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Weekly Video Tip: How to Shoot on a White Screen

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By Stephen Schweickart

So we’ve spent some time talking about the differences between shooting on a blue screen and a green screen, but there’s another common backdrop you might want to learn about – It’s this really vibrant color called WHITE. No doubt you’ve seen those Apple commercials where “Apple” and “PC” make fun of each other in 30 of the most obnoxious seconds of your life, but even though those commercials are supremely annoying, achieving that look isn’t that difficult.

First, you need to know that, and this is important, if you want a white background, you should shoot it on white, plain and simple. Don’t shoot on green and hope that you’ll be able to key out all the green, because chances are you won’t, the green spill on your talent will be unmanageable, and you’ll be stuck looking at a person with fuzzy hair and missing body parts. Shoot against white, trust me.

Just like shooting against green or blue, the trick is to use a set of lights to evenly illuminate the backdrop, and a SEPARATE set of lights for your talent. This prevents your talent from throwing massive shadows against your white backdrop, and breaking the “infinite white room” illusion you’re trying so hard to steal…I mean “emulate.” This also will allow you to adjust lighting on your talent without affecting the brightness of the white.

The size of the white will determine just how many lights you’ll need to use to get the light even on the backdrop. But if you’re just doing a waist up shot you’ll be able to get away with just a few; three or four at the most. One on either side, one above in the center if you can and possibly one underneath.

Before we kick you out of here I’m going to give a couple quick tips to help you make shooting on white work for you. First, a simple trick to see if the white is evenly lit is to close the iris all the way down to one stop before it’s completely closed. You should see your white background as a dark grey, and you should be able to more easily see the discrepancies in the grey where some lights are brighter than others. This is harder to see with the iris open as your eye will simply see a blown out white background.

Also, if you’re using a standard three-point-lighting set up for your talent, beware of the treacherous backlight. Backlights are great in general, but on white they can sometimes put too strong of an edge light on your talent and it can serve to blend them into the background more than separate them from it. Almost like the white is eating them, and that’s likely not the effect you’re going for. Either use a less intense light, or no light at all. Your white backdrop may be reflecting enough light to get the job done for you.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic, visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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