate for the video you are shooting, no matter how much time you have to prepare.

I Was Horrified...

I’m pretty sensitive to backgrounds and a lot of that is due to a some of the mistakes I’ve made in my career. I’ll never forget when I landed an interview with a well respected elected official and got the okay to shoot in his office.I was thrilled, because it was a really BIG deal.

We had some trouble getting the shot I wanted and ended up having to scramble to get the interview lit on time. After we shot the interview I went back to the edit bay to review the tape, and I was horrified.

In my hurry, I had missed the fact that there was an object hanging on the wall that appeared to protrude from my my subject's head like My Favorite Martian! 

There were no words... and back then, painting out an object was not as easy as it today. Reshooting the interview was not an option. 😕

From then on, I always took the time to make sure the shot I saw in my head was achievable in the time and space I had available and that there were no distractions in the background.

Get Your Video Backgrounds Right, Every Time

In  this post I cover a simple checklist you can go over to make sure your background is appropriate for the video you are shooting, no matter how much time you have to prepare.

Learn these three essential things you need to pay attention to when you are choosing a background for your next video. Learn about choosing a background that:

  • Supports your brand and topic

  • Has proper lighting

  • Distraction free

Since the goal of this blog is to give you quick actionable tips you can put into use right away, I’m going to keep this high level and focus on 3 things you need to consider no matter what background you choose.

So if you’re ready, let’s dive in.

Number one.

Does your background support your brand and topic?

In case you want a quick review, we covered choosing a location on episode 7 and I talked about how to find your visual brand on episode  19  and interviewed graphic designer Jason Clement on episode 20​.

To make sure your background supports your brand and topic ask two questions:

  1. Does what is behind me support or detract from my subject matter?

  2. Is it in alignment with my brand?

So let’s take a client of mine, we’ll call her Sue. She works in the pharmaceutical industry and talks about health and wellness. She showed me a video she shot sitting in a coffee shop. The lighting was okay, however as you can imagine, there was a lot of noise and I couldn’t figure out what her location had to do with her topic, they didn’t match.

We talked about why she chose that location and she said it was convenient and what she had time to do. That led to a conversation about the cost of convenience to her message and her brand.

In thinking it through, she realized in her haste to just get something out, she was sacrificing an opportunity to really connect with her audience.

With a few tweaks, Sue realized she could shoot multiple videos from her home office where she created a clean background that incorporated her brand colors and some items that showed her personality and passion for what she was talking about. Not only were her videos welcoming and warm, the focus was on her message and not her surroundings.

The takeaway here is your background needs to support your subject matter. If you are talking about something fun and upbeat, a cold, white wall in your office isn’t going to convey that energy you want your viewer to take away.

Since so many of us shoot videos in our offices, it pays to take some time to make sure what ever is behind you represents your brand and topic.

Standing next to a flat white wall adds nothing to the energy of your topic or to support your brand. If you don’t have an option, be sure you are lit and stand at least 3-5 feet away from the wall so you’re not casting shadows.

Realize too, that sometimes your videos are better shot in the field. If that’s the case, think about what your viewers expect from you and keep that in mind.

Can You See Me?

This brings me to point number two which is lighting. When you are shooting video in your home office, it’s a lot easier to control the light. Some people use 3 point lighting kits or a ring light that attaches to your computer.

I suggest you use as much natural light as you can and face a window. In my office I face two windows and fill in the shadows with a couple of lamps with daylight bulbs I got from Home Depot. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

When you’re shooting out doors, locate your light source whether it’s the sun or a window.

I like to use this simple rule. When shooting outdoors, I look for a location where my face is lit more than my background. You can find this by flipping your camera around and testing until you find a good spot where you are lit and so is your background. You don’t want your background brighter than you.

Or, my favorite is shade on shade, meaning I’m in the shade and so is my background. That way the camera iris on your phone isn’t trying to compensate for one or the other. If you are shooting with a more sophisticated camera, you have more control over the contrast.

If you are going to be shooting for a long time, be aware of how the sun moves, because if you need to edit, changes in the sun can cause a jump cut, which can be jarring to your viewers; the shot framing is the same, the light is not.

The takeaway here is that for quick videos, you can make the existing lighting work for you if you know what to look for and know how to compensate when you don’t have enough light. Either bring in some lights or learn to use natural light to your advantage. Ring lights are good if you’re fairly close to your camera and there are lots of great LED lights now that are portable and easy to set up. I’ll put a link at the end of this post.

If you’re shooting quick videos for social media, you aren’t always going to have time to set up lights, so learning to scan your environment for the best light source is something that will become second nature.

And lastly, when you are looking for a background, take into consideration what else is going on. That means activity and noise. Even when you are going live, take a minute to check this out.

Sometimes, what is going on in the background is what you want to feature. Set yourself up so you can move your camera between what’s going on in the background and for yourself. It’s easy to pan away from you to the action and then back to you - just make sure you are lit.

The nice thing about this is your viewers can still hear you and you are adding visual interest to your viewer. You’re acting more as a reporter in this instance. And remember, if it’s distracting to you, it’s going to be distracting to your viewer.

Always think in terms of what you want your audience to focus on and clutter in your office or action not related to your topic in an outdoor setting will detract from you.

I’ll never forget one of the very first live webinars I watched where the host was in his home office (actually it looked like his bedroom) and the bed was not made and the closet door was open and clothes were spilling off the shelves. Can you picture that? Honestly, I don’t even remember the topic, but I sure remember the visual.

And that’s why they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

If you have the space to set up a green screen or photo paper, that’s an option too. These backgrounds are more time consuming and require proper lighting to look their best. If you decide this is the best background for your videos, be consistent.

For example, if you decide that a white background like what Apple uses in their ads supports your brand, then be consistent and use the same background in your videos.

When you use green or blue screen, be sure you leave enough time to light correctly so you look your best and don’t end up with a green or blue halo around your hair and body.

Summing Up

  1. Does your background support your brand and topic? If you are shooing in your home office, does your background support your brand and is it clean and clear of clutter. Outdoors, pick something that supports your topic and make sure it’s a place your audience can relate to.

  2. Do you have enough light and the right light? When you’re in the field, use your camera to find the best light source while paying attention to how much light is on your background.

  3. Are there any distractions in your background? Is there something going on that would detract from your message? Is there noise? People? Any activity that would take your viewers attention away from you and the message you want them to hear?

I hope these tips are helpful and you’ll put them into use in your next video. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Until then, remember, by paying attention to how your background supports your topic, your lighting and distractions, you can create videos that show you in your best light, every time.

Equipment Reference: (these are affiliate links)

Val Brown is an Emmy Award winning television producer, story, visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She consults and coaches high performing business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence and credibility on camera. Val teaches you how to use your story to support your brand in video and photos. 

p.s. I’d love to connect on social media and hear your questions and concerns about being in front of the camera.

Twitter: @valbrown08


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