December 17, 2013


Logitech c920 webcam on tripodWe live in a visual world. Mastering your webcam is important and growing more important. You can use your webcam for video calls (Skype, Google Hangouts) and making videos.

I've been reluctant to use my webcam because I haven't liked the setup in my office. I've been working on that. Here's what I've learned. The steps are in order.

1. Put the webcam at eye level

You probably have your notebook computer on your desk low enough for typing. That’s too low for video. You risk showing more neck than face, which may not be flattering. Mind those nose hairs too!
How do you get your webcam to the right height?

If looks don’t matter, the easy way is to put something underneath your computer like a box or stacks of printer paper. You’ll want to make sure your stand is stable. If you plan on typing, an external keyboard and mouse help (and are worth having anyway).

It’s now easier to pretend you’re talking to a real person.

2. Look Directly At The Webcam

Your webcam is likely above your screen. It’s tempting to look at the screen whether you’re recording or Skyping. That means you’re looking below the webcam. This is less than ideal but less of a problem once your webcam is at eye level.

When you’re having an in-person conversation, you don’t look at the other person the whole time. You’re allowed to blink and shift your gaze. If you’re also taking notes, you’ll need to do this. You can do this when using a webcam too.

3. Have lots of light

Webcams work in low lighting but not very well. You’ll see a similar effect when taking photos with your smartphone. The apertures which let in light are much smaller than with a camera. This means you need more light.

Since the best lighting simulates daylight, why not use natural light? I face a large window in my office. That provides excellent light during the day. If you want more control and consistency, you can use artificial lights. I've been experimenting by putting lights I already have near the window. That means I can record with the lighting coming from the same general area.

If you want to get fancy, you’ll find lots of lighting options available.

4. Heed the background

What's behind you makes a big difference. What does your webcam see? You want to make sure that nothing confidential shows. You also want to create a good impression. Doors aren’t especially appealing on camera. What if someone enters the room?

If your office is messy, can you keep a portion tidy?

5. Dress appropriately

Video cameras see differently than we do. They seem to like blue but not stripes. You’ll find more details at Videomaker and Real Men Real Style.
You don’t want to look too formal or too casual. When recording video, you might want to  wear the same things every time, for consistency and branding. I haven’t figured out what to wear.

6. Get an external webcam

Built-in webcams have improved but don’t have the quality of an external webcam. They can’t match the flexibility either.

An external webcam that mounts on a tripod gives you flexibility. You also get quality since only the high-end models offer this connection (e.g., my Logitech C920 or the  Microsoft LifeCam Studio). You don’t need a fancy tripod since you won’t need to make many adjustments besides height and placement.

7. Stand up

When you put your webcam on a tripod, you don't need to sit down. When you stand, you still want the camera at eye-level. When you stand, the mess in your office is less likely to show. Clever huh?
Standing give you more energy. I tend to stand even when making phone calls and make notes on my whiteboard.

whiteboard on webcam8. Be creative

You don't have to use your webcam like the masses. What's a good style for you? Standing can help set you apart. Having a practical (but real) backdrop can too. I have a nice oak whiteboard. That lets me write and gives me an incentive to keep the whiteboard clean.

I’ve setup my webcam on a tripod facing the whiteboard, close enough to show what's on the board without zooming. The wide angle of the camera, shows me too. I am at the left of the whiteboard, which is ideal because we read from left to right. In my case, the lighting comes from my right hand side too.

9. Get a good microphone

The microphones in webcams aren’t very good. They'll do when you’re starting out but you'll get much better results with an external USB microphone. I've been using a Samson C30U with a shock mount and stand since 2009. There are probably better models now but I've had no reason to upgrade. Get quality and you’re set for years.

You simply set up your computer to use video from the webcam and audio from the USB microphone.

10. Get better video editing software

Basic video editing is easy if you have a good quality recording. You might want to trim the beginning or end, and perhaps add titles. As you get more experienced, you may find the video editing software that came with your webcam or computer isn’t adequate. There are lots of options for upgrading. I’ve used Adobe Premiere Elements and switched to Cyerlink PowerDirector.

You don't have to do everything at once. Start by getting a webcam that mounts on a tripod. Next get a tripod and finally get a USB microphone.


PS Items go on sale.

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