How to handle green screen lighting like a pro

We’ve all seen bad green screen effects before. Truthfully, they stick out like a sore thumb. One of the most common reasons for this unfortunate occurrence is improper green screen lighting.

For example, an improper lighting setup could leave an uneven shadow gradation on the green screen, making it much harder for editors to chromakey the green out of the shot. When it comes to professional chromakeying, good lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of the effect. While lighting a green screen is relatively easy, it can be a bit tricky if you’re new to chromakeying and have never done it before. You want to make sure you light your screen correctly. Otherwise, it’s going to take a lot of fixing in post and could even ruin the take and force a reshoot.

So, if you want to learn how to light a green screen correctly, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about green screen lighting.

What’s the purpose of lighting your green screen?

The ultimate goal of any successful green screen lighting setup is to make sure the light runs smoothly across the green screen. This allows you or your editor to easily key out the green in post. Any uneven inconsistencies on the screen will make it harder to key out the screen in post. Your setup needs to have a balance luminance, meaning the entire screen is one luminance (the same exact green hue).

Things to consider before lighting the screen

Always light your subjects first

Before you light your green screen, you should always first make sure your subjects are properly lit for the scene. Your focus should first and foremost be put into ensuring your characters will believably look like they’re living the environment you plan to key them into. Green screen lighting is simple to do, so you shouldn’t put all of your energy into it. Lighting your subjects is a much more creative process and requires more attention, whereas lighting your green screen can only be done right or wrong. 

Keep your subject at a distance from the screen

Many green screens are quite reflective, meaning if you’re subject’s too close to the green screen, there will be spillage. Spill, when in reference to green screening, is when the green luminance of the screen reflects onto the subject. This causes issues in post-production and will require extra time to ensure you don’t key off parts of the subject.

Keep your subject as far away from the green screen as possible. The further away you get from the screen, the less chance there will be for spill.

Determine your screen’s material

The material you choose for your green screen will affect the type of lighting setup you need. For instance, most high-budget productions build an entire set with green painted walls as their green screens. This is best because walls are always wrinkle-free, ensuring the luminescent is always balanced as long as there’s enough light.

However, this option isn’t cheap and isn’t at all portable. Typically, people use either a fabric green screen or a fold-out screen. However, they require a little more work to set up and may have a few wrinkles on them. You want to make sure you get rid of as many wrinkles as you can to ensure the keying process goes smoothly. Keep your screen as tight as you can make it. Most fabric green screens are held up by a metal frame with tighteners.

Consider your screen’s size

Your green screen’s size is also something you need to consider. If you’re working with a larger screen, it will require more light than a smaller screen. Regardless of the size of your screen, they both follow the same setup rules. You’ll just need to shell out a few more bucks and get more lights. If you have the means, you can always make your own green screen for your home studio. Here’s a guide on how to make your own DYI green screen.

How to position your lights for your green screen

When you’re positioning your light, you want to make sure both lights you have on the left and right side are the same exact distance from the green screen. This ensures there aren’t any hotspots. You also want to place your lights on the sides of the screen rather than head-on. This is because if you position the lights directly at your subject, the shadows from the subject will be in the camera’s frame. To avoid this, have your lights placed on the sides so the shadows of the subject are out of frame.

Image courtesy: NewTek

When you’re setting up your lights, you want to have a key light and fill light. You also need to have at least two screen lights. If you’re using just one light, place the light above your subject. This will cast an even light onto your background. Make sure the light you use is powerful enough to light the entire area and is diffused enough to cast an even light across the screen.

Depending on your situation and your main lighting for your subject, there could be a number of different positions for lights that work. You can play around with the positioning of the lights to make sure they work with your main lighting. However, always make sure you mirror your lights for your green screen to keep the lighting exposure the same.

Expose your green screen correctly 

To make sure your green screen is correctly exposed, you can get through your camera’s settings and slightly lower the brightness than normal. This ensures you don’t capture non-green colors. Set your camera to a lower ISO as well. Having a lower ISO prevents hints of various colors from showing up in your shot. However, if you lower your ISO too much, you run the risk of underexposing your shot, which is just as bad as overexposure.

Getting the right equipment for green screens

There are a few green screen lighting kits available online. There you can get the materials you need to set up a green screen. As for the lights, you still want to get quality lights, but if you want to save some money on budget lights, that’s okay. You just want to make sure you get enough light and have the same type of light. No matter what, you never want to mix color temperatures. This will make different colored green hues on the green screen on the different sides of the green screen.

Take the time to do it right

Improper lighting for your green screen can put a wrench in your workflow. While you can usually fix most mistakes in post, it’s going to take more time and effort away from finishing the project. It’s always easier to fix any issues on set. So, the next time you’re lighting a green screen, keep in mind what has been discussed here.

Correctly-done green screen effects can really immerse your audience into the story you’re telling. Properly lighting your screen helps ensure your audience isn’t taken out of the experience you want your audience to feel when watching your video.

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's managing editor.

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