Step Up Your Setup: A Guide To Making At-Home Video Calls Studio Quality

By Mark Walpole

With stay-at-home orders and social distancing in effect across the nation, many businesses are adapting to teleworking – and as a result, the rest of us are adapting to conducting Zoom meetings, Slack calls and Google Hangouts happy hours..

Working from home doesn’t mean slacking on professionalism, however. As PLUS’ cinematographer, I’ve put together tips on how to make your next video call or news hit from home look and sound like in-studio quality.

None of these things require special equipment, just a few minutes of thought and good choices.

Choosing Your Device

It is best to use a laptop rather than a phone or tablet. The picture quality will be better and it will be easier to position. And of course, be sure to keep the webcam lens clean.

Selecting Your Setup

When deciding where to film, it’s important that the setting fits the tone of your message. You should look for a location that offers some depth and has a neutral background. But remember, you’re the focus, so the setting should not be overly staged or distracting.

Some things to avoid: sitting in front of a blank wall or sitting too close to the wall, filming towards any mirrors and including busy fabric prints or patterns in the background.

Balancing The Background

Light is your friend. Choosing a room that has a good natural light will improve the overall quality.

Balancing your face to the background is the trickiest part. Webcams will automatically adjust their brightness, so if you have a bright window in the background, the camera will darken the rest of the picture to compensate. To avoid darkened faces and blown-out backgrounds, you should set up your laptop with a window in front of you (or slightly off to one side). You may have to adjust the blinds a bit or move further away to control how much light is coming in, but the idea is to use a window as a frontal light source for your face. A few small tweaks, and voilà, your shot is balanced.

Framing The Shot

You should position your camera lens one inch above your eye level, so you are looking slightly up at the camera. You’ll likely need to put your laptop on top of a few books to raise it about 10 inches. You’ll also want to sit in the center of the frame with your face about one arms-length from the camera lens and have the top of your head almost touching the top of the frame. Choosing a straight-back chair with good support will improve your on-camera posture. Although computer chairs are more comfortable, it’s inevitable that you’ll twist and turn. Once the interview has begun, you should maintain eye contact with the camera lens rather than looking at your own image on the screen. If you need to refer to notes, have them as close to the top of your screen as possible to minimize darting eyes.

Controlling Sound

To ensure the sound is clear and strong, it’s best to use wireless headphones like you do on your cell phone. Minimizing background noise will also improve your sound quality, so it would be helpful to turn off loud air conditioners, mute televisions, etc.

Connecting To The Internet

In order to keep a consistent connection, plug your laptop into an ethernet cable if available or log onto a strong WiFi network. Relying on a mobile hot spot or pairing to a phone should be avoided. And to be safe, keep your laptop plugged into a power outlet.

Running A Rehearsal

Before you go live, you should run a video call rehearsal with a coworker and have them provide feedback. This will allow you to test the tech, as well as put a fresh set of eyes on the setup.

Good luck and stay safe.

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