How to Create a Black Background Behind Your Subject

I know that not everyone likes a black background behind their subject. In some situations, I don’t either. But I use it a lot. It’s easy to set up. It draws attention to the speaker, and it makes colors come alive.

The black background look is great for interviews if the location of your speaker isn’t important.


It totally depends on the situation, but a black background in your video can be a good idea for several reasons:

Black Backgrounds Are Easy to Set Up

You don’t need extra lights for the background. In fact, you want to try to keep the light off the background.

A Black Background in Your Video Eliminates Distractions

One of the most common distractions I see in videos is a busy background. Clearly people would prefer to look smart on camera, but I think it’s a mistake to err on the side of putting your subject in front of book shelves that are loaded with multi-color book spines.

(I can’t be the ONLY person who tries to see what the book titles are…)

It might be helpful to think of things this way — anything we choose to put in the frame with our subject, is potential competition with our subject. If it supports the subject, then great — leave it in. But if not, then it might be best to take it out completely.

A black background helps do this. It takes away any sense of location and helps the viewer focus on the speaker, and I think especially on their ideas.

A Black Background Makes Colors Pop

Colors appear more saturated and lively against a black background. That’s generally something I like to do to.

One Caution

A black background adds a serious tone, so it’s probably best for adults and more serious ideas. I generally wouldn’t shoot comedic material against a solid black background.

Can you imagine the Apple “I’m a Mac” commercials in front of a black background? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It wouldn’t work.

How to Create a Black Background

  1. I use non-reflective black fabric from FJ Westcott. Personally I’ve found heavy black fabric to be less reflective than black paper, so it’s easier to have the background go completely black.
  2. Keep light off the fabric.

I recommend you try this technique on an interview and see if you’re happy with the results. Like I mentioned, it’s not the best thing in every situation, but it’s hard to go wrong with a black background.

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Comments

    • says

      In this video I was about six feet away, but I’ve managed to have the background go completely black when the subject was only three feet away.

      The trick is to keep the light ON the subject, and OFF the background. Sometimes I have to use an eggcrate in my softbox to keep soft light from spilling onto the background.

      Overall though, I still think it’s the easiest type of background to create on video. And of course it looks great, and it makes what people say seem so profound and significant.

  1. says

    Hey Izzy, I’ve tried doing the black background but don’t have the space to be far enough for it to work. I do have a green screen setup. Do you recommend using this and then blacking out the background?

    • says

      Green screen will work, but it’s MUCH more difficult to pull off successfully than a black background. Green screen takes extra lights when you’re shooting, and it takes extra work in post to key out the green. Also, it rarely looks good. Even in full-budget feature films, it frequently looks bad. So I recommend staying away from it as much as possible.

      I definitely prefer shooting the black in camera.

      Of course, you could also go the opposite direction and create an infinity white background. I’ve already made a video that shows how to do that, so I’ll try to post it over the next few days.

      I hope that helps!

      • says

        Yeah, I thought you would say that. I’m going to have to try to see what I can do because I REALLY like using a black backgrounds for my videos where it’s just me talking. Maybe I should buy a bigger house to facilitate my internet video habits. Lets see if I can convince my wife, lol :)

        • says

          Instead of buying a bigger house… (LOL!), try putting an eggcrate on the softbox and moving it around to the side a bit, so it’s almost like “side lighting” you. This will keep the spill light off the background, giving you a black background even if it’s only a foot or two behind you.

          It can be done!

  2. Bryan Rawiri says

    Great Video Izzy. Thanks for the tip.
    One question I have is the room. Have you made it completely dark with more of that black material? Have you blocked off all outside light from windows, doors etc? I know this may sound obvious, but have to ask. Cheers Bryan

  3. Peter van Lint says

    Hello Izzy,
    You write: “(I can’t be the ONLY person who tries to see what the book titles are…)” and that’s one of your reasons for the black background. But don’t you think many interviewees just want to be seen with all those impressive booktitles, and see the distraction as an advantage?
    But thanks for your advices,
    Peter van Lint

  4. disqus_bul9anqLx9 says

    greetings to u easy would u please tell me to do a black baground with one ligth or another cheap things

  5. Azzah says

    quick question does the room light need to be turned off first? then get a lamp and put it on the subject?

  6. Jose says

    Hey Izzy,

    Great video, amazing quality and very very useful information. I have a question for you.
    Is it possible to get this kind of black/white background with a DSLR Camera?, or do I need a real Camcorder for that?

    Thanks in advance for your feedback, and thanks a lot for the great value!

    Cheers,
    Jose

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