Zoom with a view: Download a videoconference backdrop for a virtual window to the world
By ANDREA SACHS | The Washington Post | Published: April 29, 2020
A magnanimous colleague or family member might describe my backdrop during online meetings as a blizzardy polar landscape, a whiteout so thick it obscures all natural features. But let’s be frank: It’s a blank wall.
For the time being, our private and working lives are restricted to the indoors, with limited views beyond our window frames. Most days, we may only glimpse the outside world through the keyhole of Zoom, the ubiquitous videoconferencing service. If we’re lucky, a friend or co-worker might be sitting on a deck or rooftop and offer us a peek of their panorama. Otherwise, we are spending an inordinate amount of time staring at kitchen counters, piles of shoes and, yes, unadorned walls.
For an escape from the domestic drudgery, a slew of travel industry players have created scenic backgrounds for Zoom participants. The California-based company is not tracking the proliferation of backdrops, but Amie Dehner, a Zoom spokesperson, said, “We are delighted to know that users are employing travel-themed virtual backgrounds and that those backgrounds enhance their meetings.”
The free images are your mental ticket to travel. (The websites provide instructions on how to download the photos.) You just need to pick a destination or scene, preferably one that will also please the crowd on the other side of the screen. To help, we have curated a sampling of backgrounds that will hopefully move to the foreground one day soon.
Upgrade your desk chair (really, your kitchen table chair) for a business-class United Polaris seat, one of a half-dozen images from the airline. Or give yourself a promotion and settle into the cockpit. Close out your meeting with a moment of calm: a plane wing coasting over a cushion of clouds, with no self-quarantined land in sight. If you're all about dolphins, then download an oceangoing photo from Royal Caribbean, such as one of CocoCay, the Bahamian island playground owned by the cruise line.
Nature and theme parks
Lose yourself in the great outdoors without leaving the indoors. The Wilderness Society has assembled 10 videos and 10 photos of national parks, wilderness refuges, monuments and other natural sanctuaries. Warning: You might end up hypnotizing your colleagues with the videos of swaying grass in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest and swirling clouds in the John Muir Wilderness in California. Explore the many properties and active adventures of the Xanterra Travel Collection, which owns biking and walking tour companies, as well as hotels in or near national parks, such as the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Arizona and the Cedar Creek Lodge, which sits 18 miles outside Glacier National Park in Montana. The National Park Foundation shares six parks from coast (Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts) to coast (Olympic National Park in Washington state). The egret has landed, thanks to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, which offers eight landscapes, including two of the stately suspension bridge. Even though Cinderella and Prince Charming are self-quarantining in her eponymous castle, you can still enjoy the Magic Kingdom with more than a dozen photos from Disney theme parks around the world, including Paris, Shanghai and Orlando, Fl. Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, adds a pinch of Sesame Place to its collection of soothing images, which includes a covered bridge, a lavender farm and barrels of beer at a brewery.
Beach and snow destinations
With Uncommon Caribbean, you’ll be pardoned for wearing work clothes — at least from the waist up — on the beaches of such island getaways as St. John, St. Croix, Barbados and Anguilla. To avoid dragging imaginary sand into your imaginary bungalow, opt for a resort pool in St. Thomas, Nevis, Antigua or the Dominican Republic. For kicks, pretend to hitch a ride on a sailboat or sea lion in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur in northwestern Mexico. Feel the Bahamian waves lapping at your back with tropical settings from the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board. Pump up the party vibe with a snapshot of a Junkanoo, the boisterous street parade celebrated throughout the Bahamas. If you’d rather be skiing than sunning, choose among eight wintry images from Liftopia. You will find perfect conditions: groomed trails, powdery snow and no crowds.
U.S. cities and states
Liven up meetings with a game of Name That State. For example, throw up a backdrop of Denali, Cumberland Island, the DeZwaan Windmill, Parkview Field or Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and see if your colleagues can pick the correct member of the union. (Cheat sheet: Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina.) For a city version, check out the pictures from Galveston, Tex.; Seattle; San Diego; historic New Orleans; Philadelphia (the Eastern State Penitentiary cell block ... too soon?); or San Francisco, which includes a video of sea lions lolling on Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Become a character a la “Night at the Museum” with backgrounds from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, such as a diorama of a giant squid doubling as a face mask for a sperm whale. Hide your Harry Potter obsession with a photo of the New York Public Library’s stuffed stacks, book train or literary lions, who are inspiringly named Patience and Fortitude. Zoom back to another challenging — but, spoiler alert, victorious — time period with the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. If you are late signing onto a meeting, you have the perfect excuse: You were helping George Washington cross the Delaware. Even if you live in a basement apartment, you can still create the illusion of height with Skydeck Chicago, the observation platform on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, the second-tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
A number of specialized travel websites have created a grab bag of images, so you can mix it up during the workweek and keep your colleagues curious about where you might take them next: to see hot-air balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey (Virtuoso), a penguin colony in South Africa (Trip Savvy), the neon-lit skyline of Shanghai (Smarter Travel), the mysterious moai on Easter Island (Airfarewatchdog) or moonwalkers at the Space Center Houston (The Points Guy). Lifestyle photographer Gray Malin has released a handful of his pieces to the public, such as a seaplane view of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. If you need to step out of a meeting to, say, shush your barking dog or console your wailing child, don’t click off the video function. Instead, switch to Malin’s beach photo displaying the message, “I Am Busy,” spelled out in balloons.