Background for livestreams: Will this video backdrop work?

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The background for video calls matters and can help us look better and more professional. Just like I’ve talked about microphones for your livestream and podcasts, background images and how to get started. Today, let’s talk about how you can improve your livestreams with a video backdrop.

What’s a background for video calls?

Basically, it’s what is behind you when you go live. That can fall into one of three categories, which I will discuss in this article:

Let’s look at each option closer.

What video backdrops work with Zoom, Switcher Studio, Restream and others?

It’s also good to remember what programs allow what kind of video backdrop. Certainly, all video platforms are able to show whatever is actually behind you. As long as your camera works, it’ll show that.

Not all systems allow for virtual backdrops or virtual backgrounds, so it’s always good to ask your host before joining a show.

Let’s dive into the three types of common video backdrops for some ideas for your show.

Your room’s natural video backdrop

This one is easy to describe and the one I use the most. If there’s a bookshelf behind you, that’s your background. If it’s your bed, that’s your background. This is the one I use the most as I livestream my shows via Switcher Studio or Restream.. They do offer video background images for the entire show as as I discussed here. And in Restream you can blur the background and add a virtual background as well. I’m not a fan of these because they look kind of fake.

Usually my natural backdrops looks like this:

At one point, I had nothing back there. That looked too bare. Then I put a couch back there. That didn’t seem to fit and then my daughter wanted to use the couch. Then I added a bookshelf with my books in the background. Sometimes it’s easier to see than others.

My actual video background is pretty simple and can feel like the easiest to setup. Setting things up with your natural backdrop however is still work. It can take some effort to find the right angles. For example, the camera needs to be in one place the captures you the way you want to be captured. It also needs to be place that is still relatively easily for you to look at it.

For example, one of my more recent setups looks like this from behind the ring light.

In another setup, I moved the camera more behind my monitor. For it to not be too high, though, you can often still see the edge of the monitor.

Jeff Koslofsky gave a few other options.

“I’ve always liked the look of a simple plant – real or fake. That adds nice color,” he said. “I’ve also seen people put a desk lamp on top of a shelf in the background.”

To enhance your background for video calls, consider adding plants or other accessories.

Background for video calls - plants

Some types of lightbulbs allow you to change the strength of the lighting as well.

Chris Pierre Giles shared that different colors of lights can also make a difference.

“The reason that I choose and love to use RGB LED lights is due to their versatility. Depending on my mood I can change the feel of the room and stream at the push of a button,” he said.

Add background lights

I only use virtual backgrounds when I’m on a show that is recording with Zoom.  Here’s the one I usually use – especially when I talk about “Going Live.”

Background ideas for video calls Virtual backgroundsThis option gives me the opportunity to promote the book a bit more, while also keeping out the actual sight of my office. As you can see the three hosts all use their natural backdrop.

There are also virtual cameras that you can look at and evaluate. These can be used with any program and you simply pick them as your camera.

My guest on this show was using one for example and we were using Switcher Studio.

Background ideas for video calls - virtual cameras

Physical backdrops behind you

Another option is to have physical backdrops behind you. Some examples that you can order on Amazon include a wood backdrop.

A brick wall background.

Window backdrop.

Green screen.

Keep in mind that the streaming program that you use must allow green screens if you are intending of super imposing something – like a virtual background. If they don’t, your background will just be green.


bookshelf backdrop

Skyline backdrop.

I like some of the options available. One thing to be aware of when you order online: Make sure you know how to stand the backdrop. The stand and clips often need to be purchased separately. Often Amazon recommends them as well when you are adding a backdrop to your cart.

I did take the plunge and got a physical backdrop. It took a bit of setup and maneuvering it around, but overall I’m very happy with it. Here’s how it looks in the entirety of my office and studio.

On video it looks like this:

background on video

Backdrops pros and cons

There are pros and cons and I was leaning towards keeping it all natural for my background. Some backgrounds might also not work for your brand. For example, how authentic is it if I talk about authentic storytelling and my background is some fancy office? But my real office is in my home’s basement?  Consider: Does this specific video background work for my brand?

Also, what do you do when somebody asks about your background: “Wow. That bookshelf looks so perfect!”

Do you just smile because you don’t want to say it’s a physical backdrop bought on Amazon and not really a shelf filled with books you’ve read or even own?

If I was using a physical backdrop and if it were to come up in conversation on a show, I just move my camera around to show viewers my setup. Why not?

Having a nice setup though can help our livestreams look better. Even if you don’t want to invest in a physical backdrop, stand and clips, which will cost around $100, setting up good framing of yourself and what’s behind you can also go a long way.

For example, I find the framing in my office much nicer when I’m sitting. My ring light also is easier to user when I’m seated. That just means that I need to plan to have my standup desk in the down position when I’m ready to go live.

I also would not recommend to focus on video backdrops as the first step when you start going live. As I mention in my book “Going Live,” out of the gate focus on:

  • the strategy of the show
  • the topic
  • the schedule
  • the distribution
  • audio

Then slowly add other features that improve your show. Having a good video backdrop is one of those improvements.

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