As we’ve all grown more used to video calling for everything from school to birthday parties, the importance of the right background has started to become noticeable. Depending on the scenario — and who you need to impress — you might want something plain or funny, but you have to make sure you always get it right.
You probably don’t need us to tell you how seriously some people are taking the issue of video chat backgrounds, and a badly placed book can be the difference between a success or a failure. Luckily, you don’t actually have to rely on the real world at all if you have an appropriate image or illustration you can use instead.
We’ll cover the native options in your most-used video-chatting software below, but there are also a slew of video chat plug-ins you can use to add even more options. Something like Mmhmm can plug into most video-conferencing tools, offering an even wider choice of backgrounds (like a live video feed, for example) and background settings.
Here’s how to customise your video background.
We’ll start with the app that’s seen the most sensational growth during the global pandemic: Zoom. In the desktop app, you can click on the arrow just by the Stop Video button when you’re on a call, and then choose Video Settings and Background & Filters to get to the options. You can get to the same screen by clicking the cog icon to the top left of the main interface before a call has started (this all assumes that background changes have been approved by the host of the meeting).
You’ve got two tabs, Virtual Backgrounds and Video Filters. The first tab lets you drop a static image or a video behind your head. Choose from the limited number of samples available, or pick your own using the + button to the right (make sure to tick I have a green screen if you do). The second tab mixes some Instagram-style filters with some Snapchat-style overlays that will follow your head around (like hats or cat ears).
The option to change your background isn’t available in the Zoom web client or on Android, but it can be found in the iOS app. During a call, tap More, then Virtual Background to pick a static image from the gallery or your iPhone. For now, there’s no option to blur your background in Zoom.
When it comes to Microsoft’s video-conferencing software, you have quite a few options to play around with when it comes to backgrounds. In the desktop app, click the three dots by your name, then Settings, then Audio & Video — the background options are displayed alongside settings for your microphone and speakers.
Skype has a Blur option that Zoom doesn’t have at the moment, which seems to work pretty well at recognising what is actually part of the background and what isn’t. It also has a small but quality selection of background images that you can use if you don’t want to bring your own. Click the + button to pick something from your computer instead. To change these settings during a call, click the More button.
You can’t access these settings if you’re using Skype through a web browser or on Android, but the blur option is available in Skype for iOS — when you’re in a video call, tap the More button then enable Blur my background. For the time being at least, you can’t change your background while on your phone.
Google Meet and Google Duo
Google just upgraded its Meet video-conferencing tool to offer background blur, just in case you need to block out the view of a messy apartment or an unclean kitchen. If you’re using Google Meet in a browser, click the three dots (top right), then Turn on background blur. It’s quite an aggressive blur, and it seems to accurately detect what’s actually in the background, too.
There’s no such option if you open up Google Meet on Android or iOS, and no option to change your background for a virtual one on any platform — though these additional settings are officially on the way, so you might have access to them by the time you’re reading this. You can also change the background with a Google Meet add-on.
As for Google Duo, you can’t change the background at the moment, but you can add a background blur effect if you’re using the phone app. During a call, tap the three dots (lower right) and then choose Portrait. Duo should be able to pick you out from the background and add a blurring effect.
When it comes to Microsoft’s newest app with video calling capabilities, you can both change the background and blur the background, putting it on par with Zoom in terms of functionality. You can do this before you join a meeting or when you’re actually on a call.
If you’re setting up a meeting or waiting to join one, look for the little background settings icon (it’s a small portrait icon). This will open a panel at the side so you can apply a blur effect or load in a background image. If you’re currently in a meeting, you need to select the three dots, then choose Show background effects to get to the same screen. You can preview new backgrounds to see how they look before you apply them.
The background switching feature isn’t currently available on other platforms, but while blurred backgrounds can’t be enabled on the web or in the mobile app for Android, the feature is now rolling out to the Microsoft Teams app for iOS.