How to create a DIY green screen video effect (aka chroma key)

Achieving a good green screen effect used to be difficult and expensive. But no longer. In this post, I’ll show you 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, lighting…and how you can probably pull off your first green screen production for $30 or less.

Before we get started on the how…let’s talk about the why. Why would you ever want to use a green screen effect in your video? To what end?

What is green screen and why would I use it?

Green screen is when you replace the real background of a video with a digital background.

Quite simply, it offers the most natural-looking way to integrate a human with other types of content you might want to show, such as presentation slides, screen video, screenshots, photos, or animated elements. Instead of putting each visual element in its own frame (a la picture-in-picture), green screen lets you blend them seamlessly.

1145-green_screen_vs_picture-in-picture.png
And when done well, green screen can also give your video an expensive-looking aesthetic on the cheap. Instead of building a fancy set or renting studio time, you can shoot your video anywhere and replace the background with a branded graphic or stock photo or video element. Instant upgrade!

1142-green_screen_camtasia_aesthetic.jpg
We think the remove a color / green screen effect is a big deal for anyone who needs to connect deeply and professionally with viewers. It can also be a lot of fun! And we’re flattered to hear that pro screencasters like Scott Skibell see it as a game changer, too.

What gear do I really need?

Backdrop (usually required)

To get started today, you just need a regular digital camera (or smartphone) that shoots video, some inexpensive software, and a wall that’s painted a color that does not appear anywhere on your clothing, skin, eyes, or hair. Since walls like that are sometimes hard to find, you should probably plan on buying a piece of muslin cloth that’s a hideous shade of green. Something like this:

Green screen backdrop cloth
You’ll also find blue screen backdrop cloth available, but it can be problematic if the person on camera has blue eyes or clothes. If you don’t want to mess around with hanging a cloth, a really nice option is a collapsible panel like this:

It’s not real large (5′ x 7′), so you’ll need to have your talent stand as close to the backdrop as they can without casting a shadow on it. Also make sure they don’t gesture too broadly. Any part of their arm or hand that extends past the backdrop will look cut off in your final video.

Software (required)

For software, of course we’re biased toward Camtasia Studio (Windows) and Camtasia for Mac, which you can download and use free for 30 days. The benefit of using Camtasia is that you can easily add screen captures and other media to your project.

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There are even some free video tutorials for both the Windows and Mac version of Camtasia.

Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…

Download Camtasia – free 30-day trial

Camera (required)

For a camera, you want something that shoots HD quality video (720p or higher) and that saves out files in a format your green screen software can import. Camtasia can import most MP4 and MOV files; we’ve had good success just using an iPhone but most any digital camcorder that generates either of those file types should work.

Pro screencaster Scott Skibell posted a screen test, comparing the results of four different cameras: iMac iSight built-in webcam, Logitech C910 external webcam, iPhone 4S, and Canon T3i. To really see the detail, click through on the video and watch in HD in the large player.



Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…
 

Lighting (optional)

The remove a color effect in Camtasia is really quite forgiving of background shadows. Spend a few minutes tweaking the settings a bit and you should be good. But if you’re having trouble getting the background to fully disappear or there’s a slight halo around the person, it means you need 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…and 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, as you’ll be able to crop out the excess space around the person later (don’t forget to factor in the person’s “gesture zone”).

1146-green_screen_work_light.jpg

To really throw a lot of light, you need multiple 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, as that will help keep them from throwing shadows.

In this video, the folks at Indy Mogul not only show how to build your own lighting kit on the cheap…but give a quick demonstration of the how and why of 3-point lighting.


Not seeing the video? Watch it on YouTube…

C’mon, is it really that easy?

Yes, yes it is. To convince internal TechSmith staff of how easy it is to make greenscreen video, Camtasia product manager Shane Lovellette made a quick demo showing off some ways to use the effect…and then pulls back the curtain on his not-so-super-high-tech setup. :) It really is that easy and inexpensive!


Not seeing the video? Watch it on Screencast.com…


UPDATE 7/19 – from Shane Lovellette

One more tip that might help your results is to try adding a Spotlight Video FX [Camtasia for Mac only] to your clip after you have applied and tweaked Remove a Color. With Spotlight, you can choose a color for the spotlight. Select a color such as red or a warm skin color. Then adjust the opacity. It will help warm up the subject, and tends to help hide some of the green fringe you may get at times when the lighting isn’t perfect. The key is to add the spotlight after remove a color.

