How to Create a DIY Green Screen Video Effect

All you need to make a green screen video is a smartphone, a cloth, some video editing software, and a few tips and tricks.

The green screen has come a long way since Lawrence Butler won an academy award for his special effects in the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad. Butler was the first person who figured out how to use green screen technology (or blue screen technology) in a color film. Before the effect was only possible in black and white. Back then, the process was quite complex. Adding green screen effect required things like optical printers and many film strips.

If throwing around terms like optical printer is making your head spin, you’re not alone. Thankfully, none of those things are necessary today. Nowadays, all it takes to make a passable green screen is about $30, your smartphone, and a video editor.

In this post, I’ll go over how to make your first green screen video on the cheap. We’ll take a look at the various elements you need to consider: backdrop, software, camera, and lighting.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Before we get started on the how…let’s talk about the what and the why. What exactly is green screen, and why would you ever want to use a green screen effect in your video?

What is green screen?

Green screen is when you replace the real background of a video with a digital background. It offers the most natural-looking way to integrate your subject into your video. Instead of putting each visual element in its own frame (a la picture-in-picture), green screen lets you blend them .

Green screen, blue screen, chroma key, chroma key compositing all refer to the same idea. The green screen effect is a post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on color hues (chroma range). Newscasting, motion picture, and video game industries love this technique, but anyone can use the green screen effect.

what is green screen

Why do you use a green screen?

Most people have seen a meteorologist use a green screen to report the weather. Meteorologists stand in front of the green screen point out specific parts of the forecast. But the green screen does more than provide clarity. It also allows them to personalize their broadcast and connect to their viewers.

Although you may not be detailing cold fronts from your desk, I’d bet you still have opportunities to connect with an audience at work. Green screen is a great option for for adding a personal touch to lots of different types of videos.

Consider using it the next time you need to record:

  • presentation slides
  • screen video
  • screenshots
  • photos
  • animated elements

Chroma key is a big deal for anyone who needs to connect with viewers. When done well, green screen can give your video a professional aesthetic on the cheap. You don’t need to build a fancy set or rent studio time. You can shoot your video anywhere and replace the background with a branded graphic, stock photo, or video element. Trainers can teach an online course by superimposing yourself over the lesson. This is instant upgrade over talking over a PowerPoint presentation.

Why use green screen and chroma key video

How to create a green screen?

To pull off this technique, all you need is a few things: A green or blue piece of cloth/fabric, a camera, lights, and some editing software.

Step 1: Get a backdrop

First, get a piece of muslin cloth that’s a bright shade of green.

Blue screen backdrops are also available, but they can cause problems if the person on camera has blue eyes or clothes.

If you don’t want to mess around with hanging a cloth, a collapsible panel is a nice option.

Collapsible Panel Green Screen

Since it’s not too big (5′ x 7′), it’s perfect for when you need to travel for a shoot. We’ll discuss shadows more when we get into lighting, but for now, remember to stand as close to the backdrop as you can without casting a shadow on it. This is usually around two or three feet. Also make sure to keep your hands close to your body. Any part of your arm or hand that extends past the backdrop will look cut off in your final video.

Step 2: Pick your camera

Next, you’ll want to pick a camera that shoots HD quality video (720p or higher). Make sure your camera saves out files in a format your green screen software can import. We’ve had good success using an iPhone, but most any digital camcorder will work.

If you do choose to record on a mobile device, you can import your footage into Camtasia using our free app, TechSmith Fuse. Fuse adds your videos from your phone straight to Camtasia. You don’t have to worry about getting the files from one place to another.

When you’re just starting out, recording footage on your smartphone might seem daunting. We’ve put together some tips and advice for shooting videos on your mobile device. We cover everything you need to know about audio, shot composition, and lighting.

Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…

Step 3: Set up your lighting

The next step is optional, but recommended. One thing you should keep in mind as you shoot your green screen footage is to cut out shadows. You want a flat green background, no shadow puppets! The flatter the green, the easier it will be to remove the screen.

Shadow Puppets

Don’t worry too much about getting a perfectly lit set though. The remove a color effect in Camtasia is quite forgiving of background shadows. Spend a few minutes tweaking the settings a bit and you should be good. If you’re having trouble getting the background to disappear or there’s a slight halo around the person, try to upgrade your lighting. The more even your lighting, the better the effect will be.

The easiest thing to try is a couple of hardware store clamp-on work lights with high-output CFL bulbs. You’ll also need something to clamp them on. Aim the lights so that the green screen doesn’t have dark areas and bright areas. Focus your efforts on the area directly behind the person. You’ll be able to crop out the excess space around the person later.

To throw a lot of light, you need a few bulbs in each fixture. You could build your own video lighting rig for less than $100 (see video below). Or if you’re not into DIY projects, you can shop around for a video softbox. CowboyStudio is a good place to start. Look for “continuous lighting” as opposed to flash or strobe lighting. Whether you buy or build, it’s best to use a diffusion filter for each light. That will help keep your lights from throwing shadows.

This quick video shows you how to build your own lighting kit on the cheap. (You can also get a few tips of the trade for making your subjects look more natural.)

Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…

Step 4: Get the right software

In the Camtasia video editor you can remove your green screen with just one button. (Even if you don’t have you’re own copy, you can try Camtasia free for 30 days.)

Anyone can make a green screen video

So go ahead…put yourself in your video, and tell us how it goes in the comments! We’d love to see all the awesome things our customers are doing with Camtasia!

Download Camtasia – free trial

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.