\ Webcam Tips and Techniques: The Basics
Tutorial: Page (1) of 2 - 07/11/06

Webcam Tips and Techniques: The Basics

How to make yourself look your best on a webcam

By Charlie White

Photo courtesy Logitech, Inc.
So you got yourself a webcam. What next? Here's a basic primer, showing you what to do and what not to do to get the most out of your webcam. Whether you're in a corporate environment or at home, I'll show you how to pay attention to lighting, what to wear, where to locate your webcam, how to deal with the audio, and special techniques you can use to enhance your webcam experience. Best of all, just by reading this article, you'll know more than most people do about giving your webcam appearance a professional flair.

Camera Angles
When you first take the webcam out of the box, you'll be presented with a quandary: where to place the webcam? The most natural place is to clamp it onto the top of your computer monitor. This is probably going to be the best place to put it. Keep in mind, though, that if your face is higher than the top of your computer monitor, the webcam will be shooting at an upward angle to your face, which is not flattering for hardly anybody. You don't want that camera to be pointing up your nose, getting detailed pictorial renditions of your nose hairs. Raise the camera angle so that its lens is at least level with your eyes, if not slightly higher.
 
Next, make sure your shot is properly framed. Position yourself in the shot, and then tilt and pan the camera until your head is not cut off, but don't tilt the camera up so much that there's too much space over your head, either -- that makes it look like you're sitting in a hole. Frame it up so there's just a slight amount of space between your head and the top of the frame. Make sure you're close enough to the lens so that your face can be plainly seen. Experiment with camera placement, too, where attached atop your computer monitor might be its default position, but be open to other locations as well. For example, if your computer is close enough to the kitchen, consider getting a long USB cable, and setting up your webcam at the dinner table, so that a long-lost relative can have a simulated dinner with you and your family.  

Lighting

The Lowel Ego light ($99) has two 27-watt compact florescent bulbs inside, giving you the equivalent of 200 watts of incandescent light.
Lighting is crucial to good video, because after all, the camera is only picking up the light that's bounced off its subject, namely, you. If you're in a naturally dark room such as a basement office, the simplest thing you can do to improve the lighting is to take the shade off a lamp and place it directly next to your webcam. It might seem overly bright to you, but it will make you look much better. If you have the inclination and budget, you might even consider purchasing a special soft light with fluorescent bulbs inside, called the Ego light by Lowel (pictured at right). It shines 200 watts' worth of soft and even light, and if you're frequently using your webcam it might be the best $100 you ever spent. Short of that, simply turn on all the lights in the room, and if you have a window behind you that's brighter than the light shining on your face, close the drapes. Another suggestion is to make sure there's plenty of light on the background, so that it doesn't look like you're sitting in limbo in a dark room.

Audio
The microphone built into most webcams is not professional-grade, but there are some things you can do to bring out its best quality. Of course, some setups allow you to attach an external microphone, but for the purposes of this article, let's assume that you have a standard webcam with a built-in microphone. The most important thing to remember is to get as close to the camera as you can, but not so close that it visually suffocates your caller. You can just tell if you're too close -- it feels uncomfortable to look at the picture. This comfort level also has to do with your relationship with your caller. Bearing that in mind, remember that the closer you are to the microphone, the better you're going to sound. Another crucial tip: turn off any music playing in the background, and mute the sound on the television. Any extraneous audio will distract from the sound of your voice, and sensitive mics on webcams tend to amplify background noise.

What to Wear
There's no need to dress up for a webcam conversation; after all, it's not a performance, it's like a telephone call with video attached. However, there are some colors and patterns that work better with video. For instance, a distracting shirt or top will draw attention away from your face. When considering what colors to wear, remember that red is the most difficult color for video to reproduce, while blue is the most easily rendered color for video and is usually the most flattering choice for most people. A white shirt or blouse will make your face look darker, and conversely, wearing black will make your face look lighter.  

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