It has been said before that war is often the driving force for technological innovation, and if the battle against the Coronavirus is going to improve anything (aside from, ya know medicine), its remote video communications. All of a sudden we have all been thrown into the limelight online. Every meeting is now taking place on Zoom, Skype or Teams and there is always some smart arse who says ‘come on turn your camera on, we want to see you all!’ (I hate the guy)
It is relatively easy these days to use these sorts of services, almost everyone has access to a device with a camera. Phones, tablets, laptops and even some TVs have a webcam attached, but I bet when you look at the little square in the corner with your face in, you cringe inside.
Getting a camera
As I said, you probably have a camera on something you own, but taking a two hour meeting whole holding a phone out in front of you is not really an option. My arm starts to hurt after about 90 seconds.
So first things first, what are you going to talk on? If it is a phone or a tablet, you are going to need something to hold it. The little kick stands you can get are OK, but are really designed so you can stand your tablet up to watch youtube, rather than giving a good angle to video call from. My preference is a small tripod or articulated arm. With this you can adjust the height and angle of the phone, so you don’t hurt your neck, and you look better. Something like a Joby Gorilla pod is great, as you can attach the bendy legs to lots of different surfaces for stability.
If you have a laptop with a built in camera, take a good hard look at it and decide if it is the best it could be. A Lot of the tiny cameras on laptops are, frankly, a bit pants, as they have to be so small to fit on to the ever decreasing size of the modern computer.
You may want to invest in an external camera to make you look that much better. This goes for if you are using a desktop too, as most don’t have built in webcams. The trouble is at the moment we are moving into month 3 of the lockdown in the UK, and even getting hold of a webcam is something of a feat, as everywhere sold out really quickly as soon as it came apparent we were all housebound for the foreseeable future. There are some about, but be careful, there are some really howlers out there. If you are not sure, stick with getting a logitech. They are the market leader, have been for a long time, and have a long history of making computer peripherals. I have a Logitech C270 that I have had for years, and works well. It’s nothing special, but i would put it as a base line. If you want the gold standard, then the Logitech Brio or the c922 are the way to go, but they are pricey.
It is also possible to use a “proper camera” as a webcam, but not as easy as you may think. You generally can just plug your camera into your PC and go, you probably need something like the Elgato Camlink 4k that allows your camera to output a clean signal to the computer. It is then recognised by the computer as a webcam, and you can use it the same as any other. Here is a list of the compatible cameras. If you do own a nice DSLR or mirrorless camera it allows you to get the best possible image quality, and depending on the lens you are using, you could even get some nice out of focus area in the background to make it look extra swish. It is not however a cheap option. The camlink is about £115, and you also need to consider charging your camera. You can either run off the battery, which doesn’t last long when kept running, or as some won’t work while plugged into charge, you may need a dummy battery, which allows you to keep it powered on long term.
Position the camera
Now you have a camera sorted out, where do you put it? Something that frequent selfie-takers will tell you is that you never want to do is take a photo of yourself with the camera pointed up at you. Not only does accentuate your double chin, but it also means that the view is looking straight up your nose. Big no-no for webcam etique.
Something you don’t want to borrow for the selfie tip book however is having the camera above you either. It will just make you look like Frodo Baggins (cape optional) and make your forehead look massive.
The best place to position the camera is at eye level, or a little high, pointing at the forehead. It’s important that the camera is level, not tilted forward or backward, and definitely not wonky to either side.
If you have a desktop monitor, and it’s set up properly (because you definitely took the time to ergonomically set up your desk), sitting the webcam on top should be about the right height. If you are using a laptop, you will need to prop it up a little higher, and definitely don’t have it on your lap, bad for you back, bad for the people who have to look at you hunched over them on screen.
By positioning the web directly in front of you and on a screen, it has the added benefit of making you look at the webcam, not off to the side. This helps with engagement, as even if you are looking at something really rather relevant to the topic in hand, constantly looking off to the side of the screen makes it look like you are not engaged to the people you are talking to.
Light It Up
In all forms of photography, lighting is of optimal importance. Any halfway decent photographer can get a good image from a cheap camera if they can control the lighting. The same goes for webcams. You need to make sure that you are well lit from the front. Just having the ceiling light on is not good enough. In fact, depending on how you room is lit, you may want to turn off the ceiling lights altogether. Your house’s lighting is not set up to make you look good, it is set up to fill a large area with light from above, which is a horrible way to light a video.
You can go out and buy photo lights if you like, they range from about £30 up. But honestly, unless you are going to be recording yourself from the webcam, for starting a career as a make up instructor on YouTube, you just need to use a couple of desk lamps. If you can get hold of two, and direct them to either side of your face from a few feet away, you will get a nice even light over your face. If the light is too harsh, try taping some paper over it (avoiding the paper touching the bulb if possible).
Alternatively, if your desk is near a window, position yourself with the window to you left or right, and on a bright day, this will act as one you the lights.Then you just need to try and balance that light with a lamp to make sure your whole face is lit. One of the major factors in getting your lighting to work is getting your position right, which brings us on to…
Strike a pose
Having a window straight in front of you is no good, it could cause you to be too brightly lit, or force you to squint as the sun gets in your eyes. The same goes for a window behind you, in fact that’s worse. It will cause the camera problems, and probably mean that you will be cast in deep shadow with a halo around you.
Think about what background you want. Your instinct may be to find a blank wall, which is fine, but a bit boring. However you also don’t want too much distracting people behind you. It’s a fine line. Book cases might be something to avoid, as people like to try and reed the spines to find out what you are reading. You should also avoid having doors behind you, as doors have a tendency of being opened, especially when you are at home with small children and relatives.
The most important thing is to keep the background tidy. Having a messy background is the most distracting thing. You can dress your set a little if you want, putting up some fairy lights in the background can give a nice feel, and make your lighting set up seem more natural.
The new sound
Sound is key to communication, and often the mics on webcams are plain rubbish. If you are using a phone, they tend to be better, as they are designed for good audio, but you may still want to think about separate audio.
You can get simple USB mics that just plug in a work. Position them near your mouth and you will get better sound quality. I use a Blue Yeti in my setup, but there are cheaper alternatives, like the Snowball which offer superior sound for around £50.
- Please don’t use those stupid blurry backgrounds. They are more distracting than actually seeing what’s behind you, most;y because they end up cutting off your hair, or an ear.
- Make sure you are comfortable as these meetings can go on a while, especially as people are desperate for human interaction at the moment, and you may be the only person they have seen all day.
- Don’t wear your pajamas. But do wear something.
- Don’t feel you need to dress up either. I have had a couple of calls recently where people have been wearing shirts and ties, and it feels really odd to know they are sitting in their kitchen, suited and booted, with no office to go to.
I’m Alex Dyett
I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Photographer, and Flickering Light Studio is my company. I live in York, UK, with my wife and daughter.
Hopefully, this blog post has given you some inspiration to go out and tell your businesses story with great design and eye-catching images. Take a look at the other blog posts to get some more ideas, and if there is anything that you feel I could help you with, please feel free to contact me, and I will be happy to work on a project with you.