It’s been more than a year since our meetings have left the office and ventured into our own homes through virtual conferencing platforms, mostly Zoom.
At first, it was fun to mess around with different effects and greenscreens, but even that small thrill passed. Digital backgrounds can make your hair look weird, and sudden movements with your arms can distort the image, or make them disappear altogether. In the end it is simply easier and more professional to stick with your real background. People do take notice.
This was proven when early in the pandemic, the Twitter account Room Rater went viral for grading the Zoom backdrops of politicians and commentators. For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, earned a 10/10 for his plants and display of signed baseballs, while New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s sparse white wall scored a 3/10 for “gives off real hostage video vibes.”
This is all to say that just as we need to present ourselves a certain way in our meetings, our backdrops serve the same purpose of exuding professionalism and personality.
4 Ways to Create Real Zoom Backgrounds
Not all of us have access to the kind of money that the subjects of Room Rater have to work with. Regardless though, there are still many ways to make a statement on a budget – and have fun doing it. Here are four ways to do just that:
1. Wrapping Paper as ‘Wallpaper’
There are two types of people in this world: those who hire a professional to hang beautiful wallpaper and those who rent. Like so many others, I fall into the latter category. But even renters can be decorators by picking stylish wrapping paper to fashion into a Zoom background.
Of course, to pull this off, you need a wall, cabinet or maybe even a fridge fairly close behind where you usually work to use as your canvas.
Yes, there is the option of removable wallpaper, but application is difficult and depending on the brand, it could cost hundreds of dollars. Plus, I would be nervous that it may not come off my rented wall as easily as it claims.
A stable but temporary substitution is wrapping paper. You may even have a roll or two left over from December you could use, if it isn’t too holiday-centric. Regardless, even the nicest rolls of wrapping paper cost much less than real wallpaper or removable wallpaper, and look just as good.
- Wrapping paper with enough square footage to cover the area your webcam sees
- Double-sided tape
- (Possibly) Thumbtacks — I bought these and ended up only using two.
- Roll out your first roll of paper and fold it over the top to create a crisp line. Tape the fold down and apply small strips of tape to the top two feet of the roll.
- Position the first panel at the top of the intended wall portion, and press down. You may need a sturdy chair or a stepladder for this.
- Under that panel, add tape to the paper for the next foot, then press it down the wall from the top, taking care to keep it smooth. Repeat this process down the wall until you hit the baseboard or floor.
- Reverse the fold and use tape to tuck the extra paper in. Tape to wall.
- Repeat the process until your area is filled.
2. Faux Flower or Ivy Vine Wall
Displaying DIY greenery and flowers behind you in Zoom calls adds an aura of creativity and freshness that all supervisors want their employers to have. You can carefully choose the flowers to complement the colors of walls or other furniture. Maybe they will say something about you: Sunflowers for your sunny disposition or wisteria to represent your ethereal nature.
There are many online sources to buy fake greenery. Search “artificial flower strands.” Measure the area that you want to decorate to make sure whatever you buy is long enough.
There are two routes you could take with this trick: Flowers or vines. I chose green ivy. I bought a $9 pack of 12 fake ivy vines, which I layered under a funky needlepoint I found at a thrift store.
Here is how it turned out:
I added the kitschy art to give the green a pop of color, but if you go the flower route, you really don’t need anything else.
3. Framed Album Covers
For centuries, music has been a tried-and-true conversation starter. Take advantage of this by artistically displaying your favorite albums. Many of us (or our parents) have old LPs around that are often collecting dust.
Pick out your favorites (or if you want to be a suck-up, your bosses’ favorites) and frame them. If you don’t already have albums on hand, it is worth a trip to your local thrift shop, where they usually go for no more than $10 a piece depending on the rarity. If you can’t find exactly what you want, try eBay. I had fun hunting for covers that expressed my sensibilities.
For a more cohesive look, you choose a theme — albums from the same band, albums of the same genre, or albums from the same decade. I have a penchant for movie soundtracks, so I was on the lookout for film score albums from that decade. The brighter, more technicolored the cover, the better.
I didn’t need to look far to find three perfect albums — together only costing about $15. Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, The Graduate (with Mrs. Robinson’s infamous stockinged leg), and Valley of the Dolls, with doomed starlet Sharon Tate on the cover. In case you don’t remember, Tate was murdered by member of the Charles Manson cult in 1969=
12.5 by 12.50-inch frames made specifically for LPs are available online and at craft stores, but the least expensive ones I found were at Michaels for only $6.49.
Because I needed to fill a wide space, I hung my frames up horizontally. For a Zoom background, you will want to display them vertically.
4. Bring Mother Nature Inside
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there was a period early in the pandemic when I tried having my meetings outside. The weather was good, I hoped the fresh air would make me more alert, and the natural lighting was flattering.
For those perks, there were also the incessant sirens, supernaturally loud birds and bugs just waiting to bite. Luckily, there is a way to compromise. I brought my favorite part of the outside inside. The air conditioning also was a draw.
An easy way to display both your harmony with nature and your decorating skills, is to decorate behind you with classic pressed flower art. You find some on Hobby Lobby for relatively little, but frankly the pickings are pretty sparse and basic looking.
You can create pressed flower art yourself and make the design exactly do your liking. Afterall, getting your hands a little dirty is very much a part of the cottagecore aesthetic after all. You will need a few supplies that can easily be found at the drugstore for a few bucks, but you probably already have around the house (and yard).
- Previously pressed flowers/petals*
- Wax paper
- Elmer’s craft bond stick
- Clear liquid bonding glue
- Thick poster board or watercolor paper
- Picture frame
*You don’t need a whole flower pressing kit to get the same effect. Choose the flowers you like and cut the stem at an angle, trimming off excess leaves. Place the flowers between two pieces of wax paper, and place them within the pages of the heaviest book you can find. After two to three weeks, the flowers will be dry. Use tweezers to get them off the wax paper and transfer to poster board or whatever you will be laying them on to frame.
- If needed, trim your paper/poster board to fit the frame(s).
- For smaller flowers/petals, a coat of standard glue stick should be fine. For the larger ones, bonding or craft glue is more secure.
- Arrange and layer the flowers how you like, and let dry overnight.
- Frame, hang and impress your co-workers.
Olivia Smith is a writer based in Washington, D.C., who has experience in public and political advocacy work. She is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.