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How To Choose Between a Green Screen and a Backdrop


Finding the perfect background for your video projects is essential to your success. A distracting background or one that doesn’t match your video’s tone can ruin your audience’s experience. Green screens and colored backdrops are two standard options used by professionals. But which should you choose? 

To choose between a green screen and a backdrop, decide on your project’s look and budget and whether you need your work to be portable. Green screens are cheap and offer endless options for your background, whereas backdrops are more limited and can cost more when choosing multiple designs. 

This article will delve into what green screens and backdrops are typically used for and their advantages and disadvantages. By the end of this article, you should have enough solid information to choose the best option for your project. 

What Is a Green Screen?

The answer to this question is probably obvious: a green screen is literally a “green screen” — although you can also use a blue screen — that you project animations and effects onto. The process of chroma key compositing and the uses of the green screens are fascinating to explore, especially with the advancements in recent years. This section will delve more into how the green screen works and what it is used for.

How Green Screens Work

When we talk about green screens, what we’re really talking about is chroma key compositing. Chroma keying is the process of layering two images or video streams together based on color hues. In other words, this is the process of taking your chosen background and meshing it perfectly behind the subject of your video or image. 

Green screens — as well as blue screens — are used because of their clear difference to our human skin tones. This distinction is necessary, as the software used to pick up the background needs to know the difference between the subject and the background. 

If the background was a neutral pale color, and you have pale skin, then the chroma keying process will have a hard time differentiating between you and the background, causing all sorts of problems in your editing process. 

Common Uses of Green Screens

Though you may not know it, you will have seen green screen footage in action in various mediums. The most commonly used and one of the older methods of chroma key compositing can be seen in your everyday weather report. Along with that, it won’t surprise you to hear that most movies these days film in front of green screens.

Movies

Green screens are most commonly used when making movies. When many people think of green screens, they think of Hollywood. Many big-budget productions use massive green screens in Hollywood studios instead of shooting on location or using special effects. 

There are many situations when a filmmaker can’t create a particular situation easily through practical means. Maybe they want a scene in space or on a tropical island, or perhaps their movie is full of superheroes, and special effects are needed to make those a reality. Green screens make it much easier to create these scenarios in a studio than through other means. 

In the video below, you can see how the moviemakers behind “The Avengers” brought to life the over the top action sequences, including flying men and spaceships:

Weather Forecasts

Green screens are also well known for helping out our meteorologists, making weather reports look more interesting as well as easier to understand. The interactive maps, the logos, the weather effects, none of this would be possible without the power of the green screen. 

Creating Backgrounds That Aren’t Easy To Build

This point ties in with the last points, but on a smaller scale. Whether for Zoom calls, photography, or low-budget video projects, green screens are typically used when you have a specific background in mind but can’t put it together physically. 

For example, if you want to look like you are in a library but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on books and bookcases, you can use a green screen. Want to look like you are in an office when you are just sitting in your closet? Green screens work for that too. 

Green screens don’t only have to be used for big-budget movies, weather reports, or fantastical scenarios. If you can’t shoot on location or build a whole set, using a green screen is an easier and more cost-effective option. 

What Is a Backdrop?

A backdrop is simply fabric that you put in the background to create a whole new space. Backdrops are commonly used to make the background more neutral and better for lighting, although they are also used in TV and movies to create different locations. 

In the video below, you can see how the TV show “Suits” used a simple New York City backdrop on their sound stage to create the illusion that they film in the big apple:

Types of Backdrops

Backdrops come in many sizes and fabrics, making this option a bit more versatile, especially if you need multiple backgrounds. Below are the common types of backdrops used in photography and videography. 

Paper Backdrops

These are the cheapest, most popular, and easiest to use. Paper backdrops are a great option when you don’t have room for a full-on studio set. 

Paper backdrops come in all sorts of colors and designs that can complement your personality and your videos’ message. They come in a giant roll, and you can tear off sections to meet your needs. These rolls are typically wide enough for just one person to stand in front, making them popular for photographers and YouTubers. 

If you are looking to change your background often but don’t want to use a green screen, paper backdrops are your best choice. However, buying multiple backdrops can become costly, so you may need to limit your options or buy a bundle of colors at once, such as this Meking Matte PVC Background 9-in-1 Paper Kit.

Muslin Backdrops

Muslin backdrops are made of non-reflective cotton and create a more professional look for your background. They can be a solid color, hand-painted, or airbrushed. They cost quite a bit more than paper backdrops and are best for photographers, videographers, and other professionals who often don’t change their background.  

Canvas Backdrops

Canvas backdrops are thicker and more durable than muslin or paper. They are hand-painted and give off a sophisticated and professional feel. Canvas backdrops are the most expensive and least portable option on this list. If you need to move around often, have a tight budget, or want to change your background frequently, you may want to hold off from using a canvas backdrop.  

Bedsheets or Curtains

If you are just looking for background ideas for your Zoom calls, you can even resort to using bed sheets or curtains. This is a cheap and easy option that helps establish a neutral professional background without all the setup and hassle. 

Common Uses of Backdrops

With more people looking to create content, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that many YouTubers use backdrops in their videos. However, they are also very popular among artists and photographers. 

Photography

Photographers often use a solid-colored backdrop behind personal portraits. The background is simple yet stylish, which helps the subject of the photo stand out. The classic example is photography sets for yearbook pictures. 

Many photography studios also provide seasonal backdrops for family portraits, along with cute and fun options for kids’ pictures. 

