Jennifer Jager, creative director of Plum Productions, a Boca Raton–based video-production company. She is host of the YouTube channel MyVideo101.com.
Is that really what I look like? Video calls are a great way to keep you connected—whether it’s a chat with family and friends or a video conference—but it can be frightening to see how you look through the distortion of the camera. Here are nine ways to look much better on a video call…
Position the camera lens at your eye level or slightly above. When a laptop computer sits on a desk or table, its camera typically angles up your face, creating a double chin and forcing conversation partners to look into your nose. The same goes for tablets and phones propped up on tables, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to desktop monitors, many of which have a camera built in above the screen…or to a freestanding webcam that’s attached to the top of a monitor. You’ll look better if your camera is at eye level or very slightly above, so place the digital device on a stack of books and/or lower your desk chair if necessary. Positioning a camera a few inches above eye level even can have a subtle slimming effect.
Look at the camera lens. It feels more natural to watch the on-screen image of the person or people you’re speaking with, but looking at the lens makes it appear that you’re maintaining strong eye contact.
Face toward the main light source. On a bright day, face a window. Otherwise position a light in front of you but behind the camera. A shaded floor lamp is a good choice—the shade creates “diffuse” light, which is more flattering than direct light. If you don’t want to reposition lights, open a blank word-processing document on the digital device you’re using for the video call and then expand this document’s window to fill the screen—a blank screen provides a surprising amount of illumination. The white light of screens can have an unflattering cold tint, however, so if you can easily adjust the background color of this word-processing document, choose a warmer tone. A pale orange background color will create a flattering tone for most skin tones, but try various background colors to find what makes you look best. (In Microsoft Word, try selecting “Page Color” from the “Design” tab.) If you do this, consider making the image of anyone you’re talking to as small as possible so you block out as little of the light-providing word-processing document as possible.
Caution: Do not have a bright window or light behind you—that could reduce you to a virtual silhouette. Do not use overhead lighting as your main light source—that can cast harsh shadows on your face.
Get some distance from the camera. A face that completely fills the screen is off-putting—like someone standing way too close. It also makes any wrinkles or skin issues more obvious. Helpful: Position yourself far enough from the camera so that the frame includes your shoulders and the top half of your chest. Imagine where the knot of your necktie would be if you were wearing one, then place one hand horizontally below this knot. Set the bottom of the frame at the bottom of your hand.
Simplify your wardrobe. Patterned and print shirts can be distracting—solid colors are the safest choice. Keep jewelry simple, too, and avoid pieces that jangle when you move. If you wear makeup, apply the amount you normally wear plus 10%—makeup tends to be slightly harder to see on camera. If you wear eyeglasses, look at your image on screen after you position yourself and your camera for the call. Conversation partners will find it distracting if light reflects off your glasses directly in front of your pupils. If this happens, reposition yourself and/or your camera or lighting slightly…or go without eyeglasses if that’s feasible. It’s no big deal if light reflects off eyeglasses near lens edges. If there’s time, look at your own image on screen before the call to confirm that everything looks good.
Watch your posture. Sit straight with your shoulders back. Slouching makes shirts look rumpled. Sliding down in a chair can create the impression of a double chin.
Include depth in your background. Viewers will find it visually interesting if the backdrop extends well into the distance, so try to choose a big enough room where this is possible. But this is only a good idea if this large space is attractive and uncluttered. Otherwise, position yourself so an unobtrusive wall or tidy bookshelf serves as your background. If there’s a bookshelf behind you, make sure there aren’t any books you don’t want people knowing you read.
Wire your computer directly into your router. Slow Wi-Fi speeds can lead to choppy, low-resolution video and other distracting issues. If your Wi-Fi sometimes gives you trouble, you can take it out of the equation by connecting the computer directly to your router using an ethernet cable.
Upgrade your equipment. The cameras built into computers, tablets and phones are fine for most uses, but if you’re willing to invest some money to improve how you look on screen, buy a highly rated external camera. Example: Logitech C525 USB HD Webcam has an autofocus feature that keeps you in focus even if you move around during the call and an advanced light correction feature that delivers bright, crisp images even in relatively dim settings ($169.99).
If that’s more than you’re willing to spend, consider buying an external microphone. Even a cheap clip mic, available for $10 or $20 online, will be a dramatic improvement, if only because you can position it much closer to you. Headsets and earbuds with built-in microphones also can help, but I find that an external microphone is best. Taking calls in a room that has carpeting, drapes and other soft surfaces can cut down on echoes. Improving sound quality won’t literally make you look better on camera, but it is among the best ways to make people think that your video seems more professional overall…for reasons they can’t quite pin down.