I’m suddenly finding myself in a lot of Zoom meetings and it’s embarrassing that everyone can see what a messy house I have. On my last call I noticed someone was at the beach! I’m sure it’s a fake background; how can I use virtual backgrounds on my Zoom calls too?
There’s lots to be said for virtual meetings, lectures and conferences when you can “attend” from the comfort of your own home or home office. Some people have a room dedicated for this and their background looks neat, clean and professional. For the rest of us, however, the decor of our home with its various “accents” from children’s art, toys, piles of dirty laundry, books, games, DVDs and pictures just a little bit askew can end up looking pretty clumsy and awkward in a call with the boss or 50 of your colleagues.
With the recent popularity of Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts for even one on one meetings, it’s no surprise that people are being dropped into these tools without proper training. Zoom is the newcomer on the block and even as recently as late 2019 it was relatively unknown. Nowadays it’s everywhere and I know we’re using it to teach, consult with colleagues and meet with clients. Which of course leads back to that same question of what the $#@$%# is that in the background??
Fortunately the Zoom app has a pretty slick feature called “virtual backgrounds” that let you replace your existing background with an image or even video sequence of your choice, whether you have a fancy green screen for a chroma key substitution or not. In fact, the regular image processing is startlingly good, though you do need a relatively modern computer for the needed processing power so it’s not available on all setups and configurations.
To set it up, join a call as you normally would. Here’s one that’s rather jam packed with attendees:
If you look closely you can see I have a blue sky and rainbow behind me, Jason has a big rocket behind him and looks like he’s in a missile silo, Audrey looks like he’s on the beach in Hawaii and both Scott and Stephen look like they’re outdoors too. Everyone else is clearly and obviously at home. The three who aren’t at home are using these virtual backgrounds.
To get to this feature, you’ll want to click on the “^” to the right of the video camera icon on the lower left. Don’t click on the camera, that turns off your video stream to the group. Just the arrow. A menu pops up:
As highlighted, choose “Choose Virtual Background…” and you’ll move into that portion of settings:
Now you can see what’s behind me; a beautiful painting. Complicated and distracting, for sure. To switch to one of the virtual backgrounds I’ve already loaded into Zoom, I can simply click on the image in the gallery below. The change is instant and everyone on the call sees it too:
I’ve pre-loaded a few favorites from my extensive desktop wallpaper collection, including the one shown above: A rainbow. If you have a green screen behind you check that box and make sure you aren’t wearing any green clothes. You’ll see why. If not, while you’re in the settings screen, move your head around and notice how there’s some artifacting in the graphics process that subtracts your existing background. Can be a bit weird looking so if you are front and center and tend to move around a lot, it might not work great.
If you don’t yet have any images or want to add a new photo or video, click on the “+” on the right side, approximately central in this window. It pops open a tiny menu with two choices:
I recommend the largest image sizes you can find (at least 1000 x 800) and if you are going to use a video, the longer the sequence, the less distracting it will be. Waves on a beach can be great. People walking past? Might be quite distracting.
Once you have some images loaded, it’s ridiculously easy to move from one “location” to another with just a click…
Or even, yes, to that beautiful beach:
And that’s it. Once you’ve loaded a background image or video into the Zoom app, it’ll be available forever! Now, back to that beach…
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about how to get things done online forever. Please check out my extensive computer help library for lots more tutorials while you’re here!