Webcam Glam: 3 Easy Tricks To Look Polished On Video Chats

More than 300 billion total calling minutes take place annually on Skype; 50% of those calls are video conversations. Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer revealed this stat at CES last month while discussing the Internet software's ongoing success internationally.

While the technology continues to improve, users are slow to learn how to make video calls look good. While not all of us have Oprah's Skype Guest Kit, which reportedly includes a state-of-the art laptop, desk-sized tripod, and prepaid return shipping label, there are some simple things the average business person can do to take online video chats to the next level.

Buying a USB-powered microphone is an obvious first step (along with using an Ethernet connection versus Wi-Fi) to increase your computer conversation quality, but it's time to think beyond that. With many employers relying on video chat software to keep employees connected, individuals using webcams to produce expert how-to videos, and television broadcasters depending on this technology to beam guests in from all over the world, it's no longer just good enough to be happy that your connection works.

Here are three simple tips (along with some convincing before and afters to seal the deal) to improve your webcam video picture.

1.  Look up, not down.  I can't tell you how many people we interview for Fast Company's Work Flow series who are staring directly down at their web camera, nose hairs and all. In other words, no matter how technical they are, most webcam users forget that your eye line matters. If you're looking down at your camera, the person you're calling is looking up at you. In other words, it's not an attractive view. Set your computer (if you're on a laptop) on a few books so that you're looking slightly up at the web camera. Not only will this tip make your image look better--and slim down that double chin if you have one--it will be easier to focus on the conversation instead of the empty space in front of you.

2.  Light in front, not in back.  If you're in a room with a window (i.e. natural light), face towards the window. This will ensure that light falls on your face. Never sit with your back to a window while doing an online video conversation or meeting unless you also have light on the front of your face to balance things out (a backlit shot is not a good shot). If you're in a room without a window, dig around for a light that you can place in front of you--even if you only have access to a small lamp.

3.  Go external, not internal.  Built-in web cameras have come a long way, but external web cameras have come even further. Just a few years ago the iSight, Apple's built-in cam, was excellent quality. However, many external web cameras have far surpassed this technology. For less than $50 you can buy an HD web camera that will dramatically sharpen your video. For example, I travel with a Logitech HD webcam C270 series for a better image. Ladies, keep in mind that while HD does provider a sharper picture, this also means that you might also want to do a makeup touch-up before your on-camera appearance since high definition shows a lot of detail. 

Get more tips on working effectively in Amber Mac's Work Flow series

[Image: Olly via Shutterstock]

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3 Comments

  • swangirl

    There is an interesting crowd sourcing project to help solve the problems that accompany basic laptop camera vlogging. It’s called the Swan Light. It’s an upright, portable, and evenly lights your face from a more flattering angle. Bad lighting and camera angle are the two most important elements in the equation and the inventors of the swanlight are trying to fix that. Check it out on Facebook and http://theswanlight.com/

  • Gina Carr

    Thanks for this article, Amber.  Great tips.  Do you have any suggestions for a low-cost lighting package?

  • Jim Courtney

    Excellent post, Amber.

    Skype HD video does require that you have a 1.0 Mbps upload speed (upper limit of most common broadband services). All Logitech C series HD webcams will do HD video at this speed; C920 is best for Windows; C910 is best for Mac but C310 and C625 also work well. Earlier Skype HD video webcams required 1.2 Mbps (and, thus, a premium broadband service).

    The webcams in the recent MacBooks and Macs launched last June (2011) with dual core Core i5 or quad core Core i7 Intel processor also support Skype HD video @720p.