By Renata Cesar
Most of us know surprisingly little about the photographic techniques for looking great on Zoom. While the popularity of filters receive lots of attention, it’s the application of photographic techniques that truly transform how you look on video calls. Used by celebrities, influencers and politicians, these techniques can improve how you come across, and how confident you feel on a video call.
1. ADJUST YOUR CAMERA HEIGHT AND ANGLE
Every camera follows a basic principle that photographers use to change how we look in photos and videos: whatever’s closest to the camera looks the biggest. Experiment with how high your device’s tiny dot of a lens should be by adjusting its height. Use a stand or a pile of books, or try tilting the angle of your screen to see how different parts of your face look closer to the camera.
The height of the camera affects not only your facial features, but also the impact you make.
Lowering your device gives you the Emperor Effect:
- Your eyes look smaller, with your eyelids coming down over your eyes.
- Your lips and smile may look bigger
- Your jawline is emphasised, making some faces look older, more confident and more dominating
- You seem to be looking down at your viewers.
This angle can give you an aura of authority, competence and power. It is heavily used by business executives and politicians for still photos and videos – just don’t put the screen so far below you that all anyone sees is a pair of huge nostrils!
Raising your device gives you the Baby Face Effect:
- Your eyes look up to the screen and your lids are raised, which makes your eyes look bigger.
- Your forehead looks bigger, and your nose and mouth look smaller.
- Your cheekbones cast a flattering, contouring shadow over your cheeks below.
- You hide a double chin or a neck you don’t like.
Larger foreheads, big eyes and smaller jaws appeal to us, since we associate them with a childlike appearance. This angle can make you look more friendly, approachable and personable. But you might also appear less competent. Consider the trade-offs.
2. FIND THE BEST LIGHT, WITHOUT EXPENSIVE LIGHTING PRODUCTS
Everyone looks bad in bad lighting. Think about what kind of lighting you have, and where it is. The best place for a video call is facing a window. Many of the complicated lighting arrangements in professional studios try to mimic window light.
If you have daylight, whether it’s sunny or cloudy, just turn off the indoor lights and face your window for a uniquely flattering light. Try it and see.
If you have blinds, you can diffuse the light to give your face a slightly smoothing filter. Some video conferencing apps have something similar, such as Zoom’s subtle ‘Touch up my appearance’ option under Preferences/Video.
If you don’t have window light available, just place a lamp in front of you. It’s most flattering to sit with your light source in front of you.
A light directly above you or directly below you casts strange shadows on your facial features. And a light behind you creates a highlight for the camera lens: it will burn out part of your image with a patch of pure white, which is tiring for people to look at for more than a few minutes. But a light in front of you smooths away undereye shadows and softens your features and your skin. If you can sit in front of a window, or put a desk lamp on the other side of your device, so it shines gently on your face, you will see the difference.
To get the effect of daylight, a light therapy lamp can be rigged up to your computer for a flattering white light. Influencers and celebrities invest in all kinds of lighting products to help them look their best. But any light shining in front of you will help you put your best self forward.
3. MAKE EYE CONTACT, WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS LOOKING AT THE OTHER PERSON ON THE SCREEN!
The reason you’re on a Zoom call is to connect with someone, and making eye contact is the best way to do that. Because we are looking at our screens, and not at the lens, we are all having conversations apparently not looking at each other. Video calls can feel unnatural because we don’t remember to look at the camera lens. We look at the screen showing the other person’s face, or we look at our own image. This is really obvious to the other person, mesmerising though it is to us.
So how do you go about making eye contact? Look at the dot of the camera lens: you will seem to be looking directly at the person you are talking to! No one can do this all the time, but when you catch yourself admiring yourself on the screen, try redirecting your eyes to the camera lens. Imagine a bullseye or an eye around the tiny dim dot, or just stick a hole reinforcer on it.
If you have several windows open, keep the window with your conversation centred. Otherwise your eyeballs turn to the side as you look at the other person/your own face, and the whites of your eyes face the camera the whole time. It’s also obvious if you are reading something in another window: your rhythmic eye movements give you away.
Group calls can be tricky because of the lack of eye contact – our eyes are giving off confusing signals. Real-life conversations are a kind of dance in which people take turns speaking, with their eye signals telling us what to do next. For example, people avert their gaze when they are speaking, and then look at us as they are finishing and giving up their turn. While they are talking, in real life, we are looking steadily at them. We don’t even realise we are doing it. But on video calls, because we are looking at our screens instead of at the camera, we are all looking in different directions. So we jump in to talk at the wrong time. Being conscious of what your eyes are doing, and what they appear to be doing, can help.
Appearing to look into your viewer’s eyes is meaningful: it overcomes social distancing. If someone feels they have your attention, they will certainly remember it.
Once you sort out the practicalities of photographic techniques, you can be confident you are presenting yourself at your very best. Ultimately, when you feel confident in front of the camera, you can forget about how you look and focus on what matters most—your interactions and your relationships.
ABOUT “THE ART OF BEING PHOTOGRAPHED”
“The Art of Being Photographed” is a global online community with a mission to inspire, connect, educate and empower people in a world dominated by photographs and visuals. Renata Cesar, its founder, writes and blogs about photography, including on Quora where she has 2 million content views. www.theartofbeingphotographed.com @theartofbeingphotographed