How to Use a Green Screen: A Complete Guide for a Newbie

Using a green screen when filming lets you put almost any background in the frame. If you’ve never used a green screen before, there are some things you should know that will help you get started. The right steps can help you take your green screen skills from good to great.

How do you use a green screen? Green screens are a helpful tool for replacing backgrounds in photos and videos. Setting up and using a green screen is relatively simple, with a bit of practice. There are some common steps to follow when using a green screen.

  • Choose the right type of green screen for the shot
  • Set up the backdrop along with any lights or other equipment
  • Take the photo (or video)
  • Upload the file to the computer
  • Use chroma key software
  • Edit like normal

While these steps are straightforward, they barely begin to cover the world of green screens. A lot goes into choosing the right type of green screen for your shoot. Once the shoot is over, you still have a bit of work to do.

What Is a Green Screen?

A green screen is a tool that many photographers and videographers use to add different backgrounds to their shots. The green color is easy to manipulate with software, so you can change the background to suit the needs of the photo or video. Green screens are physical screens that you must set up to use.

If you want to shoot a video and have the background be something different, you can use a green screen to achieve that. You don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to film with your ideal background.

With a green screen, you can film wherever and still get the same end result as someone filming on location.

Most of us have probably watched at least some news, and that probably included the weather. To give a better visual of the forecast, meteorologists stand in front of a green screen so that they can show the audience the radar or other information.

Why Use a Green Screen

There are many reasons why you may want to use a green screen. As mentioned, meteorologists use it to display radar and weather patterns. If you want to film a video at home, you can use a green screen to change up the background.

Whether you want to get rid of clutter in your video background, or you want to make it look like you’re in space, you can use a green screen. Here are some common reasons to use a green screen.

  • You can use a green screen to make it look like you’re somewhere else besides your house. That could be a beach, the mountains, or even space.
  • Another reason for using a green screen could be to cut costs. Even if you are able to film on location, you may not be able to bring your equipment. Or it might otherwise be inconvenient.
  • Green screens are also perfect for when you want to use an unnatural background. Instead of having to physically create the background, you can use the green screen to create a new background on your computer.

Now, if you want to include nature in your shot, you should avoid green screens. Instead, you can use a blue screen, which serves the same purpose as a green screen, and it won’t wash out green objects.

That’s because green screen software will treat any green objects as the background, and that will make everything transparent.

How a Green Screen Works

Without green screens, many film and TV scenes would be much harder, if not impossible, to film. Whether a scene involves unnatural landscapes, or the situation would be hard to capture without a green screen, these screens come in very handy. If you want to use a green screen, you should know how they work.

  • The scientific name for green screen photography is chroma key photography. We get the name “green screen” since the screens are usually a bright green hue.
  • That bright color allows you to separate the background from the subject and any objects in the shot. By separating the background, you can easily change the background without affecting anything else.
  • Once you upload the footage to chroma key software, you can change the background to just about anything you can imagine.
  • You can choose your own background or use another image to replace the original green background.

According to Live Science, “the color is typically bright green or bright blue because these hues differ so greatly from human skin tones and aren’t usually found in clothing.” Just make sure you don’t wear anything remotely close in color to your chosen green screen.

Choosing a Green Screen

Now that you know what a green screen is and how it works, you can choose a green screen. There are tons of green screens available, and the right one for you depends on your needs. Some green screens are small and portable, while others are large and best for staying in one location.

Before you choose a green screen, consider these factors. They can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your green screen and the final video.

  • The first thing to consider is if you need a green screen that’s easy to move. If you have a single filming location, this won’t matter. But being able to move the screen can come in handy.
  • Another thing to consider is the size of the green screen. Some larger screens are easy to move, while some smaller screens are less mobile. If you need to have a big background, you’ll need a larger green screen.
  • You might also want to look at a green screen’s materials. Green screens come in various materials, including paper, foam, and paint.
  • This may surprise you, but you should also think about the color of the green screen. Green screens come in different shades of green, and some are even blue. Be sure you choose a color that won’t interfere with your clothing or props.
  • Finally, you may want to consider the price of your green screen. Many screens are pretty affordable, but you want to get a good value. Even if you don’t have a big budget, consider splurging on a screen that will last longer.

The best green screen for you may not be the same as for someone else. That’s why it’s so important to think about how you plan to use your green screen. That way, you can choose one that will work with you and not against you.

Portable vs. Stationery Green Screens

Greenscreen studio setup with lights and lightbox.

If you plan to film in multiple spots, you should consider a portable green screen. These green screens should be easy to set up and take down. They also should be light enough or flexible enough for you to move them easily.

On the other hand, you may want to leave your screen up. In that case, a stationary green screen would be the better choice.

If you can’t decide between a portable or stationary green screen, consider some of their differences.

