The rise of vlogging over the last decade is due in part to its minimal entry barriers. Cameras are increasingly affordable, from webcams to phones to DSLRs; Internet connections are fast enough to make uploading video easy; YouTube provides a free publishing platform. Time and skill are the only remaining gatekeepers now that anybody can create, publish and find an audience.
Shooting, editing and uploading from the comfort of your own home has many benefits: quick turnaround, no need for crew, coffee whenever you need it. There are also limitations to such a setup, especially if you want to push the presentation beyond bedroom broadcasting.
As tends to be the case, technology has a solution. Green screen offers a way to shift from a micro-budget webcam vlog to a show with an elaborate visual style and strong brand, without needing to blow your budget.
Bring out the green screen
Green screen has been used in filmmaking and photography for decades, as neatly chronicled here by FilmmakerIQ.com:
It works by providing your computer with an identifiable colour, usually green or blue, to remove from the video, leaving that area transparent (although this does mean you’ll want to avoid wearing green clothing, unless you want limbs to start vanishing). You can then drop in any background you want or create more complex composites of multiple layers.
It’s a hugely flexible technique, which is why it’s used on everything from news and weather to superhero movies. It provides a way for you as a vlogger to expand your show beyond the physical reality of your home. The beauty of using green screen is that you can do whatever you want with it, placing yourself inside a virtual studio or dropping in videos and images to represent your episode’s subject.
Here’s an episode of low budget filmmaking techniques show Film Riot, which uses a green screen setup for much of its presentation:
Although the show could be presented in a more lo-fi style, by using green screen the host is able to elevate each episode’s production values.
How to use a green screen
To get the most out of using a green screen you need three things: the green screen itself, a couple of lights and software for processing the video.
Green screens come in many forms and materials. The most versatile tends to be cloth green screens, which are easily portable and can be set up wherever you need them. If you have a more permanent shooting space you can go for a paper green screen, which has the bonus of not having any creases. And if you’re particularly lucky and have a spare basement you can always just paint a whole wall with chroma green paint. It all depends on your setup. The good news is that none of these options are particularly expensive.
Lighting a green screen is important and simple once you know how. The key is to ensure it is evenly lit, without shadows or over-bright highlights. Generally it’s a good idea to have a light or two between you and the green screen, positioned off to the sides, which illuminate it without casting shadows. You can then light yourself as normal.
There are many compositing software options available at wildly different prices, with the good ones tending to cost over £1,000. HitFilm 2 Ultimate, from British software developer FXHOME, is about as cheap as visual effects and compositing software gets at £299, while still offering an extensive and high quality toolkit. It’s aimed specifically at independent filmmakers so is also ideal for vloggers who are looking to take the next step.
What’s the learning curve?
Green screen fundamentals are remarkably simple. During your shoot all you need to do is make sure you set up your lighting correctly. You don’t need expensive lighting rigs or equipment or additional crew.
Once you get to the software stage the approach is really up to you. A well-lit green screen is easy to handle, with the software doing all the hard work. In HitFilm 2 Ultimate, all you need to do is add the ‘chroma key’ effect, select the green colour and you’re done. If you need to fine tune the results, the software lets you dive right in, with extensive customisation providing control over edge detail and semi-transparency. Built-in spill suppression features remove unwanted green light reflected from the green screen and dedicated tools can be used to realistically blend yourself into your new surroundings.
Ultimately, the amount of time you spend on green screening is up to you. If you need to get a video produced quickly you can do so, or you can add extra detail and effects to create something visually stunning.
Give your vlog a unique style
Using green screen is a means to an end. It’s all about finding ways to make your vlog stand out from the crowd by boosting your production values and using filmmaking technology to let your personality shine through. You can enhance your presentation and content without huge financial investment.
It’s also easy to try out the technique without having to spend any money. You can download the free HitFilm demo and then grab some sample green screen clips from the Hollywood Camera Work website – we advise starting with one of the simpler case studies!
Simon Jones is Communications Manager at FXHOME, the software developer behind HitFilm 2 Ultimate, available on Mac and PC. For more information head over to HitFilm.com. They’re running a Christmas offer until the end of December so now’s a good time to start experimenting! FXHOME also releases regular video tutorials covering all kinds of techniques and hosts a number of active community forums, so HitFilm 2 Ultimate help is never far away. Here’s a tutorial that covers green screen in more detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKu6usF9RF4.