So go ahead…put yourself in your video, see how your audience receives it, and share your story with us! We’d love to show off some great examples of chroma key video!

Download Camtasia – free 30-day trial

  • Dave B

    Excellent Information…thanks.

  • http://AbilityBooks.com Reesa McKenzie

    I was really excited about this article until I got to the software required section and read that it is not available on the pc version. Awwww, really?? I’m not in the “cool kids club” and still use a pc exclusively. Darn it!!

  • John

    For some reason I cannot watch the last video with Shane. The video never plays.
    John aka coffeegulper

  • ephraim

    We’re approaching the midway point of 2012 – are we really still going to be waiting for Camtasia Studio 8 on Windows? Come on guys – give us some info!

  • http://SkillCasting.com Scott Skibell

    Awesome implementation guys! I am loving this new Remove a Color feature. It allows us to create much more professional looking videos than ever before.

    Here are a couple of my tips:
    1. Light the background color as evenly as possible. I found the brighter green works best.
    2. Use the best possible camera you have. The results with my Canon T3i are quite good.
    3. Add a little contrast to your video. I get a little more “pop” from my chromakey video by adding some contrast to it. It’s almost as good as the filter I use in FCPX.
    4. Crop the edges of your video if you’re not extending your hands or arms. And if you do extend your hands, keep your fingers closed to minimize any green bleed over.

    Again, kudo’s to the TechSmith team!

  • Camtasia Lover

    Please add the green secreen feature in the windows version of camtasia! PLEASE!

    • http://www.twitter.com/fosteronomo Daniel Foster

      Good news! Camtasia Studio (Windows) now includes the green screen feature. If you own Camtasia Studio 8, it is a free update for you. Check this blog post for details

    • luke

      *screen*

  • Mike

    Too bad it doesn’t work on 96% of desktops – the ones that have Windows on it. This software is too expensive NOT to have the green screen feature.

  • Rick McCleary

    Please, Please, Please add green screen to windows Camtasia!!!!!

  • shy

    you can get the same effect without using a green screen with http://www.videostir.com
    A white wall will do and the background is removed automatically (it’s a new technology)

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01110101 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100100 01100101 01110011 01100101 01110010 01110100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00001101 00001010 01001110 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101110 01101110 01100001 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01100011 01110010 01111001 00001101 00001010 01001110 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101110 01101110 01100001 00100000 01110011 01100001 01111001 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101111 01100100 01100010 01111001 01100101 00001101 00001010 01001110 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100000 01100111 01101111 01101110 01101110 01100001 00100000 01110100 01100101 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100001 00100000 01101100 01101001 01100101 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101000 01110101 01110010 01110100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101

    You have just been Rick Roll’d

    • piercemr

      Thanks.

      01010111 01101111 01110111 00101100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01101010 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01100100 01100101 00100000 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01100100 01100001 01111001 00101110 00100000 01101000 01110100 01110100 01110000 00111010 00101111 00101111 01100010 01101001 01110100 00101110 01101100 01111001 00101111 01000001 01101010 00110100 01010110 01000001 01000111 00100000 00001101 00001010 00001101 00001010

  • http://www.techsmith.com/ Daniel Foster

    Hi all – a number of you expressed interest in having chroma key on the Windows version of Camtasia. We just announced that it is planned for the next minor release of Camtasia Studio 8, which means it will be a free update for anyone on version 8. You can get details here: http://bit.ly/KmGfau

  • Andrew James

    I agree that Camtasia is one of the best software to use to edit your green
    screen
    videos. It has a free trial period for Mac OS that you make use of. It is more than a simple screen recorder, it also gives you the tools you
    need to truly customize and edit your videos.

    But I would like to add other software which are great for green screen editing especially for Windows platform. These include the Green Screen Wizard, Primatte Chromakey, 123 Video Magic,
    and Chroma Key Software. And guess what? Most of these are free.

