One of the tools that makes our workshifting lifestyle possible is video. We already spend a good chunk of time using our webcams in video conferences and online meetings, but it’s now becoming more commonplace for us to use video to enhance our blogs and websites or to facilitate remote knowledge transfer by producing training clips. Video is a wonderful medium because it allows us to communicate so effectively in so many ways.
I’ve been a television producer for more than 20 years. I’ve lived through the amazing transformation from a time when video was expensive and time-consuming to today, when anyone with a decent camera and a few spare minutes can produce content. Since we’re using video so much nowadays, I thought it might be useful to pass along a few things I’ve learned in the video production business that can help to ensure your webcam video is the best it can be.
Lights, Camera – and More Lights!
The number one issue I see with most webcam video is lighting. You see, little webcams, as good as they are, don’t respond well in low light. Yet, so often we see video where the only lighting source is the bluish glow of the computer screen or the dim orange hue of a light bulb. The one thing you can do to up the quality of any webcam video is to shed a little light on the subject – literally.
You don’t need fancy production lights to achieve a nicely lit picture. There are a couple of options – if you’re lucky enough to work in an office with a big window, turn your computer so that you are facing the window. If it’s a bright, sunny day, diffuse the light a bit by using shears on your window so that you’re not too squinty or shadowy. If you’re like me and work in a basement office, then you’ll need to rely on other light sources. I use a cheap lamp that has a bendable neck, which I position about 8 inches off to one side of my computer screen. It casts a nice glow that isn’t too bright, making my video look a lot cleaner.
Watch Your Back
Another common mistake I see is that people shoot their video without paying attention to what’s behind them. There could be a very cluttered, messy desk or bookcase, private photos you don’t want the world to see or worse yet, a window. If you’re looking to present a professional view of yourself in a client meeting, on a webinar or on your video blog, clean up your office area (or at least the part that will be in the background). Remove any photos or documents that you would rather people not see and definitely don’t face your camera towards a window (unless it’s nighttime or the drapes or blinds are completely closed), or else people won’t see anything but a silhouette.
Frame It Up
Have you ever noticed how some people on webcams just look strange? It’s usually because the shot is framed wrong. The camera is either too low, so we see up their noses, or it’s too high, so we see down onto the top of their head. Other times there’s either too much space in the area above their faces or the frame cuts the top of their heads off. The rule of thumb for good framing is this: make sure the camera lens is as close to your eye level as possible. If that means you have to mount your camera on some books or the top of your computer or put your chair up higher, then do it – it makes a big difference. And position your video frame so that your eyes line up to about 1/3 of the way down the screen – that ensures the right amount of space between the top of your head and the video frame (the pros call this “headroom”).
Sound Clear as a Bell
Audio is just as important as video, so once you have your webcam shot looking good, make sure you can be heard clearly. Turn off the music and the washing machine. Put the dog in his kennel or outside so he doesn’t decide to play with his squeaky toy during your webinar. Invest in a decent microphone (the one on your computer isn’t always the greatest). You can opt for a headset microphone (get one in the $60-$90 price range, and you’re doing well), or you can get one of the great USB mics that podcasters use. Having good sound will make all the difference in the quality of what you present.
Those are just a few tips from the pros that will help you make better webcam videos. Try these out and let me know how it goes!
Photo Credit: mofetos