As you sit in yet another Zoom meeting, you admire friends or family who appear to be sitting on a beach or in a choice seat at a favorite stadium.
You, too, can make a fake escape by creating a virtual background for your next videoconference session. It's really easy to do. Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams are free to use, and although they charge for extra features, there are no costs for adding a virtual background. All you need is a little know-how to make sure your guests are focusing on you, not what's behind your back.
To enable backgrounds in the three most popular video meeting services, you'll need to actually be in a meeting. So first create one just for yourself, to test the settings.
Zoom can even 'touch up' your appearance
At the bottom left of the screen in Zoom, press the Start Video button to make sure your camera is on. Click on the up arrow ^ for a drop-down menu, then Choose Virtual Background. You'll see a menu pop up with several choices, including blue skies, the Golden Gate Bridge and the northern lights.
Select the image of your choice, or if you'd rather, you can upload your own by clicking the plus + sign. Zoom has tons of additional backgrounds available for free, and you're not limited to what is offered from Zoom.
You also can blur your real background — to keep the focus more on you — by downloading the latest copy of Zoom, version 5.5 or higher, which has Blur as the second Virtual Background option.
If you don't see Blur as an option, you have an older version of the Zoom app installed. To update on a Mac or Windows computer, click on your picture in the upper right corner of the Zoom app and select Check for Updates. On a Mac, you can also go to the zoom.us pulldown menu at the top of your computer screen and select Check for Updates. If you need a newer version, Zoom will download and install it.
To add a soft-focus look to your image, click on Video Settings from that same Start or Stop Video menu at the bottom of the screen and select Touch up my appearance. You can experiment by moving the blue dot to the left or right to find your favorite version of you.
Google Meet has 2 choices to blur background
The program, which can be accessed directly from Gmail by clicking on the icon that looks like nine dots arranged as a square, has three dots aligned vertically on the lower right of the screen. Click on them and select Change Background. You get the usual collection of beaches, clouds and fall leaves and an option to upload your own image.
The same Zoom backgrounds available for download can also be used with other programs such as Meet. And with Meet, you can blur the background to keep the focus on you, either by clicking on the second button at the top of the Backgrounds pane to Slightly blur your background or the third button to Blur your background.