Virtual backgrounds and filters have made a splash on video conferencing calls over the last year. Even lawmakers are getting in on the action. There are a few things you need to remember when setting up and choosing virtual backgrounds for video calls.
Backgrounds can be useful for corporate branding or, simply, to project a more professional environment when working in a cluttered setting. You may also wish to protect your privacy by concealing confidential information about your work space, which could inadvertently appear on-screen. The key to choosing a good background is creating a natural feeling, so that you remain front and centre when presenting.
In my case, the background in my production studio can get a little messy. There is audio and video gear, multiple computer screens, and a bright orange dog blanket on the couch behind me. And, yes, there’s even a dog. This works for most of my video calls. However, when I have a big presentation with a corporate client, I sometimes prefer to feature a classical office background: something less personal and distracting, so that what I have to say is the focus, and not my adorable dog snoozing behind me!
Virtual Backgrounds For Video Calls
There are a couple of tricks to using virtual backgrounds for video calls more effectively. First, we want to ensure good quality for our virtual background, so that we don’t look like an alien.
I’m sure you’ve seen this before on a video call: someone is speaking and then suddenly a part of their head disappears into a blur. Or they raise their hand in an emphatic gesture, but you only see half of it.
The second trick is to choose a background that is consistent with the same perspective of your real-life physical space. That is, unless you’re happy to dial in from outer space or a Hello Kitty classroom—in which case, have a blast!
What’s most important is to minimize distractions that take away from the content you need to deliver. It’s hard enough to keep our audience’s attention when presenting virtually, without battling a virtual background that pulls the focus away from us.
Each video conferencing app has slightly different technical requirements. You can take a look at the settings and help function in your favourite app to get acquainted with the specifics. However, the general set-up principles are the same, whether you’re using Teams or Zoom or Skype. Here are three simple tips to improve the quality of your virtual background.
Position Yourself Against A Solid Backdrop
In order to avoid that undesirable blurring effect with virtual backgrounds, you can help your video conferencing app determine what is background in your physical space, and what is actually you.
You want to have as much contrast between yourself and your real background as possible. Objects such as books, posters or colourful paintings can confuse the app. If you’re using a virtual background, try to find a solid coloured wall as your backdrop.
If there isn’t an unadorned wall in your workspace, no problem: you can use a piece of fabric, such as a bedsheet or curtain. Hang this up behind you to create a smooth, clean backdrop. It works in the same way as a screen for projecting images. The surface needn’t be a perfectly flat wall, so much as have a solid colour consistency with as few wrinkles as possible.
Wear A Colour That Contrasts With Your Background
If you really want to improve your virtual background, try using a green sheet. You may have heard of green screens in film production. These are used to distinguish the actors from their background so that special effects can be added. Green screens needn’t be fancy. You can create a similar effect by simply using a green bedsheet. Your video conference app does the rest of the work.
As we said earlier, you’ll want to help your videoconferencing app distinguish you from your background. This is where clothing colours come in. We’ve previously looked at what to wear for your video calls in order for the webcam to show you in the most flattering light.
When it comes to backgrounds, you can apply the same rule of contrast. If you’re background is white, avoid wearing a white shirt. If your background is dark, avoid dark colours. Whether you use a white sheet or a makeshift green screen, just be sure to light your background evenly.
Adjust The Level of Your Webcam
The third thing you need to consider is how you appear to an audience against a particular background. If you’re looking down at your computer and there is ceiling visible in your real life background, choose a virtual background that shows the same perspective. For example, Teams offers a number of backgrounds where the ceiling is visible.
On the other hand, if your webcam is eye-level, you’ll get the best effect by using a virtual background shown at the same eye-level.
The sky is the limit on how to use virtual backgrounds. The choice is yours. Just remember: if you’re giving a serious presentation, you want your audience to know that your feet are on the ground, your head isn’t in the clouds, and you are most definitely not a cat.