All you need to make a green screen video is a smartphone, a cloth, some video editing software, and a few tips and tricks.
The green screen has come a long way since Lawrence Butler won an academy award for his special effects in the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad.
Butler was the first person who figured out how to use green screen technology (or blue screen technology) in a color film. Before the effect was only possible in black and white.
Back then, the process was quite complex. Adding green screen effect required things like optical printers and many film strips.
If throwing around terms like ‘optical printer’ is making your head spin, you’re not alone.
Thankfully, none of those things are necessary today.
All it takes to make a green screen is about $30, your smartphone, and a video editor. You can even get high-quality results with just some poster board and a few pieces of PVC pipe. A simple green screen setup is a great way to get started.
In this post, I’ll go over how to make your first green screen video on the cheap. We’ll take a look at the various elements you need to consider: backdrop, software, camera, and lighting.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Before we get started on the how…let’s talk about the what and the why.
What exactly is a green screen, and why would you ever want to use a green screen effect in your video?
What is green screen?
Green screen is when you replace the real background of a video with a digital background. It offers the most natural-looking way to integrate your subject into your video. Instead of putting each visual element in its own frame (a la picture-in-picture), green screen lets you blend them.
Green screen, blue screen, chroma key, chroma key compositing all refer to the same idea. The green screen effect is a post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on color hues (chroma range).
Newscasting, motion picture, and video game industries love this technique, but anyone can use the green screen effect.
Why do you use a green screen?
Most people have seen a meteorologist use a green screen to report the weather. Meteorologists stand in front of the green screen point out specific parts of the forecast. But the green screen does more than provide clarity. It also allows them to personalize their broadcast and connect to their viewers.
Although you may not be detailing cold fronts from your desk, I’d bet you still have opportunities to connect with an audience at work. A green screen is a great option for adding a personal touch to lots of different types of videos.
Consider using it the next time you need to:
- Record presentation slides
- Record your desktop screen
- Make a YouTube video
- Create an instructional video
- Make an online lesson
Chroma key is a big deal for anyone who needs to connect with viewers. When done well, a green screen can give your video a professional aesthetic on the cheap.
You don’t need to build a fancy set or rent studio time. You can shoot your video anywhere and replace the background with a branded graphic, stock photo, or video element.
Create an online training video by superimposing yourself over the lesson. This is an instant upgrade over talking through a PowerPoint presentation.
How to create a green screen?
To pull off this technique, all you need is a few things: A green or blue piece of cloth/fabric, a camera, lights, and some video editing software.
Step 1: Get a backdrop
First, get a piece of muslin cloth that’s a bright shade of green.
Blue screen backdrops are also available, but they can cause problems if the person on camera has blue eyes or clothes.
If you don’t want to mess around with hanging a cloth, a collapsible green screen panel is a nice option.
Since it’s not too big (5′ x 7′), it’s perfect for when you need to travel for a shoot. We’ll discuss shadows and more when we get into lighting. But for now, remember to stand as close to the backdrop as you can without casting a shadow on it. This is usually around two or three feet. Also, make sure to keep your hands close to your body. Any part of your arm or hand that extends past the backdrop will look cut off in your final video.
Step 2: Pick your camera
Next, you’ll want to pick a camera that shoots HD quality video (720p or higher). Make sure your camera saves out files in a format your green screen software can import. We’ve had good success using an iPhone, but most any digital camcorder will work.
If you do choose to record on a mobile device, you can import your footage into Camtasia using our free app, TechSmith Fuse. Fuse adds your videos from your phone straight to Camtasia. You don’t have to worry about getting the files from one place to another.
When you’re just starting out, recording footage on your smartphone might seem daunting. We’ve put together some tips and advice for shooting videos on your mobile device. We cover everything you need to know about audio, shot composition, and lighting.
Step 3: Set up your lighting
The next step is optional but recommended. One thing you should keep in mind as you shoot your green screen footage is to cut out shadows. You want a flat green background, no shadow puppets! The flatter the green, the easier it will be to remove the screen.
Don’t worry too much about getting a perfectly lit set though. The ‘remove a color’ effect in Camtasia is quite forgiving of background shadows. Spend a few minutes tweaking the settings a bit and you should be good.
If you’re having trouble getting the background to disappear or there’s a slight halo around the person, try to upgrade your lighting. The more even your lighting, the better the effect will be.
The easiest thing to try is a couple of hardware store clamp-on work lights with high-output CFL bulbs. You’ll also need something to clamp them on. Aim the lights so that the green screen doesn’t have dark areas and bright areas. Focus your efforts on the area directly behind the person. You’ll be able to crop out the excess space around the person later.
To throw a lot of light, you need a few bulbs in each fixture. You could build your own video lighting rig for less than $100 (see video below). Or if you’re not into DIY projects, you can shop around for a video softbox. CowboyStudio is a good place to start. Look for “continuous lighting” as opposed to flash or strobe lighting. Whether you buy or build, it’s best to use a diffusion filter for each light. That will help keep your lights from throwing shadows.
This quick video shows you how to build your own lighting kit on the cheap.
(You can also get a few tips of the trade for making your subjects look more natural.)
Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…
Step 4: Get the right software
Anyone can make a green screen video
So go ahead…put yourself in your video, and tell us how it goes on our social channels!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.