WFH –How to Video Conference Like A Pro – Tips and Tricks Part 2

Desk with laptop, monitor, keyboard, Vari stand up desk, lights and keyboard

Advice from a 10yr. WFH video conference veteran.

Read Time: 4:00min.

It’s just the two of us here so let’s admit– you want to look good on camera! Whether you’re video conferencing for that big CNN interview or that arduous weekly “touch base” with your boss–you want to look your best. Professionalism, vanity, both–it doesn’t matter. We all want to look good and its OK!

And you are right to want to look your best; your on-camera look matters more than you think.

While I’m not a cinematographer I’ve picked up some very useful tips directing TV commercials as well as video and photoshoots shoots. In this, WFH –How To Video Conference Like a Pro – Tips and Tricks Part 2, I’ll give you the specifics of how to look good on camera, I’ll share some stories and even make myself look silly(er) all in the name of helping you look good on your next (CNN) video conference. If you haven’t read Part 1 here’s the link (click here).

Looking good on camera doesn’t just happen. It takes a little prep and some technique. The good news is that it takes surprisingly little to make a huge improvement in how you look on-camera. You don’t need to look like a movie star, but a good on-camera look is good for your professional image and it plays a bigger role than you may realize in your on-camera credibility. Poor lighting, odd framing, distracting backgrounds, these all detract from your credibility and your ability to get others to support you.

I hope these tips and tricks help ease your stress as we all depend more on video conferencing during these surreal times. I’ve also included links to the equipment I use at the end of this article so you don’t have to hunt for them.

My Personal Tips and Tricks for How to Look Good for the Video Conference Camera:

Clean Your Lens

Packet of camera lens and screen wipes
Good Single-Use Lens/Screen Wipe

This seems basic but a quick wipe of your webcam lens can turn a smeared image of you into one that makes you look amazing. Wipe your lens with a soft, lint-free, cloth or lens/screen cleaning wipe. I keep cleaning wipes in my desk and use them for my camera lens and to clean my screens too.

Lighting – it sets the entire tone

Last week I was on a video conference call with a client who, in person, has above average good looks. However, on the video conference, they looked like they were all nose! A glowing beacon in the center of their face that looked like it occupied the majority of their head. Like I said, they are of above-average good looks in person but the lighting, not their face, made them hard to look at. They were sitting under an overhead light that shined directly on their nose and the top of their head; overly illuminating their otherwise normal proboscis (word of the day for the nose). For those of us, like me, endowed with slightly larger proboscises, this would look truly comical.

Proper lighting will make or break how you look on camera and it doesn’t require special equipment to light you well. If you want to, a little bit of inexpensive equipment can make you look even better. I’ll show you how to light with a lamp and with some inexpensive equipment.

To give you a little context–here is a quick overview of how placing a light source (e.g. that lamp you took from your nightstand) at different angles will light/shade your face and how it makes you look.

Three human bust images with lighting from front, 45 degrees adn 90 degrees to show shadows

For video conferencing, you want to be lit directly from the front. In other words, you want the light centered in front of you so it evenly illuminates your face and is behind the camera. This will highlight your face nicely and keep you from looking like you’re lurking in the shadows.

But how do you do this when you usually have a computer directly in front of you?! The good news is, it’s simple and you have a few options:

Option 1: Place a lamp, or another light source, behind your laptop/webcam with the bulb/shade just above it like this ( I use this the most – it’s inexpensive and easy):

Lap behind laptop to properly light on-camera person

Option 2: Use a ring light in the same position (this is what I use for interviews and presentations – not for all video conferences because it starts to be too bright)

Ring light behind computer on desk

Option 3: You can get a specialty light like the Lume Cube Air and attach it to the back of your computer or monitor (because I have a ring light I don’t need this but I hear it works well).

Source: Apple's product page. Woman at computer with cube light attached to monitor.

 Personally, I use a lamp that has a cool and bright light– it’s cheap and easy. I use my 18’ ring light for big interviews or presentations–the ring light can get to be too bright if you are video conferences for most of the day.

If you can, I suggest experimenting with different colors of light to see what works best in your home office, your skin tone, ambient light and surroundings.

DON’T BACKLIGHT YOURSELF! Backlighting is on-camera seppuku. Having the brightest source of light behind you (backlighting) makes you look like you are in the shadows and no one will be able to see you.  

Lighting Examples:

Here are examples of different lighting:

Jason Turner properly lit in front of good background
Ideal: the light is behind my screen and shining straight at my face.
Jason backlit in front of window with too much light behind
Backlit: My face is very dark and hard to see–don’t do this!
Jason side lit with dark shadow on right side of face
Side: My face shaded on one side and too bright on the other. It highlights the things you might not want highlighted.

 Framing & Camera Angle

The technical definition of framing is the presentation of visual elements in an image, especially the placement of the subject in relation to other objects. For we laypeople, its where we are positioned on the screen. This matters because drawing attention to the wrong place on your face impacts how people feel about you. Yep. Actors know this and they know how to hold their face for the right effect.

When it comes to camera angle you want your video conference camera pointed straight at you. Ideally, you also want to look straight into the camera all the time–not the image on your screen. Getting the camera angle right is the easy part; training yourself to look at that tiny camera lens and talking to it for an hour or more takes a lot of practice – and it’s worth it. Why? Because as soon as you look away from the camera viewers want to know what you’re looking at. They feel like they are missing something important; important enough that it made you look away from them/the camera. It’s distracting for your viewers if you don’t look at the camera, which is really looking at them.

