Teaching Station: Background Screen

January 15, 2021   Martin Jones
Not all screens are green

I use a background screen, it’s just not normally green.

Background Screen

Background Screen

I tried a regular hanging cloth green screen. I had some trouble getting it to be perfectly flat, but it mostly worked. Once I had it working though, I had to question why I was doing it, and I can see two reasons why:

This is a different need to many presenters. For them, the background needs to ‘say’ something, for example, the background of this LegalEagle video. Look at those (presumably) law books, and the soft light that he (presumably again) uses when sitting in that very chair reading the law books. The light on the back wall and the books is a warm yellow, suggesting that this is a natural room, not at all containing the studio lights that are clearly illuminating the presenter. This is a ‘storytelling chamber’. The background works to set that scene.

Maybe I should have a background like this for the times that I enter storytelling mode; I usually just show the main camera. However, most of the time we are training, we need people to focus on the visual material. So a plain background makes it easier to process our face. I still smile at another instructor’s tropical island background, especially when I can see the instructor’s monitors reflecting incongruously in their glasses, but I don’t think this is the best use of a screen.

My regular screen, as shown in the photo above, is a plain teal like colour. I chose teal because it can make white skin tones warmer. I abandoned the hanging cloth and used 12” plywood painted with a high quality, scratch-resistant, matte paint. I never need to worry about creases! It hangs from the ceiling using sash window chains with a bolt as a simple toggle that passes through a hole in the screen. I have two heights - one for standing and one for sitting.

I painted the other side with chroma green ($40). On the few occasions I need a genuinely green screen, I can turn my screen around. That only tends to be if I need to have a client-specific backdrop, though.

There was an unexpected advantage to the screen - people can enter the room and stand alongside me without being seen. If there is an emergency, such as needing to turn the water on or off (it happened), then someone can sneak in while I am teaching and let me know.

If the green screen were being actively used, maybe for something like slides, then the chroma-keying would be more important. I experimented with an alternative to a green screen for this purpose: a black rear projection screen. This would have avoided the strange lighting effects you usually see with a green screen, but I couldn’t get my experiment to work, so I abandoned it.

Summary

Screens can be used to hide background details and provide better focus for attendees. The screen is probably better as a plain background rather than a green screen though. Choose a colour that works for your skin colour.