Zoom’s virtual backgrounds are one of the features that make it a stand-out choice for professionals working and meeting remotely. There’s no green screen required and all it takes is a few clicks or taps to hide a messy room from coworkers, friends, and family.
The default Zoom background options are limited, though: Depending on which Zoom app you’re using, you can only hide the room behind you with the Golden Gate Bridge, some blades of grass, or a shot of Earth from outer space (Figure A).
Creating your own Zoom virtual background is, at first glance, simple: Click the plus sign next to the default image options and you can add any image you want. That doesn’t mean your custom image will look good, though.
Note: Virtual backgrounds are supported on Windows, macOS, and iOS machines that meet the minimum requirements, though machines that don’t meet those requirements can still use virtual backgrounds with varying result quality. Android devices do not currently support virtual backgrounds in Zoom.
SEE: How to use Zoom: 14 tips and tricks (TechRepublic download)
How to determine the size and shape of your custom Zoom background
First, if you’re not sure how to use Zoom virtual backgrounds you can learn how to do so with these TechRepublic tutorials for Zoom desktop virtual backgrounds and iOS virtual backgrounds. The rest of this tutorial assumes you are familiar with turning virtual backgrounds on and off.
Zoom doesn’t actually restrict the image size or dimensions usable as virtual backgrounds, so any image will work. If the image you want to use doesn’t match the aspect ratio of your camera, however, portions of it will be cut off, as in Figure B.
Each of the color bars in the 1280 x 1024 image I set as my virtual background should be the same width, but they’re cut off at the edges because Zoom automatically centers images.
To make your images fit properly, and look good, you need two things:
- An image that matches the aspect ratio of your webcam.
- An image of high enough quality that it doesn’t look fuzzy when blown up in Zoom.
To find the aspect ratio of your webcam in macOS, click on the Apple icon | About This Mac | Support | Specifications. A web page will open with your system specs where you can look for info about your webcam.
In Windows 10, open the Camera app, then the Settings menu. Here you can verify and change your camera settings.
Most built-in webcams in modern laptops are either 720p or 1080p, which means they have a 16:9 aspect ratio. 16:9 images include those of 1280 x 720 pixels and 1920 x 1080 pixels. Some webcams have (or can be set to) a 4:3 aspect ratio, which includes images of 1024 x 768 pixels and 1280 x 1024 pixels.
SEE: 15 Zoom tips to improve your video conferences while telecommuting (TechRepublic)
Finding the right custom Zoom virtual background
Once you know the aspect ratio of your camera, it’s time to find an image and this is where you can get inventive.
The key to picking the right image for use as a virtual background is important. It it’s too dark it may be hard to see; if it’s too bright or busy, it will distract from the call.
TechRepublic contributor Andy Wolber said he has had great results with a blank blue background with his Twitter handle on it—It’s minimal, not distracting, and provides essential information for those who want to contact him outside of Zoom.
Most people have a mobile device filled with photos and any of them can work as well. Just know that your mobile phone may not have the same aspect ratio as your webcam, so you may end up with images that get cut off, especially if they weren’t taken in landscape mode.
Lastly, there are stock photos and other images available freely online. When choosing an image from the internet, it’s important to make sure you have the rights to use it, so make sure the image source specifically says it doesn’t require licensing or attribution.
Stock photo sites like Pexels offer professional stock photos completely free of restrictions, but images found through a web search or on social media may require getting permission.