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Better webcam recording

So you need to record a pitch for www.vator.tv, or a streaming intranet video message to associates in your company, or a pre-recorded message to play at a conference or meeting. Or you just want to look better when communicating via webcam-and you don't have the budget or time to get the professionals in. How can you ensure you look and sound as good as possible?

Obviously the recording equipment- webcam, microphone, video camera- play a part but as the saying goes “you can’t shine a turd”. If the recording environment isn’t right, and your recording technique isn’t carefully considered, it won’t matter how strong or heartfelt your message is. Your audience will be distracted by the bad presentation just as much as they would if you stepped into the room with them dressed in shorts and singlet, crouched behind a chair and belched it.

So here are some key things to consider when recording yourself for later video playback in any format. They all assume recording indoors in some form of corporate environment but are just as important if recording outside. And of course they work just as well for recording pieces to camera on a handycam or other traditional video camera. No embarrassment is intended to the subjects in the examples- thanks to them you’ll be able to avoid the same pitfalls. And of course the quality of the shooting is nothing to do with Vator.tv (where I grabbed the examples from), who have developed a fantastic marketing channel.

1) The background: Nothing too distracting, and definitely not a bright window (or a white wall for that matter)- see Examples 1 and 2 in the PDF file below.

A darker background is better as you’ll stand out against it more if there’s enough light on you. A simple picture (abstract, scenic, diploma) is fine, as are plants, but be careful they don’t look like they’re growing out of your head.

2) Shot size: mid shot or slightly tighter.
This usually means from the waist or chest up. You should be sitting in the centre of the frame, or slightly to one side if your sitting or standing on a slight angle to the camera. If standing, it’s a less threatening and more comfortable looking pose to start by facing your body at a 20 degree angle to the camera and then turning your head directly to it.

The camera should be as close as possible to head height, slightly higher is OK, but shoot from below you’ll start to look intimidating (and ladies, it accentuates the chins…). And watch the “head room” (remember Max?)- you need just a small gap between the top of your head and the top of the video frame. Too much and it looks like you’re sinking, none at all and the effect is just as disconcerting.

Examples 3 and 3A are examples of bad framing… Example 4 is good.

3) Lighting: more is better- but from the right direction. That’s not behind you (see point 1) or directly above or below you (unless you’re going for the “Blair Witch Project” look). You might not always have much control of this but if all the lighting is from overhead- like the ubiquitous office fluros- placing a large white desk blotter out of shot on the desk in front of you will bounce some up from below and lessen the heavy shadows that can be created under your eyes and nose...or cap (take it off…). See Examples 5 and 5A.

A large diffused light source such as window situated off camera to one side of you (and ideally more in front) or even a large table lamp or light pointed at a wall will give nice even modeling (Example 6).

Most cameras, web or video, have auto white balance settings (so that white looks white and not cold blue or warm orange) no need to override this unless you're comfortable doing so- to warm your skin tone up for instance.

4) Sound: get the microphone as close as possible to you.Again, this may be controlled by the type of mic you’re using. If it’s part of the camera or webcam- then get close as possible to it (remembering the optimum framing covered in point 2).

If you have a clip-on or lavalier mic, then obviously you should clip it tidily to your lapel or chest (not directly on your chest… unless you’re recording while sunbathing). It can sometimes even be hidden behind a lapel, under a shirt collar or inside a top made of lighter material, but this requires a better quality mic than you probably have access to.

Take a moment to consider the ambient noise where you’re recording. Is there noisy aircon above the desk? Loud street, office or machinery noise? Tropical birds mating outside the window? If it’s a noisy location (inside or out) this will compete with the level of your message so close the door, ask those working close to you to keep it down until you’ve finished recording, or find a quieter space.

5) Presentation: larger than life!
(See Example 7- the backgrounds a bit of a sty, but the lighting, framing and animated delivery of the presenter overcome this)
This is a whole separate topic which I’ve covered in other articles on this page. But in general, present your message with more expression, animation and volume than you would in normal conversation. Trust me- you won’t look stupid- you’ll probably find that if it feels a little over the top then you’ve pitched it about right.

But don’t critique this part of the process yourself- get a peer, trusted business associate or your boss (preferably not a friend or underling who won’t want to offend or embarrass you) to tell you what they think.

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