I Hate Virtual Backgrounds
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
Saying I hate virtual backgrounds may go a little too far, but I do hate most of them. Some more than others.
I talked about this last week in a short video I did for my Media Training Minute series and got such a strong reaction I decided to expand my thoughts in a blog. I may offend some people who love their virtual backgrounds, but hopefully inform others.
The main point you need to understand is, virtual backgrounds usually make you look worse instead of better.
Look at Me!
When the pandemic hit around 50 weeks ago, most people had never used Zoom, or knew what virtual backgrounds were. We’ve learned a lot about computer technology over the past year and unfortunately when it comes to virtual backgrounds, some people have learned too much.
People soon discovered a feature on Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms where you can insert a photo or video behind you on the screen. If you have a messy bookshelf, a bland off-white wall, or a bunch of junk behind you, you can quickly eliminate it all and fill the background with a nice photo.
They’re kind of cute and we’ve all heard the comments from people who have that Zoom beach video behind them. “I’m taking in the meeting from the beach guys.” Ha ha ha ha. Or perhaps somebody has a golf photo behind them and they tell co-workers “Let’s hurry up and get this meeting over, because I have a 2pm tee time.” Ha ha ha ha.
Here’s the problem. Unless you have good lighting and a greenscreen (solid green background) and a good computer, you likely are not going to have a good look.
Here’s short part of the video I released last week showing what can happen.
I see this happen far too often. People check their virtual look by staring into the camera and they look fine. Unfortunately, as soon as they move their head, or get their hands into the shot, that good look turns into something weird. To make matters worse, they often don’t know.
They Make You Look Worse
Here’s the other thing that most people don’t understand. They use virtual backgrounds to look better, but they actually make you look worse. Let me explain.
In addition to the shadows that can kill your online look, there often is an outline around your head and shoulders, especially if you don’t have proper lighting. I’ve even seen professional TV commercials done against a greenscreen in a studio where you can easily see an outline around the body and it doesn’t look natural.
To make things worse, unless your lighting is spot on, when the virtual background feature is turned on, a white sheen often is placed over the person’s face. The background may look great, but look of the person’s face is off.
The sad result is, the background looks better, but you look worse, so the virtual background is counterproductive. What’s more important - the way you look on video, or the way your background looks?
That’s not a trick question.
Here's How to Do It
Don’t you also wonder about what a person is hiding when use a virtual background? I do. I often find myself trying to picture what their background really looks like without that overused shot of the bridge behind them.
People need to understand that in Zoom, the virtual backgrounds will not work unless your computer’s processing speed meets a certain standard. Many older computers can’t make virtual backgrounds work. That should tell you how much of the computer’s juice is needed to make them operate.
I have written before about how people can make themselves look better doing media interviews over video, or doing virtual meetings. I’ve done several videos too as part of my Media Training Minute series.
If you want to look great on video and have a little money to spend, take these three steps. Buy a roll of a neutral-coloured seamless paper and tack it onto the wall behind you. Dress up an old bookcase with books and a couple of plants and put that in front of the papered wall. Try to keep the bookcase a few inches away from the wall to create depth - the more room the better. Buy a webcam and an external microphone and grab a lamp you already own and put it on the desk just behind your camera and you’ll look great. The cost will be less than $300.
Let’s face it, we’ll be talking over video for at least the next year and maybe a lot longer, so you’ll get a lot of use out of your new look and you’ll sound a lot better too.
In the meantime, lose the virtual background.