How to Create a White Background in Your Video

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.

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Comments

  1. Larry Vaughn says

    That looks like a ColorTran light. They are good and very cheap on ebay, because they don’t have an ARRI sticker on them.

    • says

      Haha! I bet you’re right. :)

      And it’s crazy because after shooting this video, the light died.

      And your point about Arri being pricey… yes, they definitely cost more. But so far my experience with them has been pretty good. I’ve had problems with my Arri 300W fresnel (in fact I need to send it in for repair), but my others have been very robust. Overall I’m happy with Arri and recommend them, even though they cost a little more.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Photographyexposed.tv says

    Is there a point where you can get too much of a difference in brightness between zone 1 & 2? In photography, I hear people talk about a 2 stop difference in the lighting of the background to the subject, to allow it to go fully white…but they say not to go beyond that because it starts to feel like it bleeds in the subject. Does your 15′ separation prevent that, or is that still a concern? For example, if you metered 5 stops brighter on the background than the subject area (zone 1 to zone 2), would that screw up your video on your subject?

    -Brian
    http://www.PhotographyExposed.tv

    • says

      Yes, you can get too much light. If you blast the background with light, then it becomes another light source — so it’s like putting your subject in front of a window. You lose saturation and contrast. There’s a nice balance where you can get it to over-expose (barely), but not ruin the image.

      I don’t know about 2 F-stops always over-exposing, but it sounds like a nice rule of thumb to me. The zebra stripes make it super simple to know what part of the image is over-exposed. I’d say it’s a good idea to get to the zebras, but not much further than that.

      Excellent question! It makes me want to run some tests on my camera to see how many stops above the subject before it goes white. :)

  3. Jeff Long says

    Great video Izzy. We use that for our clients and it instantly gives an interview or other video a high end professional look.

    Thanks for posting this.

  4. Tacgroup2 says

    Great stuff Izzy! I am/was a beginning videophile last year and with the help of the Izzy Video site I made my first white background vids several months ago. I experienced a lot of the over saturation and lighting issues but I guess that’s why we practice. The big takeaway from my experience to this point is the distance between the subject and the background. I was always too close to the background and it makes it difficult to get a nice clear subject.

    Thanks for the vids!

  5. Martin says

    Hi
    Love your vids. How about LED lights. I know they are expensive but looking at the iKan ID500 light kit this looks like a good deal. I ‘think’ that also with using these lights we don’t need softboxes?

    • says

      I wasn’t familiar with these lights, so I briefly looked into them. Off-hand, I’d say they look like pretty good options for a smaller light source (and for the money).

      Downsides? Because of their relative size to the subject (if the subject is a person), I think the light will be a little harder than what most people like. Because their output is only the equivalent of 500W tungsten, I don’t think it would have enough strength to punch through a typical diffusion fabric. So it would be difficult to make it much softer than what it already is.

      My other concern with this light is that I couldn’t find the CRI rating anywhere. I definitely recommend you call the manufacturer and find out the CRI (the color rendition index — how accurately colors show up beneath the light). If it’s not published proudly on their product page, my guess is that it’s rated under 90%. And 90% is considered a minimum for photography (and therefore videography).

      I hope that helps!

      All the best,

      Izzy

  6. Jamie Mac says

    Hi,

    I want to film on a white background and am trying to figure out what lighting set up to use.

    I have a set of three 1000watt halogen softboxes that I wanted to use for my subjects zone. I don’t however have lights to blow out the background. I was thinking that I could just buy a couple of 500watt halogen work lights and point them at the background.

    My question is however, will the 500watt work lights be able to compete with my 1000watt softboxes, i.e. will the background still get blown out?

    Thanks!!!

  7. Jamie Mac says

    Also, how important is a subject back light for this sort of set up, I’ve seen it done well without one (e.g. OliviaTech video) but then I see you have done it, so how much of a difference does it really make when your edges are going to be blown out anyway?

    Thanks!

  8. Timothy says

    Thanks for this video. We’re not professional but need to make some videos with this sort of look for our charity. What lights do you use or what lights should we buy? We’re in MExico City and want to buy some lights or possibly have them shipped here.

    thanks for the help :D

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