Common Green Screen Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Green screen techniques are generally used to create realistic environments and background scenes without having to film on location. This means that a director can film and actor against a green screen and then import a background video to play behind the actor. When done correctly, you can chroma key the entire scenes without letting anyone notice that you aren't on location. However, if you are just starting with green screen filming and want to create realistic fake environments, there are some mistakes that you can avoid to help your scenes look more professional and more realistic.
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Tips to Help You Prevent Mistakes with Green Screen Filming:
1. Wearing the right clothing
Perhaps one of the simplest mistakes that many people make with green screen filming is actually wearing green clothing. If you are wearing clothing or clothing that has buttons or accents that are a similar color green as your selected background green, the image that you project onto the green screen in post-editing will also get picked up by these accents on your clothing or by the clothing itself. This is great if you want to cut off part of an actor's body, but not so professional if you are trying to make an actor appear in a realistic scene.
2. Wrinkles in the screen
Wrinkles in your screen can actually lead to heavy shadows and distorted image quality. If you regularly fold your green screen for storage it's very important that you take an iron out and flat negative green screen to prevent shadows and distortions with your background image. This is a step that many skip over but it's important to have a dedicated studio, a high-quality green screen and a prepared green screen without wrinkles and folds that cause shadows.
3. Think of your lighting
Quite often shadows can appear on a green screen cast by the shadow of the actors in objects that are placed in front of it. Lighting is one of the most important affects you need to consider when trying to create realistic green screen scenes. Make sure to use multiple lights to gain and even lighting scheme across your subject and across the screen to reduce shadows. Make sure to view the subject you are shooting from the same angle the camera will shoot them at and adjust the lighting is necessary. You want a nice even coverage of light that will reduce shadows and not cause distortions when the image is overlaid on the green screen. You can sometimes fix lighting inconsistencies in postproduction just the same way that you would edit an image in Photoshop. This method is time-consuming so it's usually much easier to use a lighting tool and to professionally balance out the light reducing shadows before you start shooting.
4. Watch out the motion blur
If you are planning on shooting a high action scene in front of a green screen with a camera that only has lower shutter speeds, you can run into real problems. When using a camera with a lower shutter speed consider doing action shots in slow motion or getting subjects to not make any sudden movements in front of the green screen. Motion blur from someone moving rapidly on camera in front of a green screen can really ruin the scene and ruin the realism of the scene. Alternately you could also consider renting a high shutter speed camera to avoid this motion blur if you do plan on shooting a lot of action scenes. Ultimately this is something that you will need to test for yourself so that you can get a feel for how much action your camera can handle with a green screen without motion blur.
5. Keep your shots in the frame
When you don't have a lot of green screen to work with sometimes it can be a force of habit to follow subjects outside of the green screen area. When filming in front of a green screen you will need to get used to keeping your shots with the screen in place in the background. It is possible to make post production edits if an actor or subject leaves the green screen environment on camera but this can involve tracing out each element that wasn't found on the green screen in order to superimpose the image back in front of the background image you plan on running on the green screen. Don't be afraid to do multiple takes and consider using a larger green screen if you find that subjects are constantly making their way out of the background area.
6. Aim your shots just behind the subject
For professional quality green screen shots you may actually be a bit surprised to know that many films don't actually film the actors but what is just behind the actors. Getting the actors or your subject a bit offset and filming slightly behind your actors will place focused on the background as well as the scene that's happening in front of the green screen. Aiming the focus of your shot just behind your subject or actor can actually lead to far better shots when using a green screen.
7. Turn off camera sharpening
If you are using a digital camera with an automatic focus or sharpener consider turning this feature off as it will create hard edges between your actors and the background. Unless you would like actors in subjects to be subtly outlined, it's better to hone your skills with focusing the camera and do away with digital aides when using green screens.
8. Check your props ahead of time
Any promps that you want to use with a green screen should be dulled down or selected ahead of time. Shiny objects can reflect the green screen colors and take away from the realism in your scene. If you plan on using any shiny objects make sure to dole them down ahead of time or you may end up having to edit some of the colors in post production. Consider your props ahead of time so that you don't get stuck with a massive editing job for your project.
9. For a more pronounced lighting on the subject
If you are filming a sunny scene with green screens feel free to use a backlight to light up the actor's profile and give them a more natural and convincing light. Too many people forget to include natural lighting from the scene on the actors to portray better realism. Place a light fairly close to the green screen which will light the actor from behind but not allow their profile to cast much of a shadow. This can take practise but is a great effect when done well.
10. Use proper lighting even for dark scenes
Ultimately if you are interested in filming a darker scene with a green screen, such as a horror scene at night or a scene simulating the outdoors or a dimly lit chamber, you may still have to film the scene in moderate lighting, to edit the lighting in post production. If you are unable to properly light the actor and your green screen well, this can lead to a grainy background image which can be very low quality for production. Editing the scene and darkening it later will be one of the best ways that you can capture the image without the grainy shots and ensure a better realism. You will need to take on some practise editing to get better at night scenes before making them look really convincing.