How to Use a Green Screen: Photography & Effects

Instructor: Melissa Olivieri
The green screen technique has long been used in the world of video, but is also popular in photography. With a little creativity, you can learn how to make spectacular photos using a green screen.

Introduction to Green Screen Photography

Chroma key photography, also known as green screen photography, allows you to create some amazing special affects in your pictures. One of it's most common uses in video is probably on weather broadcasts where you see an animated map behind the weather person, who is actually just pointing to a green or blue screen. This same concept applies to chroma key photography.

What You Need To Get Started

  • Digital Camera
  • Solid green or blue background (can be painted wall or cloth free of wrinkles)
  • A computer
  • Chroma key photography software (compare options to see what is best for your project. Many offer free trials)
  • Even lighting so there are no shadows on background (clamp lights are helpful)
  • Ideas for replacement backgrounds

Lighting

One of the most important parts of this process is the lighting. Even lighting requires at least two lights at 45 degree angles. The more professional your lighting rig, the less time you will spend editing after the shoot. It's also important to make sure there are no shadows cast around the subject. You may need to add a light above or a small one behind the subject. Use the minimal amount of light to do this, or else the bright green of the background can overlap onto the subject - their outer edges will appear to be green or blue!

Even lighting gives the background a solid color that is easily separated from subject. The subject should not wear anything that is close to the color of the background. Typically, the lights and your subject should be at least 6 feet away from the background. The background light should be slightly darker than the foreground.

Lighting can be one of the most difficult parts of the process, but is also the most important. So it's worth taking the extra time to get it right!

The Background

If your subject is a person, then a blue or green background is recommended. The shade is less important than the material, although a more saturated color is best. It is recommended to avoid paper because it can reflect light. Felt or cotton fabric is more light absorbent. A matte paint can work well too.

As mentioned earlier, the subject should not wear the same color as the background, or this part will disappear after editing. The reason we don't use yellow, red or brown screens is because those colors are present in skin tones. Black, white and gray are not good choices either, because they can appear in foreground shadows, highlights, or parts of the subject.

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