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How to Frame Your Webcam Video Like a Pro

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So…you want to make a webcam video. No, not that kind of webcam video! The kind where you’re hosting a webinar, video blogging, joining an online meeting or chat, or maybe even being interviewed.

It’s easier than ever to do. So why do so many webcam shots look like garbage? I’m not talking about technical quality, like whether the camera is recording high definition video. I’m talking about the framing of the shot. Here’s a textbook example:

Screen capture of webcam shot with too much headroomScreen capture of webcam shot with too much headroomScreen capture of webcam shot with too much headroom

Yikes! Look at all that wasted space above the woman’s head. The framing on this shot is distracting because it just looks…wrong.

Most of us don’t intuitively know how to frame ourselves for video. And why would we? Unless you’re a film major or a TV journalist, you’re not exactly learning this in school.

Here are four common mistakes seen in webcam selfies, along with some simple (and free!) fixes for making your shot look more flattering and professional:

1. Use a Little Less Head Room

When most people sit down in front of a webcam, they position themselves so their head is smack dab in the middle of the screen (if they give any thought to it at all).

Webcam shot with too much head roomWebcam shot with too much head roomWebcam shot with too much head room

Instinctively, this just looks off. There’s too much empty space above my head. In industry speak, there’s too much head room.

Head room refers to the amount of space between the top of your head and the top of the frame. Put too much and you’ll look small and insignificant. Put too little (or none) and it will look like your head is stuck to the top of the screen.

Here’s the secret to getting the right amount of head room. Imagine a “tic tac toe” grid laid over top of your screen. Instead of placing the your head in the centre square, put your eyes along that imaginary top third line of the tic tac toe grid. Make sure you can see your shoulders in the shot.

Webcam shot with grid overlayWebcam shot with grid overlayWebcam shot with grid overlay

Doesn’t that look a lot better?  Now I have the correct amount of head room.

This type of head-and-shoulders shot is ideal for communication. Any further away, and you start to lose that personal contact. And if you move too close to the camera, it gets uncomfortable for the viewer (remember Seinfeld’s “close talker”?).

Webcam shots too far just right too closeWebcam shots too far just right too closeWebcam shots too far just right too close

2. Raise the Webcam Up to Eye Level

I don’t know about you, but I don't enjoy looking up people’s noses. Low camera angles are not flattering to anyone—they just make your face look jowly and distorted (and who wants that?).

This isn’t usually a problem with desktop computers. Their webcams are roughly at eye level when we sit in front of them. But laptops on a table or desk are lower, and we have to look down into the camera’s lens.

Looking down into webcamLooking down into webcamLooking down into webcam

The solution is simple: bring that webcam up to your eye level, or even slightly above. Try stacking a few books underneath your laptop, or lowering your chair.

Laptop webcam at eye levelLaptop webcam at eye levelLaptop webcam at eye level

Voilà: no more double chin! (or ceiling shots).

3. Light it Right

The only thing worse that looking up someone’s nose is not being able to see their face at all. This can happen when a window or bright light is behind you—you become backlit.

Face in silhouetteFace in silhouetteFace in silhouette

Without getting too technical here, your webcam detects the amount of light and increases or reduces the exposure to produce an image that's, on average, not to bright or not too dark. If you set up with a bright light behind you, however, the camera will see that big bright light and lower the exposure level overall to compensate. As result, you'll end up looking like you’re in a witness protection program: shrouded in shadow. Yikes.

If possible, position your computer so you’re facing a window to take advantage of the natural light coming in. My office has an ideal set up:

Desktop computer facing big windowDesktop computer facing big windowDesktop computer facing big window

If there's no window or it's dark outside, you need to turn on some lights. Overhead lights are better than none, but this kind of lighting isn’t always flattering. A better solution, if you’re at home, is to set a lamp on either side of your computer to provide a soft, even light. If you make webcam video frequently, it's worth looking into buying or making yourself something dedicated for the purpose. It doesn't need to be fancy or expensive to be effective.

Desktop computer with lamp on either sideDesktop computer with lamp on either sideDesktop computer with lamp on either side

If that's not bright enough, try removing the lamp shade. Experiment! It doesn't matter what kind of light you use—just make sure it's in front or slightly to the side of you, not behind.

4. Simplify the Background

Messy closets. Cluttered bookshelves. Laundry on the couch. I’ve seen it all in the background of webcam shots. Your friends and family may not care, but if you’re hosting a webinar or video blogging for business, you need to clean up your act (so to speak).

You want people to focus on you, not what’s going on behind you. So keep the background as simple and uncluttered as possible.

If you’re using a laptop, you have a lot of flexibility to move around and experiment with different locations. Choose a clean, bright wall. Avoid bookshelves or walls with lots of paintings or posters. Close any doors that might be in the background.

Next Steps

So just to recap, here’s what you should do before your next webcast:

  1. Position your body for a head and shoulders shot. Put your eyes on that imaginary top third line of a tic-tac-toe grid.
  2. Make sure your webcam is at eye level or slightly above.
  3. Add light by sitting near a window or adding lamps.
  4. Clean up any clutter in the background!

Want to dive deeper into video conferencing and live streaming? Be sure to check out the Envato Tuts+ course on getting set up for video conferencing and live video chat online!

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