Video From Home: How To Look Better On Camera
LOOK BETTER AND MORE PROFESSIONAL WHEN YOU LIVE STREAM
The World for most of us has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Since most of us are now working from home, collaboration has been transformed. Most companies are using platforms like Zoom, Skype, Webex, and Teams to connect. Not only are people within companies meeting this way but as time goes on, sales presentations, committee meetings, project interviews, board meetings, and job interviews are taking place this way. Meetings between lawyers, accountants, bankers, engineers, and their clients are now live streamed.
In the hurry to transfer company meetings from the actual conference room to the virtual classroom, most people have given little thought to how they appear when they are on camera. At the beginning of this crisis, most people were focused on just connecting with others. We wanted to make sure everyone was ok. This new adventure allowed us to peak into each other's homes. We enjoyed hearing the dog bark or seeing our colleague's kids run by the camera.
Since I've been at home like many others, I've attended several live streaming meetings and webinars. I've had the chance to view lots of people on video. I've seen a wide range of the way people have presented themselves. Most of it has been from bad to awful.
As a Minneapolis commercial photographer, I take business portraits of professional including headshots of attorneys, accountants, engineers, and more. I'm experienced at helping people look their best.
Here are some of the most important things to remember as you get ready for your next meeting on camera:
Dress Your Best.
This might seem obvious until it isn't.
Consider the gentleman in the above photo. He wants us to know this is what he wears at home. But, how well does this communicate his skills and knowledge? The baseball cap is all wrong in this scenario. Actually, any hat or cap is. He doesn't have to worry about rain or sunshine hitting his face because he's inside. The t-shirt seems to communicate an "I don't care." attitude. How hard would it have been to put on a nice shirt with some color in it?
- NEVER wear a hat or cap (ok; got that one out of the way!).
- Dress professionally as you would for any meeting with colleagues or clients.
- Don't be afraid of color. Avoid all black.
- Women: avoid large or dangly earrings and chunky necklaces.
- Your clothes should be clean looking and pressed.
- Not a must, but I would also make sure you're dressed properly below the waist. You may need to stand up to get a document or reach to grab something. It's self defeating if you are well dressed on top but wearing your pj's on the bottom.
My wife Robin, shown above, was well prepared for her on live stream meeting just as she would have for a face-to-face meeting. She chose a colorful blouse and made sure her hair and make-up were perfect.
You don't have to build a background set but be mindful of what people will see behind you. A blank wall with a blank door is bland and boring. On the other hand, a big mess such as cluttered counters or book shelves with strange collectibles on them won't work, either.
- To look for a good background, try using your smartphone's camera on Live View. Walk around your house looking for a location that looks pleasant.
- If you have to be at your desk during live streaming, look at the area behind you. Clean up any clutter. Consider moving a piece of furniture or a plant behind you for some visual interest.
- Make sure the background is well lit. You don't want some murky dark area behind you.
- Some people suggest purchasing a pop up background in gray or some other neutral color. Avoid black or white. I'm neutral on this idea. It looks a bit too "studio" considering that almost everyone is streaming from home.
- Avoid virtual backgrounds. Some live streaming apps offer a virtual background as an option. This mostly eliminates the need to look for a suitable background in your house. I find most of the stock backgrounds very distracting. Some are downright goofy. You can also upload your own background. Tempting. The risk here is that you may THINK your background of a bunch of your friends going crazy at a party is a good picture, it may not serve you well. One person used a photo of the inside of her company's office. That worked well. She actually looked like she was at work. One other particularly bad downside of this effect is that when you turn your head from side to side, portions of you will disappear. It's also very distracting. One person told me the only his hair and glasses appeared on the screen; the rest of his body was masked out.
Robin chose the above spot in our home office for her recent on live stream meeting. The book shelves and the wall in the background are interesting and colorful. We swapped out a few books and collectibles so that it wasn't overly busy. We also removed some clutter on the floor that might have appeared in the lower half of the frame.
Place the Camera at Eye Level or Above.
Many of us working from home use lap-top computers. Since they usually sit on top of a desk, we usually look down at the screen. Even though this may be the easiest way for you to use a lap-top for general work, it's a point-of-view disaster when you are on camera and looking down at the screen. Because I am a corporate headshot photographer, I know that looking down into a camera is the least flattering view of one's face. Your face widens out as does your neck, your nose looks big, and your nostrils dominate. The image below illustrates this point.
Another reason why this is a bad position to appear on camera is what the computer monitor's position does to the background. The ceiling becomes a significant part of the view. It's rarely interesting or flattering.
In this case, the point-of-view is made worse by two light fixtures that are blown out in exposure due to the camera's exposure limitations. They only distract; they don't add to the scene.
