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How To Work With A Green Screen

When I first started out, I used my garage as my studio. My friends and myself decided to make funny videos for YouTube and we needed a place to film it. I started doing some research and I decided the cheapest thing for me to do was to paint one of the garage walls green. Simple enough right? That saved me a few bucks on getting the green screen out of the way, but I needed to look at another issue that I would have, lighting. I tried tons of different ways to get it looking right on the camera.



The first video we did was terrible. It was the first time I tried to edit a green screen video together and it showed. After the first video, I reevaluated what I was doing and started spending more money on track lights and outdoor flood lights. It worked to a point, I lit up the green screen, but there were hot spots. When I went back to editing the video, I found it difficult to key out the highlights in the wall. I figured it out of course, but I ended up spending more time trying to fix one problem that could have been avoided. Over time, I gained more knowledge and made more money to afford the right stuff to work with green screen footage correctly.



As you can see, this setup is a very simple one, but there’s more to this than meets the eye. You’ll notice the green lights behind the green screen itself, I do this because it helps brighten up the green screen the correct color instead of just brightening up with a whiter tone. I use two of them, one on each side, to help get rid of wrinkle shadows and make it look smoother. Typically, you’ll see lights like this mounted on the ceiling facing away from the subject, but in this case, it’s behind the green screen and it doesn’t shine through, so the subject is unaffected by the color change.


There’s also a hair light on top of the center of the green screen. I do this particular light in this way because it helps me focus all of the light on the subject among other things. It’s great for capturing specific hair styles like spikey hair or that wavy hair style with part of the side shaved off. It also helps highlight the shoulders and parts of the arm, so the edges of the clothes won’t blend in the with the background as much.


There’s also a big reflector screen in front of the whole setup. This is to help eliminate the shadows on the subject. The light from the hair light is being reflected on to the subject from a low angle, this helps eliminate the shadows under the subject’s chin and nose if there is one.


Another tactic I use involves the two fill lights on the sides of the setup. One fill light is higher than the other, this is because I want to have the lights focus on different things. One light is straight on the subject, while the other light is used to fill in as much shadows as possible without shining too much light on the subject. The lights are also a pretty good distance away from each other, this is because it helps get rid of the shadows the subject may be creating inadvertently. By indirectly shining the light on the subject, I’m able to slightly brighten up the subject while filling in shadows on his face and in the background. This may not be the best way to do it, but it works for me.



Lastly, and the most important of all of these steps is the location of the subject. You’ll notice that the subject isn’t right up against the back of the green screen, he’s about 4 to 5 feet away from the drop off point. Obviously, this is because the closer he is to the back, the darker the shadows will be behind him. We want to eliminate as many shadows as possible, so that’s where the fill lights come in. By pushing the subject further away from the wall, the green screen looks smoother and virtually seamless on camera.


One other difference between this location and the garage I used in the beginning is the space. The garage I used was a two-car garage, so there wasn’t much space to work with. This space belongs to a friend of mine who was gracious enough to let me borrow the space for the day. Some of you may recognize it from the lighting videos I released previously. This large space is a 30x40 area with a 20ft high ceiling. This provides ample space for this setup. I had used this green screen before inside an office, which obviously doesn’t have as much space, and we couldn’t do much with it. The positive thing about the office we were in was that it had tons of windows for natural lighting, so we didn’t have to worry about not having enough lights and having to rely on the fluorescents in the ceiling.



No matter where you are in your green screen setup, you’ll find out really quick that not every setup is the same and where you are plays a huge factor in what you can do. You can always find ways to make it work no matter where you are or how much money you have to spend. Just keep in mind, the biggest thing you need to remember about green screens is lighting. Once you get that technique down, you’ll be good to go. Also, as I’ve said before, never break the bank buying expensive equipment. You don’t want to go broke and turn your passion into a nightmare that you regret. Take things one step at a time and be patient. The roman colosseum wasn’t built in a day, so don’t skip a few steps building your foundation.