Looking Your Best on Zoom

Tips from a Filmmaker:

It's no secret, video calls and online webinars are a way of life for many of us now. Just as you'd want to put your best foot forward for an in-person meeting, you want to look great on your Zoom call. That takes more than a clean shirt and fresh lipstick. Now you have to think about your lighting, your background, your camera angles...

I’m a professional wedding & events videographer that specializes in capturing my clients' most beloved moments on film. I am a storyteller at heart, and a filmmaker by trade. And I want to help you use the same video fundamentals I use in imperfect filming situations to get ready for your virtual close-up.

So let's dive in, and at the end of the page, you'll find a link to set up a Zoom call with me so I can check your progress, give you feedback, and walk you through improvements.

Step 1 - Appearance

You know how you feel you look your best and most confident, so I'm certainly not here to tell you how to do your hair. What I do recommend is thinking about how your clothes show up on camera. Colors and larger patterns are great, but wearing a really busy plaid or small-patterned outfit might be distracting or even cause a small amount of camera disturbance (called moiré.) A bright white or deep black top might not be as flattering on camera as it is in person. 

Step 2 - Camera Angle/Composition

There are three things I consider setting up every shot - my lens choice, my angle, and how I frame the subject (composition.) Each piece tells its part of the story. My guess is that the story you want your Zoom call to tell is about connection and professionalism. Here's what to look for when you're setting up your shot.

- Lens - Your phone and laptop cameras use wide angle lenses. If you get too close to it, you end up with a "fisheye" effect - big nose, small ears. Take a step back from the camera.

- Angle - Think about what the least flattering angle someone could take a photo of you from is. Now what angle is your laptop camera seeing you from, sitting on your desk? I'm going to bet it's at a low angle looking up your nose. Get that camera up to eye level. Find a box, a stack of books, and raise that camera up.

 

- Composition - There's a golden rule in photo/video - the "Rule of Thirds." I know, I know, rules are meant to be broken, but this isn't one of those times. Your first instinct might be to center yourself in the frame, but you actually want to be slightly higher than centered. Imagine a grid splitting your screen into thirds. You want your eyes to generally line up with the start of the top third (similar to how, if you split an image of a face into thirds, your eyes are at the start of the top third of your head.)

Step 3 - Lighting

The camera in your laptop or phone is going to automatically set exposure for the light it can see. You want to provide a good amount of light to avoid a grainy image, and you want that light directed on your face, not behind you. During the day, I always recommend facing a large window. In the evenings, I personally set up an adjustable light slightly behind and to the side of my laptop. Ring lights are becoming more popular because they are very flattering (wide, round, soft lighting.) A desk lamp (especially a pose-able goose-neck) can work great as well. Ideally, you want a few separate sources of light.

When I'm setting up an interview shot, I use a minimum of

two light sources, but three (or even four!) is ideal. Sound

like a lot? I promise it's not too complicated, but also feel

free to go more minimal with it. If you only use the first two,

you'll see some major improvements. But here's the

general idea of a 3-point lighting set-up:

- Key Light - This is the main light on your face, but is best

to not shine it directly into your face. You want it at a slight

(45 degree) angle to the camera to create depth with

shadows. You can even bounce it off a white wall behind the

screen to soften the effect.

- Fiil Light - Now that we've created depth, you might find

that the shadows are too dark. Your fill light is a little less

bright and just "fills in" those shadows to soften the overall

look. You may even find that adjusting the brightness of your

screen serves as a Fill.

- Backlight - This light helps to "separate" you from your

background. It is a gentle light hitting the back of your head and shoulders to create even more depth. You could have another lamp in your background or off to the side but behind you, as long as it is not so bright that it overtakes your other lighting.

- Background Lighting - This is really just a bonus, but consider how well your background is lit as well. You don't want to look like you're in a cave (I think?) but you want to keep distractions to a minimum as well, so this is personal preference, but something to think about. And speaking of your background...

Step 4 - Background

 

You want people focusing on your face, not on what's behind you. Many people like to be in front of a bookshelf, but is the decor on your shelf distracting? Maybe you'd prefer to keep it clean and simple. A blank wall is totally fine, maybe with some visual interest (like brick, or in my case, the wall in my office has a wood-look wallpaper) or a wall with nothing but one piece of art hanging is totally fine. From the books on your bookshelf to how clean your floors are, just make sure that you carefully craft what’s in your frame.

Step 5 - Get Comfortable

 

You're not going to look great if you don't feel great, but you probably don't want to be lounging on the couch either. Think power posing - sit up straight in a supportive chair, or maybe you feel better standing. If you are using a laptop, have a charger plugged in and ready for when your battery gets low. Grab a glass of water, a coffee or tea, and settle in for your call.
 

Step 6 - Get to Know the Software

 

Even at this point, you might not be totally comfortable with the software itself. So here are a few quick tips for using Zoom like a pro:

- Mute and unmute with the space bar - Stop scrambling to click the microphone button. You can press and hold the spacebar to quickly mute and unmute your mic, right from your keyboard using the Push to Talk feature.

- Beauty Filter (Not that you need it!) - Have you tried Zoom's Touch Up My Appearance feature? The filter helps to "smooth out the skin tone on your face, to present a more polished looking appearance," according to Zoom. You may or may not like it, but if you do, you'll be glad you tested it ahead of time.

- Gallery/Speaker View - Gallery view lets you see everyone in the meeting at once, instead of just the person speaking. To turn that on, click the tab that says "Gallery view" in the top right corner. If the meeting has 49 or fewer attendees, you'll see all of their screens displayed on one page. If there are more, you'll have the option to move between multiple pages. Change it back by clicking "Speaker view" in that same top right corner. 

- Hide non-video participants - On a larger call, your screen can get cluttered with participants, which can be distracting, especially if some don't have their cameras on. Hide the participants who aren't using video by going to Settings > Video > Meetings, and check Hide non-video participants.

Conclusion + More Help

Okay, I know this was a lot of info to throw your way. I hope it's helpful as you venture into your Zoom meetings, consultations, and of course, the "Talking to Your Kids About Race" webinar presented by the Cranford Inclusivity Project. If you need a little more guidance or just want a second perspective on your set-up before November 8, I've opened some evening call times just for panelists and the moderator of the webinar. Click the button below to schedule your 15-minute call.

my key light

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