I’m extremely online, the Freakazoid of PR. I was born online, raised online, and when everyone else went remote I was extremely ready, except for one thing: going on camera. I didn’t want to. I’d spent all this time enjoying not having to share my physical form. I hate seeing myself, more than anything (even other people), and thus I had to pick the most extra way to deal with the problem: to look as close to a television broadcast as possible.
One caveat: an actual TV broadcast is slightly different in how it’s put together than a Zoom call, in the sense that you are usually isolated in a sound-dampened studio, looking directly into the camera (or at the host), with perfect lighting, responding to questions in a specific (and restricted) timeframe. In the case of Zoom calls, you’re likely not facing the camera, you’re looking at other stuff (you say it’s Google Docs, it’s really Twitter), you’re having a conversation with multiple people, but ultimately you can apply the same sorts of principles you might on a TV broadcast.
Why Should I Do This?
Right now, you’re likely using your laptop webcam, or the webcam that you bought for $50 off of Amazon 5 years ago. The issues with this kind of setup are way more obvious than you’d think:
- Angles: A camera looking down at you or up at you is not a flattering angle. This is nothing to do with your attractiveness, it’s just not a great look.
- Lighting: Webcams are built to light, well, everything. That’s why you mostly look washed-out – they’re doing a great deal of work to make you visible. That’s why everything is kind of “blah” looking.
- Detail (IE: focus): Your webcam is built to generally focus on you, but isn’t built to pick you out from a diverse background. That’s why everything is kind of visible but also not super detailed.
- Sound: If you’re using your computer (or airpods) as your current audio, you probably don’t sound great. Using even a $50 microphone will improve this, but you can get REALLY extra and go all the way up to a $450 if you want to sound like you’re on the radio.
- If you have a client who goes on TV a lot, it’s your duty to make this happen for them. Seriously. They will get asked back on TV as a result of this.
You should be doing this because it makes you look cool – you look more professional, and you’re not going to have an office for a long time, so this is a way to stand out. Here’s an example from me:
What You’re Doing
To pull this off, you are applying a few basic principles to how you’re going to appear (and sound) on (web) camera.
- Focus: You are going to be making your face the focal point, rather than having a general shot of your desk/area. Anything behind you will ideally not be in focus, and serve as window-dressing.
- Lighting and Exposure: Instead of using a general-purpose camera that exposes everything, you’re going to be specifically lighting you using lights. This sounds way more challenging than it is. It simply means making you look good.
- Positioning: You’re going to have control over what the camera sees as well as how the camera sees it.
- Vocal improvements: By using a separate microphone, you’re isolating your voice. A good microphone will improve how you sound – a great one will actively improve how you sound.
A note on ambient light: if you have a large window with a lot of ambient light, it’s likely going to mess with your shot a little. It won’t be terrible, but I’d suggest blinds if you can get them. If not, it’ll still look great.
How You’ll Do It
Here’re the broad strokes of what you’re doing:
- You are taking a mirrorless camera, attaching it using the micro HDMI cable to your camera link 4k, this is now your webcam.
- You are putting the two key lights either side of your computer – they connect to wifi and you control them with your phone. Technically, one is operating as a key (to light the subject) and fill (to “fill” in shadows).
- You are positioning the camera using whatever tripod you have to get a good strong shot that’s perhaps your head and your shoulders.
- You will use headphones so that you don’t create an echo.
How To Set Up Your Camera Shot (And What You’ll Need)
That great-looking shot on TV is created by having a professional camera focus on the person. When you focus (using a proper lens) on a subject, it blurs the background and focuses on them, which is pleasing to the eye. To do this using Zoom, you need a camera that can send an HDMI video feed from the camera to an HDMI source, as well as a way to get said HDMI source to your computer.
To do that, I recommend getting a good (and compatible) mirrorless camera, like the Sony a5100 with an 18-55mm lens ($450-$500). This focal length (that’s the “mm” part) means that you can have the camera relatively close to you and still get that pleasing focal effect. I also recommend getting a dummy battery (so that you don’t have to keep charging the battery in the camera), as well as flexible tripod like the Gorillapod 3K. You’ll also need an HDMI cable for the camera.
Crucially, you’ll want to get an Elgato Cam Link 4K, which will pull the image from the camera into Zoom. You then will simply select the camera in Zoom like you would a regular webcam. Do not get the cheap knockoffs, seriously, they’re cheaper because they are finicky, and when you are logging onto a client call you don’t want that.
With all of that together, you’ll set up the camera by plugging the HDMI cable into the camera, then the other end of said cable into the Camlink, which will connect to your computer via USB. There are some specific settings this very short video shows you to plug in. At that point, your camera is ready.
