Stream Backgrounds: To Chroma Key, or Not to Chroma Key... Part 1: Native Backgrounds

“To chroma key, or not to chroma key, that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the native environment to suffer. The slings and arrows of audience judgement, Or to take arms with a green screen against the sea of background troubles.” ~Shakespeare… kinda?

We all travel through endless categories and channels of streamers in an idle search for something to catch our eye. Very quickly, we discover there are two types of “on camera” streamers. Those who use a green screen background, and those who don’t.

The decision to use a green screen or native background is often one of the first and basic steps in deciding to turn the camera on. Often times, this is dictated by if you’ve got the means to use a green screen in the first place.

If you don’t have the money or technology to let your Chroma Key flag fly, that’s ok! You can still have a professional and interesting looking background without it. When done right, your background can become just as much a part of your brand as you are.

In this two part article, we’ll go over some basic things that can help elevate your video presentation when using either a native background, or a green screen. Regardless of the method you use, it’s important to plan your background shot in the frame and follow some fundamentals that can make your on screen appearance look a step or two above the rest.

In this article, we’ll explore using your native background and how to give it a basic, professional appearance with minimal work. In part two we’ll talk about green screens.

Native Background

So you’ve done a moment or two of googling about green screens and say to yourself: “Self! I do not want to deal with any of that!”

Don’t feel less than professional if you don’t use a green screen, because there’s nothing wrong with going native! Using your natural environment as a background can lend a very intimate and authentic feel to your stream. Think of it as inviting your audience into your home and use it as a way to showcase something about you.

Cleanliness and Organization

Your native background should ideally be tailored to fit your camera’s frame. By this, we mean the area behind you should at least be minimally dressed to put your best foot forward to new viewers. Of course you don’t need to have some sort of palatial, bourgeoisie background that pretends like you’ve got anything else but your next meal lined up.  But you also don’t want a background that says; “HEY, LISTEN!!! Can you smell my pile of dirty socks?!” Navi

An unkempt bedroom or living room isn’t the kind of place where you’d like strangers to meet you for the first time, right? Of course, how you choose to live your life is your own choice, but a messy room behind you could leave new viewers with an impression that you’re messy in how you run your business, even if you’re completely on top of everything else in your life.

Make your bed if it’s behind you in the frame. Clean up and organize items in your room to make them look tidy and cared for. Don’t have things like trash, empty soda cans, stray socks, and other items that detract from your brand.

Removing everything from your background that looks messy or unkempt automatically imparts a feeling that the streamer is serious about what they’re doing. Also, a clean stream space will feel better and more productive for you, we promise.

Set Pieces and Atmosphere

Once you’ve got cleanliness down, try adding some interesting things for people to see. Framing yourself against a wall helps by giving you a space to hang pictures or a neat blanket backdrop. Try having the wall at an angle to increase the surface area and depth of your available background space. Depending on your specific stream space, this may look much better than a simple flat wall.

Light a candle, get some Christmas lights for some atmosphere, make the space in your background look inviting and cozy. Aim for an overall scene that someone would want to pull up a chair next to you and have that fun, witty banter in person!

You could also get a shelf and put some figurines, trinkets or pictures on there. Anything that you as a person are proud of and impart a unique history or narrative about yourself. Remember, your broadcast is a projection of you as a person, and that doesn’t have to be limited to just your pretty face and voice!

Interesting things behind you could spark interaction with your chat by them asking what those things are! So don’t be afraid of putting something weird looking back there. It might just lead to a fun conversation with a viewer who thought they were the only one with a fake, severed foot from a Yeti turned into a lamp.

Basic Lighting

The most basic rule about lighting is to make sure the light coming from behind you isn’t brighter than the light in front of you. Essentially, you want to remove shadows from your face by putting the most amount of light on you. For instance, below is an example of good and bad lighting results.

You don’t need to fork out a bunch of money to achieve good results from your lighting either. A single, well placed desk lamp behind your monitor or laptop somewhere works. Get a bright bulb, put a shade on it and set it behind your monitors for an instant key light. Just be careful not to have it too far off to the side as this will also cause shadows.

Or, if your stream set up is against a wall, use one of those bendy necked desk lamps and point it up at the wall to create a nice, diffuse glow. Avoid having a bare bulb shining in your face, though. It will probably be too harsh and cause over exposure problems.

Or, for about $30 USD, you can get a ring light that is very popular with many professional streamers. You can check one out here. These lights have some very good features for tailoring the amount of light needed for your particular setup. After adjustments, you can point them right at you without being over exposed.

A professional lighting setup would look like this diagram:

Each stream space is unique, and there’s no one definitive way to light your space. You’ll need to fiddle with sources and your camera’s exposure settings to achieve an optimum result.

Every Little Bit Matters!

With a small amount of planning and a little bit of reorganizing of your streaming space, a native background can have it’s own personality that lends itself to your brand. Even small details of your background add up to give your stream it’s own personality and vibe.

With the right combination, you can achieve a frame that expresses a lot about you and your community! All without getting crazy expensive with things.

Used with permission from MischaCrossing |twitch.tv/mischacrossing

As you can see above, simple elements can be all you need. As a result, new viewers may feel more comfortable and at ease participating and coming out of lurk mode when you, your environment, and your personality are all clearly expressed.

Keep experimenting and trying new things until it feels like “you”!

In the next article, we’ll dive into the world of green screens and some basic things you can do to elevate your stream using them!