Video Calls: Looking Your Best

Video calling is really stepping up to help us make it through the pandemic PAUSE. Doctor “visits,” online classes, virtual meetings, and calls to distant relatives on lock-down are making us all video stars. Of sorts. If you’ve seen yourself in a video call and feel like the picture isn’t quite right; here are a few tips to help with that. They can’t help with the haircut, but they’ll help a little.

Video call tip #1: It’s a Conversation.

Comport your sensibility, and yourself, as if you were going to physically sit down with the person(s) on the other end of the call. Remove from your mind that you’re slouching around the house, even if you are. Instead set the mood in your head as if sitting across a table in a restaurant, or around a coffee table.

Video call tip #2: Eye Level & Eye Line.

Laptop cameras are handy, but if the laptop is at normal working height, on a desk or table, then the camera is positioned too low, aimed right up your nose.

Put the camera at, or slightly above, eye level. Remember as you adjust it, that this is for a conversation with whomever is on the other end. You want it to look to them as if you are sitting at the same level, as if across a table.

Your eye line is an imaginary line drawn straight forward from your face, right between your eyes. It’s important for you to point this line directly at the camera, as much as possible. Again, this is about creating the feel of having a conversation. You want the other party, or parties, to feel as though you are looking directly at them. You do that by looking directly at the camera.

Try to arrange the camera as close to directly in front of your eyes as is possible. Laptops and all-in-one computers are close to your eye line because the camera is usually right in the center of the upper frame of the screen. Desktop computers with a camera on a separate stand can be a problem. If you can, clip the camera to your monitor so that it is at eye level and straight in front of you, in your eye line, as you look at the monitor. If you can’t attach the camera to your monitor, try to arrange it as close to eye-level and eye-line as possible. If you have to tape it to your monitor to get there, OK, but avoid covering the ventilation holes on the back. And remember, that even with the best camera-to-screen arrangement, your eyes are usually looking at the screen and, at least a little, away from the camera, so…

Video call tip #3. Look at the camera.

Every so often, glance at the camera, or even look directly at it. It can seem odd to do this, at first, because it feels like you looking away from the person(s) you are talking to.

Video call tip #4. The sound.

Bad sound can ruin a video call, no matter how good the picture is. The microphones that are built into laptops are, generally, not great. They often seem thin sounding to start with, and then make that worse by picking up every echo in the room and amplifying all the tiny pin drops and toilet flushes in the house.

It’s OK to use the built-in microphone, of course, but if you’re going to be using video calling a lot or for business, then you will want to get a microphone for the purpose. That could be a Bluetooth headset, or a standalone USB microphone.

A Bluetooth headset, such as you would use with a mobile phone, will connect with most computers and tablets. The microphones in these are specifically designed to optimize your voice and to cancel out extraneous noises. Excellent! As an added benefit, a Bluetooth headset brings the call audio directly to your ear, for both privacy and to avoid bothering other people in your house with your call.

Standalone microphones generally connect to your computer with USB, but some may use Bluetooth instead. They come in forms ranging from a little tube about the size of the eraser end of a pencil, up to full-size broadcast studio mics on booms, and myriad shapes and sizes in between. Both Windows and Mac computers will automatically recognize the microphone when you plug it into the computer.

Your computer has a “recorder” app built into it (search, “recorder”), and you can use that to make a test recording to see what you’ll sound like to a caller. If the test sounds too tinny, move the microphone closer. If there’s a bothersome background noise, you’ll be able to identify it and abolish it before you make another call.

Video Tip #5: Lighting: front and back.

If you’re looking directly into your screen, it will provide a lot of the lighting for your face. If it seems a bit bluish, try adjusting the “Display Settings” on your computer or monitor toward warmer tones. Most computers and monitors will have settings for “color temperature”. Cooler color temps are more bluish and can make you look like you don’t feel well. Warmer color temps will put the glow back into your face.

Behind you, avoid overly bright backgrounds, and turn off or dim any lamps that are directly behind you. Your camera system will try to balance out the lighting, and this will make your face darker, and/or less sharp and distinct, and/or grainy and fuzzy – or all of those. Turn off bright lights behind you, or cover them to dim.

Video Tip #6: Check the Background.

Turn on your video calling app and sit in front of it as if you were making a call. Now, instead of looking at your entrancing eyes, look all around the background and everything in the picture that isn’t you. The runaway sock that’s waiting to reclaim its mate means little or nothing when you’re around it every day, but when you see it hovering over your shoulder in a video call, it’s almost as if it’s shouting and waving its little sock arms for attention.

There you have it. Six tips for looking and sounding good in a video call. Hoping, as always, that this is all clear and useful; if I can fill in some details or help with anything on your computers, please don’t hesitate to call: Mike Pepper ~ Computer Guy. 845-855-5824