Why do photographers use green backdrops?

In Photo Basics by Rick McEvoy14 Comments

Why do Photographers Use Green Backdrops?

This is one of those things I have often thought about but never really understood – why do photographers use green backdrops? I didn’t know so decided to find out the answer to this question.

Why do photographers use green backdrops? Photographers use green backdrops to allow them to replace the background quickly and easily at a later date.

What is this technique of using a green backdrop called?

The technique of using a green backdrop is called chroma key photography. Chroma is the Greek word for colour. That is where it comes from. I didn’t know that!

Chroma key is the process of removing a colour from a scene and replacing it with something else

Is this technique still used by photographers?

Chroma key photography is still used these days, but there are more alternatives around now than when this technique was introduced in the 1940s.

With the advances in digital technology this technique is used less frequently in stills photography, but is still used in videography, film and TV.

The power of masking and processing in Photoshop and other software these days means that you can replace a background without a green backdrop.

If you do use a green backdrop however it can make it quicker and easier to replace the background in an image. I guess Photoshop specialists will challenge this, but it makes sense to me to do this as a less advanced Photoshop user.

When are green backdrops used?

Green backdrops are used in any situation where you are intending on adding a background (different from the one where you are when you are taking the photos) at a later date.

Green backdrops have been used in the following situations

  • Cruise ships
  • Weddings
  • Portraits
  • On location
  • When it is raining
  • Films and TV
  • Weather men/ women

The most quoted use of green backdrops is TV weather forecasters. Despite the leaps in technology when you watch the weather forecast on the TV the presenter is actually standing in front of a green screen. The weather maps and all that good stuff is being added by the behind the scenes production staff.

I can still remember the scene in Anchorman 2 where the weather man can’t see the map and completely loses it!

How does a green backdrop work?

It is easier to separate the subject from the background if the background is a solid colour. Green is much less commonly found in clothes, and even more rarely in skin tones. This means that selecting the green colour to remove will not impact on other parts of the image.

Using a green backdrop can make it easier to add an alternative background which opens up endless possibilities for creative photographers.

Why a green backdrop?

Green (and blue) backdrops are used as they are the furthest colours from human skin tones. This came about in the post war era in film. Nowadays you could actually use any colour in theory as long as it is not present anywhere else the picture.

When you dive back in history the original screens were actually blue, but there was a problem with this – green backdrops were used as presenters tended to wear blue suits more often that green suits!

That is why bright green colour is a good choice as it is unlikely that you would find someone dressed in that colour.

But thinking about this you might need to get a blue backdrop if you were planning on doing St Patricks Day location shoots! Or you were photographing people with a strange taste in clothing.

Or the Irish rugby team.

Why are green backdrops more popular than blue backdrops?

Simple – because green clothing is loss popular than blue clothing. It really is that simple. And green skin tones aren’t that common yet – but you never know if the Martians do land we might have to rethink this technique!

Can I use other colours of backdrops?

Photographers use many backgrounds for different effects, but for this technique you can also get blue backdrops, but these are much less common. As I have said elsewhere, green is a much less popular choice of clothing colour!

Photographers also use grey backdrops for this technique of photography. Grey backdrops get eliminate the problem of green colour fringing around the edges.

Can I use green backdrops on location?

You can use green backdrops on location. Obviously if you are planning on using a green backdrop on location this will influence the backdrop and supports that you choose.

Is it difficult to do?
No. As with all new things it takes time and practise, but the technique is one that anyone can learn. I guess it helps if you have a reason to use this technique, which is why I have never tried it myself.

What do you need to carry out chroma key photography?

  • A reason to do it – an idea (I am out at this point).
  • Equipment – camera, lighting, a green backdrop (and supports etc).
  • A location.
  • A subject.
  • A background to add later.
  • Suitable image processing software.
  • And more time and patience than I will ever have!

How do I use a green backdrop?

Basically, you stand your subject in front of the green backdrop. You need to make sure that the backdrop is big enough to cover the subject and the areas around the subject fully.

The important thing is that the subject is correctly lit, and that there is contrast between the subject and the background.

Avoiding shadows is also helpful and will make separation later easier.

What software do I need for post processing?

You can buy bespoke software, and kits that include everything you need including the software, but I suggest that Photoshop is all you need. Well Lightroom and Photoshop (if you work like I do).

But I will warn you now, you will need to use layers in Photoshop!

How much does a green backdrop cost?

Green backdrops are readily available – you can get muslin backdrops for less than £20 on Amazon, collapsible ones and full kits. The most expensive one that I found on Amazon was £420,

Check out this free-standing 4m panoramic background from Lastolite for just under £400! Now this looks pretty cool I have to say.

Have I ever used a green backdrop?

No, I haven’t, which is why I did not know the answer to this question. Now that I have learnt all about green backdrops I really would like to give this a go – the problem is that I don’t have much of a need for green backdrops as I mainly photograph buildings and locations!

But now I have learnt all about green backdrops and chroma key photography I am quite keen to give this technique a go.

I don’t often photograph people, certainly not in a studio environment.

Summary

I hope that you now understand green backdrops, and why photographers and videographers use them. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch using the comments box.

 

And get in touch and share your experiences with green backdrops – good and bad experiences of course!

 

 


About the Author

Rick McEvoy

Twitter

I am an architectural photographer based in the lovely county of Dorset in England. I have worked in construction all my life, so combining my knowledge of buildings with my photography naturally led to down the architectural photographer route. I use Canon DSLRs and lenses (no film cameras). I specialise in architectural photography – well anything to do with buildings, and extend this to industrial and commercial photography which have similar requirements – stationery subjects, no people, no animals. I also enjoy landscape and travel photography. My dream job is photographing buildings in nice places, which I am still working on. My Website, and I have a daily photography Blog.

Comments

  1. I’m still relatively new to shooting on a green screen, but that Lastolite panoramic background makes me cringe. One of the issues I’m trying to get a handle on is reflections from the background spilling onto the subject. It makes the selection harder, and my subjects have an ugly green cast in certain places, especially anything reflective (my latest is shooting my son as Thor for a project we’re working on).

    Once I can figure that out I expect everything to run much more smoothly, but right now it’s not really making things easier.

    1. Author

      Hi Joe

      Have you tried moving the green backdrop further away from your subject? Alternatively you could try a grey back drop?

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

  2. I’ve noticed on some video (e.g. The Profit on CNBC/Hulu), when Marcus Lemonis, the star of the show, is photographed against a green screen, I can often see green tint on the rim of his face. Could this be green color reflecting onto his skin? I though that the post processing of the video would remove all green.

    1. Author

      Hi John

      I would imagine this is the green reflecting – you are absolutely correct – this should have been sorted in post-processing.

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

  3. Hi,
    I am really happy to say it’s an interesting post to read . I learn new information from your article , you are doing a great job . Keep it up.
    Thank You For This Articla

  4. There are various advantages of being used the Green Backdrops in photography as this material is easy to achieve and even it is suitable for lighting because it does not reflect light. So, the photo is captured clearly and more prominently.

    1. Author

      Hi and than you for your sorts. If you are new to photography I suggest you go out and enjoy taking photos first – this stuff can wait for now!

      With kind regards from England

      Rick

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  6. Many advantages of being used the Green Backdrops in photography as this material is easy to achieve .Single color Background image Edit Easily.

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