The pandemic has changed the face of the global workplace, and even when the reopening of most businesses is accomplished, more video meetings, conferences, and presentations will no doubt be a part of the new landscape. To make sure you’re always camera-ready, we’ve come up with some affordable equipment suggestions and tips to make looking and sounding good easy for better video meetings.
Be ready for your close-up
First things first. To ensure your audience isn’t looking up your nose, be sure to adjust your chair height or elevate your laptop so that the camera is at eye level. If you’re using your phone, an adjustable stand will let you get just the right angle.
In addition to making sure your background is clean and presentable, lighting is a key part of any video presence you have. Focus on getting more light onto your face.
Natural light is the easiest setup if you can find a sunny spot in your home. Avoid having a bright window at your back, though, which will create glare behind you and cause your webcam to underexpose your face, causing a silhouetted look.
If you don’t have a good natural light spot, you can use regular old house lightbulbs. Traditionally, having one light above (could be a ceiling light) and one on either side of you can banish shadows and hotspots. If you’re using several lamps, make sure they are all using the same kind of bulb to create an even color temperature. Play with the strength of the bulbs or move the lamps closer and further away depending on what your space needs.
A lot of light helps you look better, but it also helps the video signal to be a lot less grainy. The reason for this is that a dark room will make the ‘auto exposure’ settings on the webcam work harder to bring up the overall exposure level and it will make your video seem very grainy. Lighting is the reason some people have great-looking videos and some people have grainy dark videos. Don’t be the person with a grainy dark video!
Indirect light will be more ‘soft’ on the skin than direct light, which means that reflecting light off a wall or other white object (like a sheet) will be very effective at creating a nice soft light.
The larger the source of the light, the more ‘soft’ the light will look on your skin. This is why window light is great because you have a large source of indirect light hitting you.
Another thing to consider is what’s called color temperature. As you’re probably aware there are ‘warmer’ lights and ‘cooler’ lights. Some of the lighting we’ll discuss can be changed from one temperature to another and this is called a Bi-Color light. Very helpful for video. Generally speaking, you want a temperature that matches the rest of the light in the room. If you get a lot of window light in the room you’d probably want to employ a ‘daylight’ balanced light. If you have warm bulbs everywhere in the room then a ‘tungsten’ color temperature will work better for your needs. If it’s a bit of both, you may want a Bi-Color LED so that you can adjust and find just the right color temperature.
Small Battery Powered LED Lights
If you want to get a small battery-powered LED light there are some good options on the market that can help put a little light on your face during a virtual call. Consider the Genaray Powerbank 96 Pocket LED Light, Aputure Amaran AL-F7 On-Camera Variable Color LED Light, and the LituFoto F18 Bicolor LED Video Light with Power Bank Function.
Powered + Battery LED Lights
The advantage to this category is that they can be powered with batteries for portability but also be plugged in for longer lighting needs. Because they can draw more power, they can be brighter as well. They can be a bit more expensive. The one I personally use above my monitor for virtual meetings is the Genaray Spectro LED Essential 500IIB Bi-Color LED, another good option is this GVM Bi-Color LED Light (which comes with a nice desk mount), and a cheaper alternative is the Neewer Dimmable Bi-Color LED.
Larger Fluorescent Lights
If you’re interested in fluorescent lights, this Raya Octa Fluorescent 7-Socket Fixture 1-Light Softbox Kit is a great option to get the stand and the “soft diffuser cover” all at once. However, it is pretty big and won’t work on most people’s desks.
Improve Your Phone Audio
Granted, many video meetings these days include the sounds of children and barking dogs, but as casual as our expectations have become, you still want to come across as professional as possible with your audio. The best place to start is with an external mic for the phone, which can be wireless or wired.
Wired mics cost less and make good sense for video shot from your desk. The Rode smartLav+ is broadcast quality and designed for film and television use, so it will definitely bring the game to your Zoom meetings. This wired lav clips to your shirt and attaches to your smartphone. Though designed for the IOS Rode app, which turns your phone into a field recorder, it will work with some Android devices.
If you’re an adroid user, you’ll need an adaptor, so here’s a thread that discusses Pixel 4 and external microphones.
If you want to use a mic with your computer, here are a few USB microphone options. The Rode NT-USB Mini, the one I personally use which is the Blue Yeti USB Mic (blackout version), and for the on the go laptop user, Samson makes the Go Mic Portable USB mic that clips to your monitor next to your webcam.
Of course, you don’t have to use a USB microphone for your recording needs. You can use a standard style microphone that uses XLR ports. A good budget version is the Rode Podmic (designed for podcasters). Those looking for a high-end microphone for podcasts, performances, and interviews will want to consider the Shure SM7b Cartiod Dynamic microphone. It’s shielded against electromagnetic hum generated by computer monitors, neon lights, and other electrical devices. This directional microphone is great for clean music and speech, but it won’t be a plug and play setup for your phone or pad, you’ll need a USB audio interface.
USB Audio Interface
Because your computer does not have XLR microphone inputs, you’ll need a USB audio interface like the Zoom U-22 Handy Audio Interface, which converts the audio signal into a digital signal relayed via USB. It also supplies the needed preamp for this mic to have the power to get a clean recording. For other options, you can also check out the BEHRINGER Audio Interface or the Rode AI-1 Single Channel USB Audio Interface.
The cost of this setup may be more than you’d need for your usual roster of virtual call encounters, but if you’re looking to upgrade other elements of your media creation like podcasts or videos, it’s a wise investment. At the very least, you’ll have better video meetings with amazing sound.
Remember that the more bells and whistles your system has, the more settings there are to keep track of, so assess how much complexity you’re comfortable with versus what format you’re producing in.
Doing the research for your home media creation setup is the hardest part. To be ready for your next video encounter, start experimenting with your lighting now. Decide if you need to supplement what you have with additional lighting or new bulbs, and get yourself a mic to up your audio game. You’ll enjoy being on camera more knowing that you look and sound your best.
What equipment do you have already? What are your zoom calls like? I’d love to hear your experiences!
If you have more questions or want more help with purchasing or setting up your equipment, just reach out here or with the contact info below because we’re happy to help!