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February 06, 2010

Lighting 101: Green Screen

Written by Jeff Sobel

 

Green screens allow you to record your subject in front of a background that can be removed and replaced with anything you wish.  They’re used in special FX shots and routinely in nearly all modern news broadcasts and talk shows.  Once found only in professional broadcast studios, the technology has now trickled down and has beocme common in the pro-sumer world as well.  It’s even possible to make your own make-shift green screen backdrops, often with very useable results.

The first thing to know about using a green screen is lighting it properly.  You don’t need a huge light kit to do this; you may only need to add a single light or two to your normal kit for a small screen (a 5’ screen will serve you well for a single subject, medium shot).  See the following diagrams, borrowed from our friends at Litepanels:

Light your subject normally.  A Litepanels 1x1 Spot makes an excellent key light, with a 1x1 Flood as a fill light, each at about a 30° angle on your subject.  You’ll then need a backlight; this helps separate your subject from the background and is essential in any lighting setup.  Another 1x1 will work here, either spot or flood, and if you can position it above the green screen you should be able to achieve a good result.

When you are happy with the light on your subject it’s time to light the green screen.  The screen is lit separately from the subject and the most important thing is to ensure it is lit evenly with no shadows.  One of the great things about Litepanels LED lights, besides their very low power consumption and heat output, is the extremely even spread of light they throw.  Traditional lights generally have hotspots which need to be counteracted with various types of diffusion. Even when diffused, most traditional lights still exhibit perceptible hot areas; you’ll often need to cross-light the background with two lights to achieve a consistent light across the screen.  The remarkably even light thrown by a Litepanel, however, means that a small green screen can often be lit by a single 1x1 Flood light.

Working with a green screen requires some space.  You want to have about the same distance between the subject and the screen as you have between the camera and the subject.  This will help eliminate shadows on the screen and prevent light from bouncing off the screen and spilling green onto your subject.  Either of these things will make pulling the key harder.


A well-recorded green screen shot will be easy to pull a key from using the tools built-in to Final Cut Studio, After Effects, Avid, or using a 3rd party plugin like DV Garage’s dvMatte Blast.

Next week we’ll show you Reflecmedia’s revolutionary Chromatte fabric. It’s a green screen that doesn’t need to be lit at all.

Next entry: Lennon Bus Extreme

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