Cancel your Deal with Zoom’s Virtual Background Devil

by Barrett

Fabricating the illusion of a faux background for your Zoom calls may seem like a good idea, until you realize what you’re giving up. Here’s why it may be a bad deal.

I once believed the goal for Zoom backgrounds was to try to mimic a uniform environment, like walking into an average conference room. Or even better… attempt to mimic that clean, all-white background that Apple is famous for.

That would be so much better than revealing the cluttered background of my home office.

The Lure of Using Fake Zoom Backgrounds
So, I bought white and green pop-up screens and tried squeezing them into the space behind my desk.

But most of us don’t live in an empty 30’x30’ TV studio where this type of staging is easier to pull off.

I eventually succumbed to the reality that using a big enough green screen to pull off a full-shot chroma key during my iMac’s Zooms rendered my home office unusable. There just wasn’t enough space!

The only reasonable choice was to use the standard Zoom keying option that doesn’t take advantage of a green-screen background. And though it’s pretty amazing that Zoom can pull a key at all without using a green screen, the trick just doesn’t work as well.

As a result, you can almost always tell when someone is using a virtual background on Zoom. You can see that eerie black glow around someone’s head. And there’s that sudden, momentary disappearance of a hand. You’re not really fooling anyone when using a digital background. By now, I think we’ve all gotten used to that fake Zoom look.

Some of us even flaunt it when they place nature shots or outer space behind them. Yes, it’s a neat trick… once or twice, but eventually you need to come back to earth. I think you should have an image behind you that doesn’t make you look like you’re in a video game.

In Search of the Almost Real
I experimented with using photos of other rooms in my house as my Zoom background in the attempt to maintain some sense of visual authenticity that’s true to my real environment. I eventually landed on a reasonable shot of my living room.

Yes, you could still tell I was using a virtual background, but at least I wasn’t hanging out in someone else’s home!

Offer More of Your True World
While using a photo of my living room did meet my bar for authenticity, I still felt restricted Zooming in a virtual space. Ultimately, I just wasn’t comfortable. The tradeoff wasn’t worth it.

So I cleaned up the clutter of my home office the best I could and turned off my virtual background.

Yes, I went cold turkey on virtual backgrounds. And you know what? It’s felt so much better. The shot represents more of my true life, warts and all.

So here’s a radical suggestion:

  • Even if you believe your space is a disaster and unfit for your video conference viewers, if you do some preproduction staging, I think you can create a look that you’ll be comfortable with.

Unless you’re stuck Zooming in your bathroom, there’s probably a corner in your home that you can make work. Yes, any number of disturbances from your life may be only a few feet away. And we all want to minimize visual and audio interference that may prevent us from communicating clearly.

That’s different than trying to hide from your own environment.

By now, everyone expects visual imperfections on Zooms. The opportunity is to turn your world’s imperfections into an authentic experience. And that can ultimately be such a refreshing change up for your viewers.

Maximize your Reality Instead of Fabricating an Illusion
Showing it like it is means you’re sharing a more personal experience. And I think your Zoom viewers will really appreciate that.

Unclick the virtual box and stop the illusion. You don’t have to hide anymore.

It feels wonderful.