F-L-I-P Tools: Looking Zoom-Tastic Part 1 of 2

Here are a couple quick and free tips to not look like you are in a witness protection program.

Okay so we have all been on Zoom or other similar video conferencing platform now for a few months.  I am sure we can all make a list of annoyances and bad habit people have on video conferencing.  (We will not speak of the Supreme Court toilet flush)  Let’s take a quick look at a few things we can all do with little or no effort to up our game when it comes to video conferencing or even making videos, so feel free to keep reading or take a look at the video below.  

Tip #1:  No backlighting. 

So many of us choose a computer position, and therefore webcam position, in an area where the keyboard and screen are well lit.  This is great, except when the camera turns on us and the light coming over our shoulders turns us into the paper cutout of presidents we did in elementary school.  If light is coming from behind you the camera will set its aperture to account for the brightness behind you rather than your face that is now in the shadows.

Solution:  Either minimize the light coming over your shoulder by pulling curtains or turning off a light, or re-orient your video camera placement. 

If your computer/Chromebook is mobile also pay attention to the ceiling lights.  For cameras fixed to the top of laptop screens they are pointing up more than forward.  In this case that large florescent light in your office or classroom is an issue. This also happens in kitchens when the table light is behind you or there are can lights in the ceiling.  Just remember that if you cant see your face no one else can. 

Tip #2: Light up that face!

Now that we have addressed the light coming from behind us and the camera can do a better job of focusing on us, let’s help it out and light up or face.  In the attached video I demonstrate how light from one side does help light my face and my space, this creates its own problems.  Because our faces are three dimensional light from one side is potentially worse than light from the back as it creates a very bright half of a face and a completely blacked-out other half. 

Solution: Get a light in front of you.

Yes I know not exactly earth shattering, but how do you do that?  I use side lighting in my my space but I balance it by using lights on both sides.  This allows me to not stare into the light while also making sure the light does not bounce right off my glasses and back into the camera.  (This is why most actors do not have glass in their glasses or use a special coating) 

Another solution is get a small flashlight like the one I demonstrate in the video to put light in front of you without blocking your view of the monitor.  These little LED lights are often free giveaways or can be had for under $5 at any discount or hardware store.  Another solution is the adheasive LED light strips that are meant for accent lighting behind TVs or under cabinets.  Here again for under $20 you have light and the advantage is they are dimmable or can be color adjustable.

The easiest and cheapest solution is when you sit down with a mobile computer if you can look up and see a window in front of you, your likely good to go. Diffuse natural light from in front of you will work nicely. My wife is working from home at the dining room table during this quarantine and she sits on one side of the table to do work and has a chair opposite her.  The family is concerned that we will be called to the dining room one day and simply be fired, but she uses it for video conferencing because the light is now on her face rather than at her back. 

Tip #3: Declutter your background.

Solution: If you can’t clean make it look like you do.

This is easy and usually free. While some personalization may be nice, clutter in the background of a video or video meeting is distracting.  If your computer is mobile, choose a basically blank was or other simple backdrop.  If you are fixed in a space, in many video conferencing apps there is a back ground option that allows you to replace your background with a color or graphic. The downside to this is the algorithm these programs use and the backdrop behind you may cause this effect to be less than successful.  Also, choose your graphic wisely, we all love Paris and Disney World but neither accomplishes the decluttering we are going for. 

Again if your computer is in a fixed position a simple sheet, old projector screen (ask your AV person), or full green screen can be nice.  Fair warning, your wife WILL get tired of the 12 foot green screen in the family room, so make sure whatever you choose can be put up or taken down easily. As in the video below, the window shades behind me aren’t too bad, and my son was told to “minimize” the Star Wars display on the cabinet behind me. 

 

Click the video to play or use this link: https://bit.ly/videozoomtips 

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