Video Backgrounds – B is for Background

Most people don’t think much about the background.  It’s just there – in the background.  But if it’s wrong, people definitely notice, even if it’s at a subconscious level.

I generally think of video in 2 main categories:

Videos created with a camera – This includes what is often referred to as “live action” video, but it also includes “talking head” videos that might be recorded with a webcam and don’t really involve action.

Video created without a camera – This involves a variety of different software programs that generally perform two functions:  1) Assembling a series of images and possibly text and movements as well;  2) Recording the series of images, text and movements so they can be played back as a video.

For both types of video, the background is important but in different ways.

When you are shooting on-camera video, it can be easy to just focus on the subject matter and forget to notice what the background looks like.

If you’re recording yourself on a webcam or with a small camera on a tripod, look behind you before you start.  Better yet, look through the view finder of the camera to see what is going to show up behind you in the recorded video.

If you’re behind the camera shooting someone else or a live action scene of some sort, be sure to consider the whole frame of what is going to be recorded.

A few common problems to watch out for:

  • Busy, cluttered, distracting stuff in the background
  • Lines or objects that intersect with the subject’s head in the camera frame  (Door frames and bookshelves are common culprits)
  • Bright light behind the subject (from a lamp or a window) closing down the camera shutter
  • Bright light coming from only one side so half the subject’s face is in shadow

Just as with still photography, you need to consider the whole composition in the frame of the camera lens.  If it doesn’t look well balanced, then fix the problem before you record.

When creating an off-camera video, different issues arise for the background.  Here, of course, it will depend on what type of software you are using to create a particular video.

Many animation programs, like PowToon, Animoto, and VideoMakerFX, provide a large selection of backgrounds from which you can choose.  My main suggestion for this is to make sure whatever image or text you have in the foreground can be clearly seen against the background.

Whiteboard doodle-style video software, by nature, provides its own white background.  Some also have an option for chalkboard backgrounds in black or green.  Backgrounds in this type of software are generally no problem.

“Slide videos” made in PowerPoint or Keynote present the biggest challenges with backgrounds.  Using the built-in slide templates will give you sections for bullet-point text and separate sections for inserting images.  The built-in graphic designs of some templates also take up a lot of the screen real estate and can be distracting when you place your images on the slide.  Company logos and other branding designs cause a similar problem and don’t need to appear on every frame of a video.

Most of these standard slide layouts are not helpful for creating video.  You don’t want (or at least I wouldn’t recommend) a video that is full of bullet-point text that will be as boring or more boring than a typical live presentation!  Don’t let standard templates turn your video into “Death by PowerPoint!”

Here are some alternatives to try:

  • Neutral background images with slight color and texture can be found on stock photo sites, even free ones.
  • Plain white or solid color with contrasting colored text and objects can be set up in PowerPoint or Keynote or similar programs.
  • Slide templates can be found online that are designed more for marketing, with scenery backgrounds suitable to a story about various brick-and-mortar businesses.
  • Some template designers offer interesting backgrounds that can work for moving objects and/or characters on and off screen to tell a story.

In general, keep the background clean, simple, and innocuous – unless it contains elements that are specifically an integral part of the visual storytelling in a particular video.

Take a look at the video embedded in this blog post above to see some ideas for working with background images in PowerPoint for use in video.

If you have questions or any favorite ideas you use for backgrounds, please leave a comment.  I’m always happy to hear from my readers!

6 Responses to “Video Backgrounds – B is for Background”

  1. Sophie Bowns says:

    Awww! Great post.
    I’m always ummming and ahhing over backgrounds for my blog!

  2. Anmol Rawat says:

    Wow that was really informative. Will surely remember a lot of that while creating my next short.

    Link to a video I created about a month ago. This was my first try.

    • Thank you, Anmol, for your comment. I watched part of your video before my internet connection started acting up and I could not get the rest to buffer. But I would never have guessed that was a “first try” video. It seems very professionally made!

  3. I’m a PowerPoint and design geek (in my “spare” time) so this was incredibly interesting for me. I want to watch it several times it’s so interesting!