Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 16, 2020

Your 3-Step Guide to Better Home Video Conferencing

Staying in place during the current Covid 19 pandemic has had a few, faint positive spin-off effects.

At no time do I want to suggest during this post that the crisis is anything but mind-numbingly grave on an epic scale. I do not make light of these circumstances in any way. I know millions of people face grinding hardship.

Isolation of various — often extreme — degrees has reminded people the world over of how precious is contact with other people: family, friends, co-workers, the familiar clerk behind the counter at the neighborhood market. We’re social animals. Deprived of social contact, we wither, decline.

Video conferencing is filling part of that gap to an unprecedented degree. Just a few days ago, I participated in a live video conference that included 23 members of my extended family from 4 generations, in 8 cities, coast-to-coast across the U.S.A. You may have a similar story.

Having spent a considerable chunk of my professional career producing video programs, I’d like to offer 3 tips to enhance your next video conference.

Video Is Horizontal

Look at your computer screen. Look at your television set. Video is wider than it is tall. Video conference applications assume that you will fill your portion of the screen with an image in horizontal format. If you hold your mobile phone or tablet vertically, you’ll only be using about 1/3 of the space allotted you.

Turn your mobile device horizontally. For a full-on explication of this subject, see my previous post at this link.

Light Is All. All Is Light.

What any photograph, video image or work of art shows is not a face or a room or any other object. It shows the light reflecting from those faces and objects. That is the first lesson any photographer, videographer or cinematographer (or painter) learns on Day One of their professional training: It’s the light!

Composing and framing the image occupies about 10% of a professional image-maker’s attention. The rest is given over to lighting.

The lenses and processors built into the newest generation of computing devices are impressively sophisticated. They compensate for many errors, but they have limits. No commonly available camera possesses the astounding ability of the human eye and brain to process images.

You are the subject of your video conference. You don’t have to sit in bright sunlight, but you should be better lighted than the background, not in shadow.

Do not pose yourself against a brightly lighted wall or outside window. Few cameras can compensate for extremes in contrast the way the human eye does. Against a bright background, you may appear as a mere silhouette. Cameras are not as intelligent as the brain: They’re actually programmed to disregard you and pay attention to the brighter light. LOOK at yourself on that screen: Can you see yourself? It’s as simple as that.

Can We Hear You?

The microphones built into computers, phones and tablets are relatively sophisticated, but have limited range.

If you’re too far away from your device, the sound of your ordinary, conversational voice falls off dramatically with distance from the receiver.

Here, we face a brutal reality. None of us who aren’t Penelope Cruz or Brad Pitt enjoy seeing ourselves onscreen in high definition. (I like to think of Mr. Pitt seeing himself in the screening room, thinking, “Darn! I HATE my face in that shot!” And I’ll bet it happens.)

Our tendency is to back away from the camera. Unfortunately, that means we’re also moving away from the microphone, and the level of audio diminishes quickly with distance. Your family, friends and co-workers want to SEE you AND hear you. They already know what you look like. Face up to it: That’s you.

I’m named Brad, but I’m not Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper or any other leading-man Brad. Mine is the face I have, although I avoid spending much time with it in the mirror. Let it be so.

Postscript

Here’s a tip I encountered a few weeks after I wrote the above.

To make your video conference more personal, remember that if you’re looking at your screen, you’re not making eye contact with anyone else. You can only do that by looking into the camera. That disassociation of your gaze introduces an inevitable distance between you and your fellow conferees.

Yes, you want to see their faces. At least while you’re speaking, and occasionally while you’re listening, direct your line of view to the camera, which is in the center above the screen on most devices — or to the left or right if you’ve turned a mobile on its side to be horizontal. Contact! The human touch.

Say Hi to Everyone!

Three simple tips: horizontal video, lighting, sound. Stay in touch, write, call, conference. We’re all in this, billions of us. Maybe your familiar face, the sound of your voice, will add that human touch to an extremely harsh reality for someone close to you, but far away.

Have you had a video conference during stay-at-home time? Other tips? Please leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2020


Responses

  1. I finally downloaded the Duo app, and had a little chat with my cousin in Kansas City. If my 93 year old aunt has mastered the technique, we’ll have a chat, too. This has been my first experience with such a thing, and my first thought when I saw myself was, “OMG — never mind that stupid virus. It looks like I’ve already died.”

    Then, I got the ipad more than six inches away, and things improved. Good tips.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Having spent the first half of my video production career in the pre-hi def era, I weep for those of us confronted with REALITY. Only merciful lighting can save us. The studio pros have arsenals of soft-focus tools they use as a matter of course, because even the world’s screen icons are merely human, and look just as bad as we do in sharp focus. Don’t let it bother you. People want to see us, and already know how we look.
      Sounds like your aunt is on pace with my 92 year-old father, who’s been an early adopter of every new technology. You can’t keep that greatest generation down. They simply prevail.

      Liked by 1 person


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