Green Screen Lighting: A Guide on How to Light a Green Screen

It doesn't matter if you're filming a movie for the indie movie circuit, a television commercial, or a fun YouTube video, a properly used green screen is often the key between a boring or distracting background and a scene that really pops. 

Knowing when you need a green screen is just one aspect of putting together a successful film project. For the video to really pop and make a positive impression, your lighting must be flawless.

Why is lighting important

All the way back in 2016, V Renée was quick to tell people that lighting is a crucial aspect of working with a green screen.

"Even though there's more to pulling off a good key than lighting it correctly, like picking the right chroma color, exposure, and compression, it's definitely one of the most crucial parts, " Renée wrote in a No Film School article, "Without an evenly lit green screen, you can pretty much say goodbye to the prospect of producing a professional-looking image."

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to green screen lighting is that the end result features inconsistent lighting from the background to the foreground, making it impossible to smoothly blend the different elements of the image the filmmaker is trying to create. Instead of looking natural, the effects look artificial and dated.

How to light a green screen

The first step in properly lighting your green screen is looking at the screen itself. No matter what type of material you're using as the green screen it needs to be completely smooth. A single wrinkle will result in uneven lighting and disrupt the final results. 

One of the mistakes many people make when lighting a green screen is the light sources they choose. Many assume that the harder the light source, the better. That's not the case at all. The hard light doesn't cast an even light over the green screen. The end result is one or two hard spots on your screen and a great deal of gradient light.

When it comes to your green screen, you want to look for large light sources that cast a soft light. The soft lights remove hard spots and choosing a light source that illuminates your entire green screen ensures the lighting is perfectly even.

The minimum number of lights you should use for lighting your green screen is two, and that's only if you have a relatively small screen. Green screen lighting experts suggest that when it comes to green screens, more light is always better than less. Arrange the lights so that the light doesn't overlap. In his article, The Basic Fundamentals of Lighting a Green Screen, Norm Kroll recommends using three light sources and states that he prefers to set one light on either side of the green screen, with the third set back a little bit and placed at a 45-degree angle.

Don't mix and match your lights. Use the same type of light sources for the entire screen. Sticking to the exact same type of lighting reduces shadows and hard spots.

Most of the tweaking you're going to do to your lights will come once you place your subject in front of the green screen. You want to make sure that the lighting is set up in such a way that it will blend seamlessly with whatever background you ultimately plan to use. For example, you don't want to use extremely bright lights if you're final goal is a moody nighttime scene. 

If you see a lighting problem while filming, stop and correct it right away. Don't assume that you'll be able to fix the issue in post-production. It's far better to stop shooting, correct the lighting issue, and reshoot. 

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