Here are some examples of good and back camera angles.

Camera looking up at Jason and he is looking down
If the camera is “looking up” at you, you’ll appear arrogant (and people don’t want to look up your nose). Like this.
Camera looking down at Jason and he is looking up
If the camera is looking down at you, you’ll appear sinister or like you’re on the “timeout chair”. Like this.
Jason starting at camera that is too close
Too close and you will make your viewers feel like you’re invading their privacy. Like this.
Jason Turner properly framed by camera and on screen
You want to be in the center of the screen with a little bit of space above your head and the camera looking straight at you like this.

Filmmakers think about this stuff for every frame in a movie – amazing.

Many of us use our laptops that are sitting on our desks in front of us for our video conference calls. In a majority of cases, your laptop (the camera) is too low when it’s on your desk! This is the most frequent cause of the camera looking up at you–like the image above.

So how do you get it in the right place? I found the best, and easiest, way to get the right camera angle is on my Rain Laptop stand. In the past, I’ve also used boxes or a footstool. I’ve even put a chair on my desk and stood up.

Here’s how my laptop is set up on the stand. The camera is close to eye level when I’m sitting:

Laptop on Rain Stand properly angled for video conference

 The Background

This is all about not distracting your viewers with oddities behind you and not giving away the fact that you’re working in a “cloffice” (closet office).

Don’t let them know you’re working in a “cloffice”!

A simple background with minimal objects is best but don’t make it a blank wall. But not too plain, its boring to look at.  

Jason in front of messy background of papers, lunch box and other random objects
Messy and distracting background: (looks like I’m being held captive in a storage room):
Jason in front of plain wall
Too plain of a background: (doubles as a mugshot)
Jason in front of simple wood background
Good Background

What to Wear and Not Wear

In Part 1 we talked about having an emergency shirt nearby and always looking professional–at least from the waist up! If you want to look like an on-camera pro, colors patterns and cuts make a difference. Here are things to consider:

What to Wear

  • Warming colors – like teal, purple or coral
  • Solids
  • Stay with classic cuts and styles – odd shapes take the attention off of you
  • Jewelry needs to be simple

What NOT to Wear

  • Avoid white, bright red and all-black
  • Shiny fabrics
  • Big or complicated patterns
  • Sleeveless or short sleeves without a jacket
  • Large jewelry or dangly jewelry
  • Bulky/heavy fabrics

An Aside: Camera Privacy

On a few occasions, I have left my camera on after a Zoom or FaceTime. I have also accidentally turned on FaceTime which activated my camera. Coupling this with my general paranoia about someone hacking into my computer’s camera motivated me to take precautions. I now keep my cameras covered at all times when I’m not using them. I cover both my laptop and iMac cameras with a thin magnetic slide cover. It’s thin enough that it doesn’t interfere with closing my MacBook Pro.

It’s also a good way to give you time to throw on that emergency shirt I talked about in Part 1.

CONCLUSION

There you have it. Between the two parts of this article, I’ve given you the key tips, tricks and techniques to help you look your best on video conferences. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments section.

I hope this helps in some way to make working from home a little easier and take away some of the stress of these uncertain times.

Take care of yourself, your family and your community. Be patient with one another as we all figure things out. Above all, stay positive; we will get through this and be stronger for it.

Equipment That I Use:

Here is the equipment that I use for video conferences (I don’t have any affiliation with these companies, and I don’t make any money from them).

Laptop Stand – Rain Design iLevel2 Adjustable Height – https://www.amazon.com/Rain-Design-12031-Adjustable-Notebook/dp/B00LSU4QD8/ref=sr_1_6?crid=1QG2T3BEQ6ZX5&dchild=1&keywords=rain+design+laptop+stand&qid=1584637921&sprefix=rain+design+%2Caps%2C206&sr=8-6&swrs=941B621F2172D847D65359124554A1D3

This separates my laptop/mic from my desktop to limit the banging on my desktop that others may hear if I’m not using my headset. It also lets me adjust the camera angle/height on my laptop.

Ring Light

I’ll get into this more in part 2 but here is an inexpensive ring light to help you look your best on camera – https://www.amazon.com/10-Extendable-UBeesize-Ringlight-Compatible/dp/B07QFV72LK/ref=sr_1_5?crid=3GL44W3M7WXE6&dchild=1&keywords=ring+light&qid=1584664912&s=electronics&sprefix=ring+light%2Caps%2C280&sr=1-5

Camera Privacy Cover

I use this camera cover on both my MacBook Pro and iMac; it’s thin enough that I can still close my laptop – https://www.amazon.com/Laptop-CloudValley-Ultra-Thin-MacBook-Protect/dp/B079MCPJGH/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2USIZ7J95ZEPY&dchild=1&keywords=laptop+camera+cover+slide&qid=1585591080&sprefix=laptop+camera%2Caps%2C441&sr=8-3

Cube Light (I have a ring light so I don’t need this, but I hear it works well)

https://www.apple.com/shop/product/HMT92ZM/A/lume-cube-air-vc-kit-accessory-light-for-video-conferencing

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