Better Setups for Video Calls

We’re all working from home now, and will be for a while. Some of us will return to offices, some will work from home part of the week, and some won’t ever return to an office full-time again. One things for sure, you’re bound to be on more video calls, and here’s how to look, and sound, good.

All around I think this is good news. Less time commuting (less pollution), more family or personal time doing the things we like. More time for exercise, deep work, or whatever it is that you like to do.

I had lunch with a friend the other day- he mentioned commuting for 45-60 minutes each way. This is absolutely ridiculous. His excuse was that he used that time for calls or listening to podcasts- beneficial and productive no doubt. But, imagine doing that while walking around your neighborhood, park, or beach? Breathing fresh air, getting some light cardio and vitamin D from the sun. Now this is beneficial!

Why invest in proper video equipment for video calls

If you’ve been forced to adapt to working from home, or remotely from your co-located team, you’ve likely been doing more calls and video calls.

We’ve long been a remote company and understand the advantages of working with the right people, no matter where they’re located. Looking, and sounding, good are two areas you’ll want to nail down for video conferencing.

Here’s why: when you’re on camera more focus will be on you. If everyone else on a call only displays as a random phone number or even a static picture of them from 9 years ago, it’s boring for others to look at- or worse, it’s just confusing.

If you’ve never met these people it can be awkward, hard to get to know them or who they are as a person (something that goes a long way towards relationship building).

So, if you’re the only one, or one of the few, who has their camera turned on, you’re going to have more eyes and ears on you. With more attention, you have more opportunities to make an impact and be a leader.

Oh I’d turn my camera on but I didn’t do my hair today…

Don’t use an excuse for not turning on your camera. Most on the other end won’t believe you, and they likely don’t care. With Covid-19 in full swing we (everyone else) on the call get it. We know you might have kids, dogs, others running around in the background. It’s okay- it’s better to be yourself.

Bad

If there are three things you’ll want to avoid on video calls, it’s:

  • Poor lighting
  • Poor audio
  • Slow bandwidth
Bad look. A blown out window in the background is distracting.

In the image above I’m in front of a large window: The outside is over exposed, and my face is under exposed. This is distracting to others as it’s very hard for them to see your face and expressions. Avoid this look if you can.

Good

A “good” setup doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Your computer’s built-in webcam will suffice. But, make sure you’re front lit (your back isn’t right in front of a giant window), so you’re not silhouetted- when no one can see your face it’s kinda ominous and scary.

Nice lighting and using an external microphone (in the form of AirPods).

Also, make sure you have some kind of microphone. EarPods, or AirPods, or another headset will do wonders. Get the mic as close as you can to your mouth. This will reduce background noise and improve the Signal-to-Noise ratio, which means others on the call will hear you loud and clear.

You want the camera slightly above your eye line, and just beneath the camera ideally would be your monitor. This will appear as if you’re looking into the camera and provide a pleasing look for others on the call.

Better

If you want to take it up a notch- something I definitely recommend. It would be to get an external camera, light source, and microphone.

Camera

An external camera is going to give you more dynamic range and better exposure. You can expect the colors to be more accurate and your image to come in more clearly for others on the call.

As noted above, if you look better (as in image fidelity) you’ll have more eyes on you and others will focus on you. A couple cameras I’d recommend:

A note about the Sony a6300 camera. While it’s really in a class of its own, and a step above the other two I’d recommend, it will require a nice lens and a way to connect the camera’s HDMI into your computer, such as using the Elgato Camlink. This will give you the most bang-for-your-buck in terms of image quality.

This will also give a slightly blurred background. This is another little hack to keep the focus on you. Your eye will naturally focus on the part of the image that’s in focus.

Lights

Lighting yourself properly is so incredibly important. A nice, soft light, pointing down on you about a 45˚-60˚ angle, slightly off center will provide an appealing look. Soft light will make the shadows slowly roll off your face and provide a twinkle in your eye- not just fairy tales here. All romantic Hollywood scenes have eye lights.

I like lights that let you control the brightness with a dimmer, and color temperature so you look natural on camera depending on other light sources around you. For example, if you have large windows or plenty of natural light, you’ll want something closer to sunlight or 5600K. If you have florescent bulbs (side note: replace them), you’ll want something around 4600K, or if you have incadencent lights you’ll want something closer to 3200K .

If you’re unsure, or move around, an adjustable light will be perfect for all situations. A few I’d recommend:

Sound

A quality external mic will make you heard- loud and clear. You can talk softly and natural, no need to have “speakerphone” voice where you are overly verbose and project your voice unnaturally.

Best

A professional setup takes everything up a notch. Better camera, lights, mic, plus additional hardware to stream your screen. You’ll likely have multiple monitors, gaming card to accelerate frame rate buffering/recording, lighting control for background lights (color, intensity, pattern programming), and social share. A green screen to display yourself over your screen (or even those gimmicky Zoom backgrounds).

This means spending upwards of $20,000 for a proper studio with the internet bandwidth to stream.

End Notes

All this really isn’t for you, but the others on the call with you. If it’s co-works, clients, partners, or prospective clients they’ll all appreciate you taking the time to invest in a proper set up. It’s displays professionalism, and the fact that you care. Hopefully they’ll end up returning the favor. The Verge and The Wirecutter have additional information.