Portable Green ScreensStationery Green Screens
Easy to set up and take downSetup can take time, but stable once done
Flexible enough to moveWill hold its shape
Lightweight for travelMight be heavier and thus have more weight
Good for one location if you need to store everything after filmingIdeally will stay up in place and won’t need to go in storage

The Fancierstudio Chromakey Backdrop is a good example of a portable green screen. It’s small and easy to set up, and it even has green on one side and blue on the other.

If you want a stationary green screen, consider the Muslin Photography Studio Background from Sheng. This screen is big and great for a studio. While you can take it down, it can be hard to move around.

Green Screen Size

Whether you need to move your green screen or not, you should also think about the size. Of course, you need to make sure your frame doesn’t include an excess background.

If you need to shoot from head to toe, that means you should choose a bigger green screen to accommodate the size of the frame.

While no specific screen size is perfect, there are some ways the size can relate to your shot.

  • Smaller green screens are better for videos that capture your head and torso. That’s because the background in that type of video is probably flat, and the camera is also closer to the subject.
  • If you need to film a bit more, but the frame won’t reach the floor, you can use a medium-sized green screen. That way, you have some flexibility with the area you film, but you don’t have to deal with the largest of screens.
  • For shots that include the floor, you need a large green screen to cover the area. While some medium-sized screens can do the job, you can never have too much green screen. You want to be safe so that the screen takes up your entire background.

We mentioned the Fancierstudio screen is great for portability, and it’s also great as a small green screen.

Even if you only plan to film in one location, you can use it. It’s a great option for shooting videos that include your head and torso but don’t reach the floor.

On the opposite end of the size spectrum, the aforementioned Sheng screen is a good choice if you need something large. It’s flexible, and it can reach the floor and create a seamless green screen from head to toe.

The Emart Photo Studio Green Backdrop Screen is a great option if you need a medium-sized green screen. Another medium-sized screen is the Valera Explorer. This one is particularly easy to set up, and it can cover a bit more area than some smaller screens.

Green Screen Materials

While not as big of a deal as the size and portability, the materials of a green screen can have an effect on whether it’s a good screen for you or not.

The material can affect the flexibility of a screen. Some materials are better for some situations than others.

  • Paper green screens are flexible and portable, but they can bend and fold. That means you may need to replace them if you’re not careful.
  • Foam green screens can move and lay how you want them to, but they’re thicker than paper screens. They won’t fold as easily, but you should still be careful with them.
  • If you own your home or studio, you can use paint to create a green screen. You won’t have to worry about folds or tears, but you can’t move the screen.

Choosing the right material for your green screen can affect everything from the setup process to its longevity. Depending on the material, it may determine what color or colors you can choose from, too.

How to Set Up a Green Screen

When using a green screen, you want to make sure you set up the whole shot correctly.

Of course, that means setting up the green screen. The exact setup will depend on the type of green screen you have.

  • Before you set up your screen, make sure you have enough space in your filming location. The screen should be close to the subject, but you may want some room.
  • Depending on your screen, you may need a few tools to put everything together.
  • If you go with a screen like the Fancierstudio one, you can hang the screen on a hook or nail on the wall behind you. All you have to do is make sure the screen stays steady and that it doesn’t want to rotate or fall off.
  • Some screens, like the one from Valera, come with their own setup accessories. You can just pull down on the green screen so that it covers the full length of the shot you need.
  • Other screens may come as  just screens, so you may need to assemble a structure to set them up. That can involve a few different pieces, and you want to make sure the screen is high enough to cover the top of the frame. On the bottom, you want to form a nice curve from the wall to the floor.

With the right tools, you can set up your green screen in no time. From there, you’ll be able to capture great shots, and you can change up the background to whatever you please. But don’t be fooled, because there’s more to setting up the scene than assembling the green screen.

If you want to know more about some basic setup considerations, click this link. You can also check out this video for more tips and tricks for setting up a green screen.

Considerations for the Shoot

Once you set up your green screen, you probably are ready to start filming. Not so fast, though, there are a lot of other things to think about. Green screens can be very tricky to film on if you’re not careful about every detail.

  • While you probably know you shouldn’t wear green, you may not know that you should also avoid reflective props. Reflective surfaces can pick up the green and thus become transparent when you run the video through your chosen software.
  • Be ready with makeup because the green can wash you out. That’s especially true if you’re already on the pale side, but it never hurts to have some extra makeup on hand just in case.
  • You may need extra space between the camera and the subject as well as the subject and the screen. Depending on the screen, you may need six feet between each point in the shoot. That way, you can avoid having a “spill” in the shot.
  • If you plan to shoot a floor-length shot, use a coved green screen. These screens can make the transition from wall to floor more easily. That can make your job easier when it comes time to edit the footage.
  • The lights also need special consideration. You should light the green screen separately from the subject to avoid shadows. Even lighting will also help maintain a smooth background.
  • Also, don’t be afraid to put the camera on a tripod. You need to keep the camera still so that it can get good footage with the green screen.

