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The (Chroma) Key to Surviving Green-Screen Shoots

By September 12, 2018Blog

If your on-camera performance is in a formal studio setting, you may be standing in front of what is called a green screen. A green screen is just that: a backdrop that is the shade of a leprechaun’s clothing on St. Patrick’s Day.

A green screen is used when employing a post-production technique called chroma keying. It allows the editor to lay an image or video on top of anything in a specified color range, green being the most commonly used color to create the effect. This technology trick is used in anything from major motion pictures to television news to virtual meetings.

When I began my broadcast career, I started as a weekend weather person. Make no mistake, I was not a meteorologist, but at the time, having a good relationship with the National Weather Service folks and a basic knowledge of high and low pressure systems sufficed.

I stood in front of a green screen, a wall of green, with a monitor to my left and right as well as a mirror image of myself in the camera parked in front of me.

Through the magic of chroma key, my weather maps were projected on the screen behind me for all of my viewers to see. However, if I physically looked behind me, all I saw was that field of green. I was able to point to the different fronts and meteorological graphics by looking into the monitors that showed the computer-generated maps, with me in front of them. It took some time, but I learned how to interact with the map as if I were staring right at the real thing, not a wall of green.

The first time I ever did the weather, I was horrified to look into the monitor and see myself upside down due to some technical snafu. Not only was I confronted with figuring out my right from left (remember, it’s mirrored) but I had to determine it upside down!

I managed to muddle my way through the weather report, but it was definitely an abbreviated one.

As a weathercaster who always stood in front of a green screen, I knew I could never wear green. If I ever did sport a kelly-green blazer, I could end up wearing part of a map of western Pennsylvania on my lapel. Anything in that chroma key color range runs the risk of becoming part of that blank canvas on which other images or video can be superimposed. If you wear a cape of green standing in front of a green screen, you can become a floating head—which is cool for a horror movie but not for your typical on-camera presentation.

Always ask what your background will be. If you will be shooting in front of a green screen, avoid wearing that color at all costs, whether it is a Kermit the Frog shade or teal. If you are wondering if a shirt or jacket will “key out,” bring it with you to the shoot and test it out on camera ahead of time. Just be sure to have other options, lest you end up wearing the map of Pennsylvania on your chest.

Learn More: On-Camera Coach

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, On-Camera Coach: Tools and Techniques for Business Professionals in a Video-Driven World, now available from Wiley Publishing. On-Camera Coach aims to take the mystery out of communicating through the camera and provides specific tips and techniques that can make your message sing—and you, the messenger, feel confident in a job well done.