How to do Green Screen Photos Without the Green Screen

How to create green screen photos the easy way

Earlier this week I saw a tool going around Twitter called Remove Image Background. It’s a clever, web-based tool that uses artificial intelligence to identify a person in a photo and remove the background behind them. It’s free, it works on all devices, it doesn’t require a login, and it removes backgrounds surprisingly well. I am sure that it could be used for all kinds of graphic design projects, but like many things, it made me think about green screen.

How to Remove a Background from a Photo

Here’s how easy it is to remove a background from a photo:

  • Go to remove.bg
  • Click the green button to select a photo and upload an image
  • Click Download to save your image without a background

Easy, right? Well there is one caveat. The tool currently only works when there is a person, or a group of people, that can be easily identified in an image. I tried it with a dog, and was soon informed that no people could be detected. This is a current limitation of the artificial intelligence engine. However, as my friend Lynn Kleinmeyer discovered, it does work with Bitmoji, so experiment and you may be surprised at what it can do.

How to Create a Green Screen Photo

In the past, I have been quick to recommend Green Screen by DoInk as a quick and easy way to create some green screen magic. That hasn’t changed. It is still my go-to app, but I do meet an increasing number of people who want to do green screen on Chromebooks. This tool can help with that, and the best thing is, you don’t even need a green screen!

To create your “green screen” image, you need a tool that is capable of layering one image on top of another. There are lots of apps that do that, but for the sake of this demonstration, I am going to show you how to do it in Canva. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Find a suitable background image. (Free image sites like pixabay.com or unsplash.com can be a good place to start)
  2. Open a blank Canva template that is similar in size to your background image
  3. Upload your background image to Canva and resize it to fit your template
  4. Next, upload the image that you created at remove.bg and add that on top of the background image
  5. Resize and move your foreground image to fit the scale and position of your background
screenshot of canva.com showing one image layered on top of another.

If you want, you can also experiment with the image adjustment tools. In the example above, I used Canva’s blur tool to add a faux depth of field to my background, similar to the effect you get on an iPhone Portrait mode picture. You are not going to rival DSLR quality here, but you can still get a pleasing result if you don’t overdo it.

Other apps for layering one photo on top of another include PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. All of these tools will let you export your combined photos as an image file. Pixlr.com would be another good option, and Adobe has apps like Adobe Photoshop Mix that will also work here.

Final Thoughts

For best results, try photographing your students against a plain background. It doesn’t have to be green, but the more separation there is between your subjects and the background in terms of color and texture, the easier it will be for remove.bg to get an accurate result.

Note that remove.bg exports at a maximum resolution of 500 x 500 px. That is not exactly high definition, but if you are shrinking it down against a background, you will likely find that it is sufficient, so long as you don’t plan on printing poster sized images of your final product.

Are you curious about what happens to the files your upload to remove.bg? I was. Their FAQ states that, “Your images are uploaded through a secure SSL/TLS-encrypted connection. We process them, and temporarily store the results so you can download them. After that (about an hour later) we delete your files. We do not share your images or use them for any other purpose than removing the background and letting you download the result.” This is good enough for me, but if you (or your school) have reservations about uploading student images to this website, it is always best to err on the side of caution.

Lastly, I tried this on a desktop web browser, as well as on an iPad and it worked equally well on both devices. This is a free, cross-platform, method that can be used by students of all ages and your final image can be used in other apps or shared as needed.

So, if you are itching to do some green screen work with your students, but you don’t have iPads or even a green screen, give this method a try and see how it turns out. It may not be as good as a proper green screen setup, but for a budget of $0, it is hard to beat!

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