Finding Gifts to Look and Sound Great on Zoom

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If you’ve gotten this far without having to use Zoom, Teams, Facebook, Skype, or another video conferencing platform, you are one of the few these days. But if you have been using the popular video conferencing platform (or one of them) for meetings, performances, or education, how good do you feel about your presentation? Are you happy with your look online, or do you feel the webcam is not representing how you really want to present yourself? Can the other participants hear you clearly? Let’s go over a few ways you can improve the look and sound of your video streams and find the right equipment and gifts for your friends, family, and colleagues.

Communicating Loud and Clear

Video may be the most important part of your Zoom calls if you are using primarily sign language to communicate, but if you are only using spoken communication, it’s the audio. If your participants can see you but not hear you, it won’t be too great a call. The microphone you use is an important part of a video conference, and it also should match the size of the room, as well as your distance from the camera. Your computer’s or smartphone’s microphone can pick up decent audio, but even using your earbud or headphone mic will sound like you’re talking on the phone, lacking deep vocal tones that sound professional. For optimal sound quality, a separate microphone will help you deliver that clarity.

  • Shotgun microphones are the most popular to pick up directional audio and filter out noise around you. There are many USB or 3.5mm shotgun mics available that can plug directly into your computer or phone. Shotgun mics need to be powered and not all of them feature battery power, so shop accordingly.
  • A Lavalier microphone is a tiny, wearable microphone that is great if you want to hide your microphone and mount it on your clothing. The only drawback of the lav is that they can be expensive, especially if they are wireless, and they also have a wide pickup pattern area so you will hear all the sounds around you.
  • A Dynamic or voice mic can be a good option if you want to pick up your audio without requiring power, but they also generally require you to be very close to the microphone. These are great mics for podcasting, so if you’re Zooming your podcast, the dynamic mic will make you sound great.
  • If you want to use more than one microphone, a portable mixer may help you plug multiple microphones into your computer.

So Many Camera Choices

While smartphones and laptop cameras have decent built-in cameras, they can be very limited in their options and quite expensive for the highest end. External webcams work best with your computer and there are many that offer zooming, good light performance, and a variety of different lenses. Some things to consider for your webcam:

  • Look at cameras that deal with low light well, in case the environment changes or is dark. A webcam or small camcorder is a great choice, as long as they can easily connect to your computer.
  • The camera should mount on top of a laptop or monitor, on the table, or near your computer so you can view the computer at the same level as your camera views you.
  • Suggestion is a minimum of 720p output to see your participants clearly; 4K cameras aren’t necessarily needed if you aren’t recording and editing the content.
  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera can be great, but they require a different lens that would need to autofocus on you, so if you move, it may not work well. Also, they tend to have batteries that die quickly, so additional power sources are needed.
  • The camera you prefer may also not have a great interface with your computer, so you may need an additional interface such as an HDMI-to-USB capture device.

Framing Matters

Lots of attention is placed on where you are in relation to the camera; just check out the Room Rater account that judges people’s Zoom backgrounds—people take it seriously. Balance yourself within the frame with something that is relevant to you, your location, or personality.

  • First, raise your camera so it’s slightly above your nose line. Framing works best when you’re not also attempting to view up someone’s nose or see all their under-chins.
  • Don’t let your camera lure you too close, even if it has a fairly wide lens. Leave about 2-3' between you and the camera and give the frame some room around your head, especially if you use hand gestures or sign language to communicate.
  • Unless you have something in your background that you need to place on camera to the side, like a talk-show graphic box or your sleeping cat, there’s no reason to be off-center. Center shots are easier to light.
  • If you are doing a full-body shot, give yourself room on top, bottom, and sides, depending on how much moving you’re going to do. Environments that are evenly lit from above are best for the wide frames.
  • When placing yourself in the frame, try to leave some room at your back to add some depth, or else you may look like you’re posing for a mug shot or a passport photo.

Think Like a Gaffer

If there’s no light on your face, your audience on Zoom will definitely not be able to see you—it’s pretty simple. The light from your laptop, camera, or phone is likely not good enough to show all the detail of who you are, so you’ll need to add some light. Lighting for video can be intimidating, but there’s no reason to worry about where to get light if your space has windows, lamps, or overhead lights. If you’re using a phone, tablet, or laptop, it’s easy to move to a location that has a strong light source.

  • Make sure the light source is in front of your face, but not directly in your eyes.
  • A light placed slightly above your head or to the side will allow the viewers to see you brightly and clearly. (Warning: if you put the light behind you, you will look like one of those anonymous witness interviews in a noir documentary, and lighting underneath your face will make you look like that kid at camp with the flashlight under his chin trying to look scary. Raise it up.)
  • Your background is also part of your frame, so make sure that has some lighting, too. It will give your frame depth, making it easier for your viewers to see detail. Turn on the lights in the background or point a light at the wall to show your environment (just make sure it’s cleaned up first).
  • A small light above or to the side of your camera can definitely help sort out your facial lighting, but some lights are not strong enough to include your body or background.
  • Speaking of reflections, if you wear glasses, they will cause reflection, so be mindful of where your light is. Softer lights such as LEDs with diffusers (translucent glass, plastic, or cloudy material) or ring lights will help with the sharp reflection on glasses. Placing the light farther away, above, or to the side can prevent overwhelming glare.

  • Daylight, like the noon sun in your window, is more on the blue, cool end of the color-temperature spectrum, so be sure to “balance” your light color temperatures so you don’t look too yellow or too blue.
  • Brightly colored outfits can also cause issues with your camera if you are also in a bright room, and alternately with dark clothes in a dark room. For example, if you are outdoors in full sunlight, you’re light-skinned, and you’re also wearing an all-white suit against a white wall, well, you can see how that can be a problem for a digital sensor to figure out how to detect shadows.

I hope some of these tips help you find the best equipment needed to create the best quality visuals and audio when you’re on a Zoom conference so you can be seen and heard clearly by your colleagues, friends, and viewers. See more of our suggestions for lighting and video-streaming tips at the links below.

Do you have any additional tips for framing, lighting, or the setups you have been using for video calls? Please let us hear from you in the Comments section, just below.

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