Zoom

Zoom calls can be distracting for both the resident and the people on the other side of the call, and not everyone has a clean little corner that they can work in. A simple cloth backdrop can hide the craziness of your home in just a couple of steps. Chaotic bored kids? Messy office? A simple backdrop can hide all of that.

YouTube Videos

Many YouTube channels, especially commentary and educational channels, use backdrops for their videos. When there is no need for special effects, there is no need to pay for an expensive green screen and computer editing program. With a backdrop, instead of getting distracted by items in the background or green-screen effects, the viewer’s full attention is on the speaker.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Green Screens and Backdrops

Perhaps you’re still unsure whether to choose a green screen or backdrop for your project, as both backgrounds overlap for many uses. This section will go over some of the advantages and disadvantages of the two and help you decide which option suits your needs. 

Advantages of Green Screens

Cheap

If you plan on using many different backgrounds, then green screens are far cheaper than backdrops. With one screen, you can turn your background into anything, whereas using multiple backdrops to create various backgrounds can cost far more. 

Green screens cost as little as $15 on Amazon. Though some backdrops cost the same, you only have one option. 

Fun

Let’s be real: green screens are just more fun. Backdrops tend to be very neutral and bland. Though they can make your space look more professional, they also don’t show much personality. 

If your goal is only a simple professional background, then backdrops are fine. But if you want to spice up your videos and have some fun, then a green screen is a better option for you. 

Portable 

Green screens are generally easier to transport than backdrops, and collapsible green screens are incredibly popular and easy to find. 

In general, green screens come in all shapes and sizes to fit your needs. Whether you need a massive green screen or one that is much smaller and portable, there is an option out there that is perfect for your project. 

Disadvantages of Green Screens

You Need Good Lighting 

If you want to use a green screen, you need to invest in good lighting, as most green screen software and applications require the screen to be the same shade of green throughout. If there are any shadows or variations, the software will have a hard time replacing them with a smooth and realistic background. You’ll see this in the final product as a valley effect, where the desired background looks uneven.

You Need Good Equipment and Some Skills

This point goes hand in hand with the lighting. These days it is much easier for newbies to use green screen effects at home for little cost. However, without practice, good equipment, and some technical prowess, the result may not look nearly as good as intended. 

Creating amazing visuals with green screens takes practice and knowledge of video editing. Therefore, if green screen effects aren’t necessary for your projects, you may do better with simple backdrops. 

Advantages of Backdrops

Aesthetically Pleasing 

There is a reason that most YouTubers use backdrops: they just look better. As mentioned in the last section, using a green screen has a tendency to look a little off when not used properly. 

Furthermore, most backdrops are a simple, neutral color that looks professional and aesthetically pleasing. Their simplicity helps the subject of the video pop out more while not taking the focus away with distracting animations. 

Good Lighting

The great thing about backdrops is that lighting isn’t as important. While good lighting will still make your set look great, a lack of lighting is not going to completely screw up your background as it would with a green screen. 

For backdrops, good lighting enhances the set and the subject. For green screens, good lighting is essential, or else the software can’t detect the background accurately. If you don’t have access to great lighting, backdrops will be a better option for you. 

No Learning Curve

Since setting up a backdrop can be as easy as hanging up a sheet, there is no learning curve or technical skill needed. You may need to take some time to create a great setup and find the best lighting, but you don’t have to learn any software or master chroma keying to set up a canvas background. 

Background Customization

Once you set up a green screen, it’s hard to add anything to the setup without screwing up the background. Green screens are bright green (or blue) so that the software does not confuse the subject with the background. This is why professionals who use green screens — such as meteorologists — don’t wear bright green or blue when in front of a green screen. 

Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to add items to your background or set. At any point, the software can think an object is part of the background and “erase” it from view. 

You won’t have this problem with backdrops. Putting objects in the background to bring out your personality or promote your brand helps your audience feel more connected and engaged. These items show them who you are and why you are making videos. If you plan on creating a setup like this, you will want to go with a backdrop. 

Disadvantages of Backdrops

Limitations

One of the biggest drawbacks of using a backdrop is the limitations they hold. For example, if you have a beige background, but want to switch things up to a soft white background, you need to buy a whole new background. With green screens, you can change your background to anything you want with just a few clicks. 

Furthermore, you are limited to your budget and what is available to buy. You may have a specific pattern or shade in mind that is either not available or beyond your budget. Therefore, you need to choose something else or try the green screen route. 

Not Portable

Backdrops are usually made of a large cloth, canvas, or similar materials, which are not typically collapsible or as portable as green screens. If you have a studio set up in your home or office, this won’t be an issue. But if you move around a lot, as many freelancers are starting to do, you will find it more difficult to transport multiple backdrops to the new location.

Cost Varies

Though some backdrops are fairly cheap, and you can even use readily available materials like your bed sheets or curtains in a pinch, the truth is that if you want a high-quality studio-like backdrop, you are going to pay extra. And you’ll keep paying with each new color or design.

Bland

Though backdrops do look very professional, they aren’t as fun as green screens. If you’re looking to create an exciting background, you need to find a stylish backdrop that shows your personality — which will probably be a bit more costly — buy items to make the background more appealing, or resort to a green screen. 

Final Thoughts

Neither green screens nor backdrops are better than the other as they are used for different projects. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and they can overlap. However, generally speaking, green screens are faster, cheaper, and provide more variety. Backdrops, on the other hand, are more aesthetically pleasing and professional-looking. 

Hopefully, this article helped you decide which one is best for your project. 

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