Add Some Zest to your Zoom: Using Archival Photos as Backgrounds

This week I am happy to welcome Andréa Tarnawsky to the blog. She has been working on adding some spice to our staff Zoom calls and I thought it would be great to share what she has been working on. In this guest post, she outlines how to add archival photographs as Zoom backgrounds to liven up your virtual meetings if you don’t have the resources to invite a llama or goat.

Take it away, Andréa…

Finding Creative Ways to Connect

Like many archives across Canada, the City of Coquitlam Archives has been closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even though our doors are closed, we are still here, looking for creative ways to connect our staff and the public to Coquitlam’s history.

Many individuals and our City’s staff (including the Archives Team) have been using Zoom to meet virtually. In a similar vein to UNC Library, Chatham University and several other university libraries, the City of Coquitlam Archives team decided to have some fun with Zoom’s Virtual Background feature.

Zoom’s Virtual Background allows you to transform your regular background with whatever picture you want. With the success of our previous green screen photo booth events with staff, council, and heritage colleagues, the Archives team thought this was the next logical extension.

Fun with archival photos and a green screen

We curated a selection of our favourite digitized historical photographs from our online holdings, so staff and the public can have a piece of Coquitlam’s past as a background to their next Zoom virtual meeting.

Choosing an Image

Here’s how you would download an image from the City of Coquitlam Archives online search portal:

  • Visit Quest to browse for images or choose from our selection below
  • Click on the thumbnail image and a full resolution version will open in a separate window
  • Right-click on the image
  • Click “Save image as…” and save it to your desired location (desktop, downloads, a folder, etc.)

Our Photo Recommendations

Cows, cows, and more cows

The City of Coquitlam Archives has a lot of photographs of cows, specifically the Holstein Herd of Colony Farm. Want a cheeky historical cow photo-bombing you in your next meeting? We’ve got you covered.

To learn more about the prolific herd at Colony Farm, check out our online exhibit, The Legen-dairy Holstein Herd of Colony Farm.

Source: City of Coquitlam Archives, C5-S01-SS01-GN56_141

Back at the Office

Missing your workplace as you work from home? These two photographs can bring back that office culture you so sorely miss.

Source: City of Coquitlam Archives, C5-S01-SS01-GN62_141)

Local Lumber

Take a trip down to the historic Fraser Mills in your next meeting through our selection of interesting photos of the lumber yard.

To learn more about the history of lumber in Coquitlam, check out our online exhibit, Plywood – The Material of Unlimited Uses.

Fun and Games

Do you miss going to restaurants, breweries, group events, and Coquitlam Centre mall? Maybe these photos will help you remember some of the fun, in the time before social distancing.

Source: City of Coquitlam Archives, MH.FLT.16

This is Fine

As fun as the “This Is Fine” dog meme is as a Zoom background, why not express your sarcastic humour with one of our bleaker historical photos?

Source: City of Coquitlam Archives, C5-S01-SS01-GN157

Tech Support

Here’s how to set downloaded images as a backdrop once you’ve launched a Zoom meeting:

  • Click on ^ next to “Stop Video” on the bottom left of your Zoom window and select “Choose Virtual Background”
  • Click on the + on the right-hand side below the current image in your settings
  • Click “Add Image”
  • Find your saved image and select it

Virtual Backgrounds seem to work best on computers with a 4th generation i7 quad-core or higher processor, but your experience may vary! For more information, check out the support advice from Zoom.



Andréa Tarnawsky is the Assistant Archivist at the City of Coquitlam Archives located on the core traditional territory of the Kwikwetlem First Nation and the shared traditional territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Musqueam, Squamish, and Sto:lo Nations. Andréa holds a Dual MAS/MLIS (University of British Columbia) and a BMus in Music History (University of Alberta). Their research practice explores the digital preservation of contemporary computer and electroacoustic music, archival representational practices, and the affordances of computational methods to cultural objects and practices. Andréa tweets frequently about cats and archives @peskyfreckles