At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: virtual backgrounds

Cancel your Deal with Zoom’s Virtual Background Devil

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.

The Secret to Finding your Zen in Zoom

You don’t need to suffer with the mess behind you on your next Zoom video call. It’s time to ‘virtually’ relocate to another part of your home. Here’s how…

Remember when once upon a time, you’d show up for an in-person meeting feeling fabulous? Maybe you had a presentation to do, and you hit it out of the park. After your diligent preparation, your success would ultimately rely on psychology and mindset. To help get you in your ‘zone,’ maybe you’d show up wearing your favorite shirt or shoes. Perhaps you’d arrive at the room early to center yourself and visualize the next hour. Or whatever to get your game face on.

But now, all of that has clearly changed. The good news is Zoom and other video conferencing apps have done some heaving lifting filling in the resulting gaps.

Sure, Zoom has been remarkable at keeping us together, but it can’t entirely replace the in-person experience you may be craving.
(Who knows when any of us will physically walk into a conference room again with other people.)

And as amazing as Zoom has been for many of us, perhaps you’ve been unable to get yourself entirely comfortable with Zoom.

Why is that?

Virtual Backgrounds to the Rescue?
It might be because you’re secretly a little frustrated with how your image has appeared on your recent Zoom calls. I’m certainly not thrilled with how I’ve been showing up.

Sure, I’ve worked hard to improve my lighting in my home office by taking advantage of a nearby window and adding in an Elgato Key Light Air light for soft fill on my face.

I’ve also tidied up my background to help ensure there’s nothing too distracting. I want people to pay attention to me, not my mug collection on the shelf behind my head!

But try as I may, I must accept that my home office background isn’t designed for prime time.

So, in moments of frustration, I’ve sometimes activated Zoom’s ‘Virtual Background’ mode to try to quickly solve the problem.

Assuming your computer or smartphone has the horsepower to switch in a virtual background, the result may seem like a neat parlor trick. However, you’ve got to admit it’s a little hokey using someone else’s picturesque background.

Reality Check
Maybe this isn’t actually a problem for most folks living on Zoom these days. Perhaps their backgrounds are the least of their concerns during the altered reality of COVID-19.

And I must concede this excellent point. Our priorities should probably focus elsewhere.

That said…

If you do have some extra bandwidth to improve your Zoom shot, I’ve got an insight to share about your background that could be a gamechanger.

It’s worked great for me!

Choose an Authentic Virtual Background
As much as I just dissed using virtual backgrounds, I feel they’re actually vitally important to solving the challenge of your Zoom shot from home. But your virtual background can’t be some vacation destination or cartoon image like the Minecraft universe.

That just screams…. VIRTUAL BACKGROUND!

Your background should represent your own reality. And that means some part of your home that you’d enjoy sharing with others. And it’s not important exactly where it is. It matters how that background makes you feel.

Forget all preconceptions about some perfect home-office setting that you don’t have. Instead think about your favorite part of your pad… that’s the place you want behind you!

Bring your Happy Space to your Next Zoom Meeting
But that space may or may not be available to you for your next Zoom meeting. (Others may already be occupying it!) That’s why it’s time to make it your virtual happy space!

Simply take a picture of this favorite spot at home and then use it as your virtual background.

It’s authentic; it’s real; it represents a part of you!

This is my home office via Zoom.

And this is my virtual happy space in Zoom courtesy of our living room.


You’re in your Zoom Zone!
Now, when you show up for your next Zoom meeting, you should feel awesome being exactly where you want to be (at least virtually).

Of course, it’s ironic that your fabulous virtual background will likely fade into the background for your viewers, but that’s exactly what you want.

Because, then you can focus forward on what matters most… Forming a real connection with your Zoom participants.

So go find your Zoom Zen!

%d bloggers like this: