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How to Light For the Green Screen Video Effect

The green screen video effect is amazing. You stand in front of a green backdrop and hit record on the video camera. Then, you drop the footage into your video editing software, select a new background, apply the chromakey filter and you are instantly transported to a new location. You can be in a shiny new office, standing in a hightech virtual set, on the beach, or even on the moon. At least, that is how you imagine things will work.

All to often, the first attempt you make at the green screen effect produces disappointing results. When you try to remove the green background in your editing software, you do not get all of the color to disappear. You play around with the settings to get more of the green to go away and suddenly the middle of your shirt disappears. You make more and more adjustments until things look better. You have lost all of the fine details around the edges, but the green is gone. But, when you hit play, the edges of your footage dance around like lighting bolts. You go back and blur the edges until they turn to mush.

After hours of tweaking and fine-tuning, you have created bad green screen video.

Creating Bad Green Screen Video is Easy

The secret that most people selling the tools and software for the green screen video effect do not tell you is that it is really easy to create bad results. YouTube is littered with examples of horrible chromakey video. But, there is another secret. It is not much harder to produce fantastic chromakey video.

You do not have to spend thousands of dollars or hundreds of hours of effort to create videos you are proud to share with the world. One major key to success is how you light your screen.

The Big Screen Lighting Myth

There is a big misconception about shooting green screen video that comes from the companies selling screen and lighting kits. Search online and you will see an endless list of options for purchasing a kit that includes everything you need to shoot green screen video. The list of included items is always the same. You get a green muslin screen, a support stand to hold up the screen, and three lights. You always get three lights, and that is the problem.

To get the best results from the process, you need to light the screen separately from the subject. An ideal green screen lighting kit includes five lights. Two lights are dedicated exclusively to lighting the screen itself. The other three lights are used to light your subject.

The Best Lights for Your Green Screen

Flat even lighting is the goal when lighting a green screen. Any variation in brightness will make it harder for your editing software to remove the background while preserving edge details. In a home office video studio, space is usually at a premium, so you can afford to use big soft boxes or place lights far away from the screen. The easiest way to get good results is to use fluorescent or LED bank lights.

A bank light is nothing more than a large flat (usually rectangular) light fixture. Professional versions just look like fancy fluorescent shop lights turned sideways. In fact, you can make your own from inexpensive parts purchased at your local home center. There are a few things to watch out for when making your own. But once you know what to buy, it is easy to do.

LED bank lights are more expensive to purchase, but they last forever, have no glass tube to break, and can usually be dimmed to dial-in the perfect amount of light.

Placing The Lights

Lighting your screen with bank lights is easy. You place one light on each side of the screen. The lights should be oriented vertically so that the light shines out evenly from top to bottom. Adjust the angle and distance from the screen until the entire surface of your green screen is lit at an even level of brightness.

Once your screen is properly lit, you can use the other three lights that came with your kit to light your subject. Make a few critical tweaks to your camera settings and you will quickly be shooting amazing green screen video to share with the world.

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