We’ve applied acoustic treatments to the walls and to the floors, now the next step towards finishing our DIY video studio is to install a nice backdrop. There are several ways of doing this: using a paper background or painting a wall are the best. Lets take a closer look at all your options.
Plan A: Use a Roll-Paper Backdrop
Roll paper is the most versatile method because it allows you to change your background really easy. Do you want a white background? Just roll down some white paper. Want green screen? Roll down a green paper.
Choose a Support System
Of course this setup involves some extra gear, which comes at a cost.
The most basic kit consists of two stands, a horizontal roll support and a roll of paper. Roll paper backgrounds are available in a wide variety of colors, widths and lengths.
If you know exactly where the roll paper will go, and don’t plan on moving the rolls often, you can also mount brackets to the wall the hold up multiple rolls at once. This makes changing backgrounds very fast. Paper rolls are also easily damaged by transport and handling, and brackets can help reduce waste. So, over time, mounting brackets save you a lot of time and money.
Let’s disregard the shipping; we’re still talking above $150 for a good kit. And that’s only for one paper roll. Yes, you can get it for cheaper, probably, using less durable gear, but I don’t recommend it. Stands, especially, are one of those items that will last forever if you buy good, durable ones.
Personally, I have a paper background kit. It’s a charcoal grey paper that I’ve used in the past for one of my setups:
It’s great to have this setup for working on location. Need to take headshots photos or record talking-head video in an office building? No problem, with the roll paper setup and you’ve got an easy, attractive background wherever you like.
What to Do If There Isn’t Enough Space
I tried using the paper backdrop at first for the new studio, but didn’t like it. The color just seemed too bland, especially when lit properly. The clincher, though, was that my space is a little too small to use the roll paper effectively. Because the space doesn’t allow me to sit very far away from the paper, with my lighting you ended up seeing all the creases and imperfections in it. Not good, time for plan B.
Plan B: Paint the Wall
Plan B is painting the wall. This is the route I went for. It’s not as versatile as the paper background but, since I don’t need the backdrop to change and I am doing this on a budget, this was the right solution for me.
After a trip to a local home improvement store and a $50 hole in my wallet I had everything I needed to paint. Two days and three coats of paint later, the backdrop was ready. It looks like this:
I love this color. It’s not grey, but not black either. It’s very subtle and when lit properly I think it adds just the right amount of color in the shot. Plus, it’s very soothing. And It’s also neutral enough to allow some art on the walls later on (possibly).
Do you want to see how the backdrop looks in the final shot? Alright, I’ll cheat here a little bit and fast forward:
Initially I was considering putting up some art on the wall and spice things up a little but after framing everything and seeing the final shot I decided against it. I want to keep a very simple and clean looking setup and adding other things to that might have over-complicated it.
So for now I’ll keep it nice and simple and I’ll see how it stands the test of time. If I consider it necessary I’ll add more to it in the future.
Plan C: Other Background Options
There are situations where roll-paper or paint aren’t the right solution. Maybe you’re on a tight budget and need to make do while you put your money into something more important. Or maybe you’re working in a place where painting isn’t possible. Or a very tight space. Or a place where you can’t bring in very much gear. Don’t worry! You still have options.
Curtains and Fabric Backdrops
Are there curtains in the room already? You might be able to make a good backdrop in a pinch by drawing them closed. Not ideal, but it can definitely work. Use pins or clips to make sure no light slips through between the curtains.
Another option is to hang fabric on the stands instead of paper. Fabric backdrops, especially randomly patterned ones, are forgiving in a way that paper is not. For example, they can have some wrinkles; the pattern in the fabric will hide the creases. They’re also great for small spaces, and easy to set up and break down. Beware, though, that a textured fabric backdrop look can look very out of date. Choose your fabric carefully.
A large piece of card stock or foam board can work perfectly as a backdrop. The bigger, the better. The disadvantage to this method is that the card or foam board is bulky, and will get dirty quickly when you move it around.
This is one you might have seen collage backgrounds on YouTube. If you have a channel, and most of a time you stick to a certain theme or topic, why not make a collage with images that support that topic?
Use the Room
Besides roll paper, this is usually a great approach on location. Most rooms have at least one wall you can turn into a backdrop. For added interest, try positioning your subject (or yourself) so that their back (and your camera) points into the corner. When you light the scene, the difference in illumination between the back wall and side wall will create a nice composition.
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The Next Step
Now that the backdrop is done it’s time to move on. See that nice shiny desk I’m using? That’s next on the list, and in the following tutorial I’ll be showing you how to install it.