Even the best green screen can have problems if you don’t make other smart decisions with the filming. Makeup, lighting, and space are all essential to getting a good shot in front of a green screen. If you want to know more about what to consider, click here.

Green Screen Effects

Using a green screen allows you to create many different effects. Of course, you can use a green screen to change the background.

You can use a natural background from some other location, or you can create your own background.

However, green screen technology can work in other ways. If you buy a green screen suit, you can digitally alter what a person is wearing or how they look. That can come in handy if you want to show people wearing outrageous costumes that you may not have in your closet.

And if you’re really creative, you can change just about anything with a green screen. You just need the right Chroma Key software to do it.

What Is Chroma Key Software?

Chroma Key software is a type of editing program that allows you to work with green screen footage. There are different programs that you can choose from, but they all let you alter the background of your video.

Once you import your video, you can use different layers to add or change the background as you wish. After you finish, you can export your video and put it in your normal editing program to make any other edits that don’t relate to the green screen.

Choosing Chroma Key Software

With the variety of choices out there, you can experiment with different Chroma Key programs to find one that suits your needs. Different programs have different features, so it may take some time to find the right one for you. However, having an idea of what you want in a program can save you from wasting time on random programs.

  • The most important part of choosing Chroma Key software is your operating system. While many programs work on both PC and Mac computers, some work on one or the other. If you’re a PC user, you want to make sure your program of choice will work on your computer.
  • A program’s price is another thing to think about. If you plan on editing a lot of green screen footage, it may be worth investing more money into a better program. However, that may not always be worth it.
  • You should also look at a program’s ease of use. While you may have worked with video editing software before, Chroma Key programs have their own pros and cons that you’ll have to learn.
  • Another thing to think about is the file types that the program can export to. If you want to make other edits, you need to export your video so that you can import it to your primary video editing software.
  • If you have any other special requirements, like the installation method, consider that when deciding on the right Chroma Key software for you.

As a newbie, you probably won’t want or need advanced features from a Chroma Key program. But as you get better at editing green screen footage, don’t be afraid to reevaluate your chosen software and see if a change might be worth it.

Chroma Key Programs

There are tons of Chroma Key programs available, and each one has a unique set of features and options. After you determine what you want or need in a program, you can compare that list to the list of features for various software options.

  • One good option is the Savage Green Screen Photo Creator Kit. It comes with the digital software you need to edit on either Mac or PC, and you even get a green screen, too.
  • Assuming you already have a green screen, consider the Natron Video Compositing Green Screen Software. It works for both Mac and PC, and it features an intuitive interface that makes it easy to edit videos.
  • The Green Screen Wizard Pro Studio with Editor is a good choice if you want some extra features. This program lets you edit photos as well as videos, and it can work with green and blue screens. You can also make other edits that aren’t related to the green screen.
  • If you want a free option, consider Movavi, which works on both Mac and PC. You can download it straight from the internet, so you don’t need to worry about using a CD to install the program.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro is what most video editors use to use a green screen.

If these programs don’t cut it, there’s probably one that will do the trick for you. However, we think these programs all have something noteworthy, and they’re all worth a shot. You just have to learn how to edit green screen footage.

How to Edit Green Screen Footage

If you have experience editing videos, editing green screen footage won’t be that different. However, there are some essential steps to follow to make sure you get the best result.

  • Once you choose and install your software, import your video to your program.
  • While the exact name will differ between programs, create an overlay track.
  • Next, you’ll want to find the Chroma Key menu, which is where you can adjust the color of the background.
  • Once you get the color you want, you can save your work. Finally, you can export the video.

After you get some practice, editing green screen footage will be a breeze. If you want some more details, Movavi has a great explanation on the editing process here

“Video editing is easy!” -Movavi

Ways to Use Your Green Screen

Now that you know how to use a green screen, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas for how you want to use it. Luckily, there are plenty of options.

  • If you want to make it look like you’re doing an extreme sport, a green screen can help you capture those crazy stunts.
  • A lot of shows and movies have scenes of people driving in a car. In most cases, they use a green screen to show the moving landscape, even though the car is motionless.
  • You can use a green screen or even green suits to make your subject’s body disappear. Who knew the invisibility cloak was real?
  • A green screen is a great tool for creating a twin of someone who isn’t a twin. When editing, you can superimpose two images of the same person.
  • If you want to play with size and create puzzling images, you can use a green screen.

Of course, there are tons of other ways to use a green screen. You can use your imagination to come up with your own ideas for putting your screen to work. If you still need some ideas, Shoot Systems has an excellent list of options here.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re new to video editing or an expert, using a green screen can amplify your videos in many ways. The right green screen and setup can transform you from your bedroom to outer space. All you need is a screen and the right editing software, and you’ll be on your way to mastering the art of the green screen.

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