How to Create a White Background in Your Video

Published on January 13, 2011

The background color of your frame makes an impact. In fact, it helps set the tone of the video. The black background I showed you previously suggests a more serious tone. A white background suggests a more up-beat, happy tone.

A white background is more difficult to create than a black one, but it's still not super complex -- nothing compared to doing green screen lighting well.

Overexpose the Background to Make It Become Completely White

If you overexpose anything, it becomes totally white to the camera. It's easy to do with large white background paper, so that's what I use. You could also use a white wall, or really anything that you can overexpose. If you have something blue and you're able to overexpose it, you could make it become white too.

How do know if it's overexposed? Many video cameras have the ability to turn on "zebras". These are moving zebra stripes that appear on the LCD screen (not the recorded image) wherever the image is 100% exposed or more. Some cameras have the ability to set multiple zebras, one for 100% and one for 70% as an example. If your camera can show zebras, congratulations. It makes shooting video a lot easier because you can more simply see what's overexposed.

Most of the time, we try NOT to overexpose things, but when you want a completely white background, you can do it intentionally.

Two Different Zones of Lighting

I should probably call this something else because I don't want you to get confused with the zone system from Ansel Adams. That's not what I'm talking about. When I refer to zones, I mean two separate lighting setups that are far enough from each other that one zone doesn't have an effect on the other.

Lighting diagram showing light positions for white background

In this case I create one zone for the subject consisting of:

  • A Key Light
  • A Fill Light
  • A Back Light

These lights create a typical three-point lighting setup on the subject.

In the second zone, I use one broad light to overexpose the background. Broad lights are great for this because you can put them fairly close to the background, and the beam is so wide that it can illuminate a lot of the background with an even level.

If it doesn't quite cover the whole thing, you could always add some supplementary lights. The point is try to create an even, flat, illumination that barely overexposes the background.

What do I mean by flat and even? It's best not to have too many hot spots. Hot spots are areas that are much brighter than the rest of the subject.

Anyway, I consider zone two to be a separate subject, so it requires separate lighting.

A Couple More Tips

If you overexpose the background too much, you can create problems for yourself. It's almost like the background becomes a giant light source, and when you point the lens directly into a light source like this, it can create lens flare which can de-saturate the image. It can also reduce contrast. You might not want a washed out low contrast image, so be ready to shade the lens. A lens shade, mattebox, or flag can help.

And you might need to bump up the contrast and saturation in post production.

Have you used white backgrounds in your videos before? Are there additional tips you want to add? Feel free to post your feedback in the comments below.

This article was last updated on October 6, 2020


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