Because you’re using a professional camera, you’ll notice that you’re not particularly easy-to-see. That’s because the human eye is kind of incredible at exposing shots with way less light – your brain works to light up the world that a camera does not. As a result, your beautiful new camera won’t be able to see you that well without some lighting.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to do – you have two lights, a key light which lights you, the subject, and a fill light that ‘fills’ in the shadows that the key light doesn’t. You can pull this off in a number of ways, but the easiest I’ve found is the Elgato Key Light Air, a pair of which will set you back about $400 (thanks to everyone wanting them at this time). You’ll likely want them set up so you have two of them either side of your monitor, and if you want, even have a third set up behind you. This article points out exactly how to do it, but I’d argue that you can stick to just the key and the fill and get a great effect.
This seems very daunting, but it’s simply a case of hitting a button (in the case of the Elgato lights, on an app) that turns them on and off when you’re on call. What you’re trying to do is make it so that you can have a clean, well-lit image that doesn’t have any shadows on it. You’ll also be able to adjust the color on the lights too to match your skin.
The end result is a great-looking, well-lit image that makes you look awesome.
This part is a lot easier to do (if you want it to be), as you can simply get a specific kind of mic that will likely sound very good, and you’ll be done. The easiest way to get great sound is a simple, good USB mic, like the Blue Snowball iCE USB mic, or a cheaper mic like the MAONO USB microphone, the crucial pieces here being that you’re getting something that is lightyears ahead of whatever your headphones or your computer has for a mic.
The next step up is to get a fancy USB mic like the Elgato Wave:3 or the Blue Yeti X, which cost a pretty penny but sound amazing for a lot less effort than you’ll be putting in. You can even get a boom mic holder for these that will suspend the mic next to your face, or by your head – depending on how you want to do this, you’ll ideally want to have it near enough to your face that it picks up your voice, but far enough away that it’s barely or not in your shot at all.
These extra-expensive mics will do a degree of what a mixing deck would do to make you sound better, things like a de-esser, or a compressor to make your voice sound smooth and great like on the radio, as well as cut out background noise like air conditioners or whoopie cushions. I really do insist you get a nice one, or you go a bit more extra, if you want to make this a whole thing.
Getting Extra With Sound
The next step isn’t exactly required, but it’s what I do because I do podcasts, and I am always full-ass into things like this.
What you can also do is use an actual condenser microphone that goes into a mixing deck. This deck then connects to your computer, and your mic is processed on said board to make it sound better.
On a mac, I use a Rode RODECaster Pro mixing deck to process my voice, connected to an electrovoice RE-20 microphone. You’ll need XLR cables to connect all of this up, and because I personally don’t have the ability to clamp my microphone to my desk, I use a boom mount that goes on the floor. When you use a mic like this, sometimes it’s not quite loud enough and you need something to boost the gain – I use a Fethead Triton.
Why do I do all this? Because I love the way the RE-20 sounds, it’s used in tons of top radio shows and podcasts, and it’s rock solid. The point of the RODECaster is to cleanly process the sound and get it to my computer in a clean and compatible way, which works with Zoom, Zencastr, basically anything. The RODECaster is also awesome for podcasts, and you can actually use your bluetooth to add someone to a podcast if you need to – it’s really good. I can’t recommend it enough.
If you’re on PC, you can also get the GoXLR and not get the Fethead Triton, but I’ve not a ton of experience with it. People love it though.
I’d say for your average Zoom call, you really just need a regular USB microphone, but if you want to build something, say, for a client that does a lot of TV, put the cash and time into building something that sounds as good as it looks.
Also, get some true wireless earphones, don’t use airpods. You want something that only light sticks out from the ears. I like the Earfun bluetooth earbuds.
A Note On Placement
If you look at the photos in the below tweet, notice how my mic is not actually visible in the shot but is right by my head. This is done by literally just moving the camera left and right and zooming in/out. A lot of people assume that you have to do something fancy to make a shot work, but so much of it is trial and error to get it to look good.
There’s definitely an argument between having the mic in shot – but think about what look you actually want. Sometimes you want the mic in there if you’re going for that streamer/podcaster look. But you probably aren’t, so don’t.
I’m always happy to help out if you’re having issues – ping me at @edzitron on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org if you need it. It’s worth the investment. It’s wowed clients, I’ve built out a few for them already.
TL;DR Shopping List
Gorillapod 3K tripod
Elgato Key Light Air (x2)
boom mic holder for Yeti
Fethead Triton cloudlifter
or if you’re on PC
The post How To Make Your Zoom Calls Look Like You’re On TV appeared first on The Future Buzz.