  • lee

    Rats. I just now downloaded Camtasia without reading the Google search snippet closely enough. No green screen for pc. I was sucked in by thinking “background removal” is a workaround. Now I need to erase the Camtasia trial software and keep looking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iamchelseymarie Chelsey Marie

    This video was awesome! Thank you so much for posting!

  • joe

    yall gotta realize its because microsoft sucks…apple makes awesome graphics tools for developers

  • Michael Taylor

    Excellent article. Clear explanations, tips, and how-to’s. I had a test video using the new ‘Remove a Color’ feature operating, on a light green child’s bed sheet and two work lamps from the garage, within 30 minutes.

    I expect the very slight halo will go when I add the back light. It’s these little tips, such as the 3 position lighting system, and not waving hands too much, that allow a novice such as myself to apply this feature so well, so quickly.

    This one feature offers a significant opportunity to increase the professionalism of business videos. (Also, an example of great software design – a powerful capability only requiring one-click by the user.) Thanks.

    • KFlannery

      Hello Michael! I’m so glad to hear that you find the feature easy to use. Thank you for your comment!

      What kinds of videos do you plan to use it for in the future? We’d love to see what you’re up to!

  • William Burrus

    Love your site.
    QUESTION: I’ve read a few places that all green screens are not alike and that it’s ESSENTIAL to buy one more expensive than the muslin varieties like the one you suggest [which is a great price and about 1/3 the price of the one they suggest].
    Just HOW important is this
    Thanks for all the knowledge.

    • http://www.techsmith.com/ TechSmith

      We’ve had fine results with simple muslin cloth. The main thing is to have a surface that’s non-reflective, evenly lit, and to avoid casting shadows on it. What’s great about starting with the cheap cloth is that if you simply can’t get the results you were hoping for…you’ve hardly invested anything in trying, plus you can make a set of truly hideous pillows or curtains from it! ;)

      Thanks for reading and for your question!

  • Jack

    Thanks for the great article, especially for instructions of how to setup green screen environment! The only thing I can supplement is to suggest an alternative software (only for Windows unfortunately). It is available at http://sparkosoft.com and allows for perform real-time chroma keying with a webcam. The thing I really like with SparkoCam is the ability to adjust different parameters for tuning effect accuracy.

  • Julieann

    It’s been a while since I used Camtasia but I was removing the green screen background and adding in a new one. For some reason I can’t figure out that feature anymore. Can you help… please! Here is a link to one of my old videos! Thanks for your help :)

    • http://www.techsmith.com/ TechSmith

      Hi Julieann – the feature is called Remove a Color in the interface. There are links above to free tutorials that show you where to find it in both the Mac and Windows version, and walk you through the various options.

      • Julieann

        Thank you! I found out how to super impose a picture behind the video after taking out the green screen but I still can’t find the software (mac) for the templated backgrounds like in my video above. I hope I’m not being a PIA… I know I’m missing something easy and just can’t figure it out for some reason :) BTW Happy Halloween.

        • http://www.techsmith.com/ TechSmith

          Camtasia Studio has a number of backgrounds and titles under the Library tab with more available for download. But I don’t recognize the one you’re using there, so it might be from some other software?

  • chromakeysoftware

    This looks great and another one to watch on my list..I have tried a lot of software of this kind and still there is something that I am looking for solve my problem on shades.

    • selftape

      Green is used often because it’s easiest for most modern cameras to
      pick up, giving the editor the cleanest possible image. It’s also a
      less common clothing color, meaning it’s less likely to cause any
      embarrassing disappearing outfits. Blue was once common, but it’s
      common in wardrobes and is a common eye color. Still, you can avoid
      this, and it’s a good color to try because it shouldn’t interfere with
      skin color. White is a bad color because it’s common in wardrobes and
      eyes. Same for black, only add to that hair.
      Green Screen LA

  • Sushil SEO

    chroma key software Nice information Green Screen Wizard is powerful green screen software for photographers that’s inexpensive and simple to use.

  • Tom Bain

    Does this really work, where I can use another mpeg or video file in the background, and lay the footage of a person on top?

    • http://www.techsmith.com/ Daniel Foster

      Yep, it really works. Especially if you use the tips in this article to get a really high-quality, properly-lit video of the person in front of the green screen.