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How to not look like a hostage in your next Zoom meeting

We need to collectively step up our game if we’re going to be doing this for the foreseeable future.

The coronavirus has disrupted our usual way of life for everyone in our country, and Florida politicos are no exception. I know there are a lot of people out there who are doing their best to socially distance by working from home and limiting in-person interaction. While this is good for the country, it has resulted in a massive uptick in the usage of FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, etc. For some of us, this is just calling and checking on how Grandma is doing; but for a lot of you, it’s local TV interviews, Facebook Live with worried constituents, or even post-session job interviews for legislative staffers.

I have watched a lot of these over the last week, and I’ve got to say, some of them are REALLY BAD. We need to collectively step up our game if we’re going to be doing this for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some best tips for how not to make these shots look like hostage videos that I’ve been sharing with our clients.

Camera Angle

Problem: Your laptop/iPad camera isn’t very good, so you have to put a little bit of work to make this better. The easiest fix is to make sure your camera is at or above eye level. If you let your computer just sit on your desk like usual, the camera will be shooting from the bottom up, and really only gives us a good look up your nose. It’s not a flattering angle for anyone and results in dark eyes and double chins, among other things.

Solution: Prop your laptop up on some books or one of the Amazon boxes you’ve got laying around until the camera lens is at or slightly above eye level. It will instantly make a world of difference.

Extra tip: If you’re using an iPad in portrait mode to film yourself, I suggest turning it vertically, so the camera is above the screen and not to the right or left. This keeps you from looking like you’re looking off to the side while talking instead of looking straight at the camera lens.

Lighting

Problem: The most important thing that needs to be lit on-screen are your eyes. Most rooms are set up to light whatever you are looking at, not where you’re looking from. Your computer’s camera is set to adjust to expose your face correctly automatically. That means if your face isn’t the brightest thing in the shot, your face will either be too dark or too bright depending on the ambient lighting around you. More light is almost always better than less for this kind of stuff, just make sure it’s not behind you!

Solution: Make sure the primary light source is in front of your face and behind the computer camera. Do not sit in front of a giant window, or significant light source. This will cause your face to be underexposed. If you’re a legislator expecting to do a lot of interviews, I’d recommend buying a cheap light from Amazon and using it just for interviews.

Pro Tip: If you look closely at the lights around your house, they are mostly all an orange light source, sometimes called “soft white” or “tungsten.” This is a very different color “white” than the sunshine. If you’re in a room with a lot of lights, you need to make sure you’re not
“mixing color temperatures,” which will result in bad skin tones. Think, the people with red faces you’ve seen in poorly lit TV commercials.

Sound

Problem: You are giving an interview or Zoom meeting, and the other person asks you to get closer or complains that it sounds like you’re talking through a tin can. There’s an old saying in film that “sound is more than half the picture.” If you don’t sound right or people can’t hear you, it won’t matter how good you look on camera. The problem is that your computer’s microphone is small and usually protected behind a piece of plastic or metal. It isn’t powerful enough to get good audio from.

Solution: The most natural solution is just to sit closer to your computer screen and mic. Duh. But also, if you’re doing a lot of these videos, I would encourage you to get a small lavalier microphone that you can clip to your lapel. It will drastically improve the sound of your voice and other people’s ability to hear you talk. They plug in easily to your computer and usually won’t require extra software. You can find them on Amazon for less than $50.

Pro Tip: If you do end up using a wired lavalier mic, take the extra 10 seconds to run the mic cord through your shirt. Nothing is more distracting than seeing a wire hanging from someone’s shirt and dangling around while they talk.

That’s it! It’s that simple! You’re not going to win any cinematography Oscars, but if you follow these three tips, you’ll improve your image on camera incredibly.

P.S. — You should already be doing the other things that help you on camera, like sitting up straight, using a fixed chair and not one with casters (so you don’t sway back and forth), and talking slowly and clearly so people can hear you.

___

Brad Herold is Vice President at Something Else Strategies, a national political media firm.

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