Overcoming this issue can be as easy as placing the lap-top on top of a box or stack of books to get the camera level up to eye level. Take a look at how we accomplished this. You can see that Robin is eye level is close the computer's camera at the top of the screen. You could place the computer even higher by adding some more books to the box. Don't go too high or you'll make it difficult to reach and see the keys on the keyboard.
You can also consider purchasing a stand for your lap top.
The stand above is available from Twelve South.
Pay attention to how you look using your lap-top's live view. If you sit too close to the lap-top, you'll look positively huge.
Sit back a bit so you don't fill the entire frame. If you are larger, turn just a bit to one side. This helps make your body look narrower and more flattering.
Good lighting plays a significant role in making you look good on camera. The person in the above image is poorly lit. It appears that the only light source was coming from her right, either from a doorway or a window.
The best way to create good lighting is by having control over it.
Do not rely on outside or natural light. It can change dramatically in the course of a meeting if clouds suddenly obscure the sun or daylight turns into twilight. Window light can also be harsh. If it's primarily from one direction, window light creates deep shadows on the opposite side of whatever it hits (like your face). Ambient light from the outside is also much brighter than indoor lighting so it can be equally challenging to make your face look evenly lit. Finally, outside light temperature and indoor lighting temperature are vastly different. A computer's webcam has little ability to address these issues.
Good lighting for on camera meetings should be nice and even. We had the luxury of using professional lighting to illuminate the scene above. We used three lights. The first light, on the far left, was pointed at Robin's face. The light behind her, to the right, served to illuminate the book cases in the background. A third light, not visible in this shot, was pointed at the ceiling. This resulted in light bouncing off of the white ceiling resulting in a generally brighter room. Notice that the blinds were pulled and most other lights in the room were turned off. The table lamp in the corner provided just a bit of fill light to the side of Robin's face opposite the first light.
- Again, using your smartphone on live view, walk around your house and look how light and shadows appear on your face. Look for areas where your face is the most evenly lit.
- If you're going to be stuck near a window because of your work spaces's location, turn so you are facing straight out the window.
- Do NOT face away from the window because the amount of light coming through the window will put you in silhouette. You'll become invisible!
- Using a combination of light you create and ambient light, try to set up an even amount of light coming from 3 directions: front, left, and right.
- A fourth source of light is the ceiling if it's white and not too high. Light reflecting off of the ceiling can significantly balance all of the other lights you are using.
- Position the lights so the are shining down on you from one to two feet above your eyes. This is the most flattering position.
- Don't use bare bulb light. Its harshness will cause shine on the flat portions of your face and shadows in the crevices of your eyes and mouth. Diffuse lights with some light fabric or other translucent material.
- Be resourceful about trying out floor lamps, table lamps, and telescoping desk lamps. Many lamps can be redirected to hit the ceiling.
- Make sure your background is lit to about the same level as your face. If it's too dark, the whole scene will look gloomy. It's just as bad if it's blown out, too.
Consider purchasing lights.
If you will be live streaming from home long term or on a permanent basis, consider purchasing lights. In recent years, LED lights have grown in popularity and quality. As a result, selection has gone up and prices have come down. The light output is consistent, they run cool (no danger of setting the house on fire), and use power very efficiently. Early versions were very white/blue in tone. Now, many lights available include temperature dials so you can match the warm colors of your environment to the lights.
Here are some options:
Lume Cube AIR VC Lighting Kit.
If one light will do the trick in your particular set-up, this is a smart buy. The light attaches to the back of your computer with a suction cup. Be sure to use one of the diffusers supplied with the unit to soften the light. Upside: affordability, good reviews, recharges through USB. Downside: it won't address sidelight and background issues.
Dracast Video Conference Starter Kit.
Includes 3 lights which overcomes virtually any lighting challenge. Lights have both dimmer and color temperature settings. Includes light stands and all of the accessories you'll need. Upside: performance, good reviews. Downside: expensive ($249). If you want to purchase batteries, the cost nearly doubles. AC cables are included but then you'll have them running all over the floor.
I'm somewhat on the fence about ring lights. Most people (even skilled photographers) don't know how to use them. When they work, they illuminate the face in a romantic and soft way. When they are incorrectly used, they can make faces look "flashed out" and add round circles inside a person's eyes. They are fairly expensive by themselves although they are included in some multi-light kits. And, just like the Lime Cube units, they don't address the rest of the face and the environment you are broadcasting in. I'm providing a link for you to see some of the options.
I am available to answer your questions and provide helpful suggestions at no charge during this challenging time. Give me a call!
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