If you make a mistake, and then you do not correct your mistake, then you are making a second mistake.M.J. Martin
Friends and business associates often see my video clips and ask for help. The very first question that I get is, “Which camera should I buy?” However, this should not be the first question.
Cameras are important and they can make or break a video, or ruin a video conferencing call, but they tend to be a secondary consideration to the overall production values of a video or call. How many times have we seen horribly bad videos that neglect the fundamentals of all video productions? Sadly, too many.
The first principles of production need to be satisfied regardless of how much you spend on your camera. Great videos can result from the lowliest of cameras if you respect the fundamentals of productions. Now, whenever I raise these points, people immediately gaze over and say something silly like, “I do not want a degree in video production”. And, of course that is not what I am even saying. But, if consideration is given to these vital production elements, then your videos and web calls can look and feel professional and be well received.
You must remember, that the average Canadian watches over 27 hours of television per week, and that is an average under normal circumstances. During these COVID times, I suspect that the average screen time has exploded since people are in lock-down and are mad for something to do. They are watching anything and everything. Why is this important?
The average Canadian is a TV watching expert. They inherently know what makes good content on the screen. Okay, they may not be able to point out the flaws, or name them in classic production terminology, but subconsciously they know the mistakes and see and hear the flaws. If you were a 35 year old business person, then you may have already watched more then 46,332 hours of TV viewing time. It is said that if you do anything for just 10,000 then you can be deemed to be an expert. This is 4.6 times that benchmark. Everyone that you know is a TV viewing expert. So, trust me, the average person knows intimately when a video is bad.
Video conferencing enhances collaboration by, making participants feel as though they are in the same room. It is interesting to think that you can have a successful conference without video, but the same cannot be said for a conference call without audio.
Yet, companies are still investing a huge amount of money in their video conferencing systems without much thought toward the quality of their audio.
Background noise is one of the main issues with video conferencing. The rustling of papers, clicking of pens and even sound leakage from other rooms can be picked up on the other end of the call and cause dissatisfaction to those listening in. To resolve this, there are specific types of microphones available that are designed to pick up only intended audio whilst rejecting unwanted ambient noises including; fans, computers, pen clicking and noises from adjacent rooms.
People affect the audio too. Do not interrupt other speakers, do not carry on side conversations and speak directly into the microphone, it is all simple stuff and is common courtesy for the most part, but it can have a huge impact on the audio quality of the call.
There is a huge number of microphones available on the market, the size of the home office or meeting room and the businesses needs would depend on what bespoke solution you could go for.
Microphones can cut down unnecessary background noise and provide clarity of audio during video conferencing. Providing clients and employees with microphones will have a noticeable impact on the audio quality during video conferencing.
Good microphone placement will also ensure crisp and clear sound. Sometimes, due to cable runs or room aesthetics, this is not possible. But there is technology out there to solve that. Beamforming and Steerable ceiling microphone arrays are just as effective as a table microphone.
Lit well, colour temperature, shape and shadows, hard / soft, control light
Some computers have a decent built-in camera, but most are mediocre, and the angle from the laptop to your face often produces an inattentive, off-putting look. And if you use a monitor at your desk, with your laptop off to the side, the result is even worse. Buy a webcam, put it on your monitor, and look at the people you are talking to.
But even with a good webcam, lighting is the trickiest part of setting up a home office or another room for a video chat. As with photography, it is better to have the light source behind the camera, rather than behind the subject, but nobody wants to put their computer in front of their window. Here are some easy ways to improve your lighting.
- Make use of lamps: You can angle and redirect desk lamps, and they can have multiple brightness levels and color temperatures. They bouncing the lamp light off a nearby wall rather than pointing it straight at your face. If that does not work, you could try taping some soft diffusion material over your lamp, but you are better off trying different lighting setups and angles at first. Also, consider the heat from the lamp and any potential fire hazards. LED lamps shed less heat and are therefore preferred.
- Try not to mix light sources: Natural light is great for an office space, but for the light that is reaching your face, stick to either a lamp setup or a window slightly off to your side – not both.
- Do not use Venetian blinds behind you: The light streaming in through the slats will wreak havoc on many a camera’s automatic light adjustments. Better to use blackout shades or curtains, and to bring in other light (lamps).
- Do not buy specialty YouTube / vlogger / Webinar gear: Nobody should buy a soft-box just to impress their boss. But you can steal one idea: Put your lighting at your eye height. Defining your eyes allows you to express more on video, to seem more like yourself. That makes a video call feel more like an in-person meeting, which is as good as a Web meeting can get.
Composition, what should be in the shot and what should not be in the shot, framing, simplify the theme, rule of third, golden ratio, diagonal lines, fill the frame, high and low angles
Framing your shot in a video call is easier than ever to do. So why do so many webcam shots look like garbage? I am not talking about technical quality, like whether the camera is recording high definition video. I’m talking about the framing of the shot. Here’s a textbook example:
Yikes! Look at all that wasted space above the woman’s head. The framing on this shot is distracting because it just looks…wrong.
Most of us do not intuitively know how to frame ourselves for video. And why would we? Unless you are a film major or a TV journalist, you are not exactly learning this in school.
Here are four common mistakes seen in webcam selfies, along with some simple (and free!) fixes for making your shot look more flattering and professional:
- Use less head room – this is the space above and around your head
- Raise the camera angle to align with your eye line
- Light the shot properly and avoid windows in the background as they overwhelm the camera and make your face darkened
- Simplify the background – see what your viewers will see – make sure that they are not seeing anything inappropriate
Do not make the basic mistake that went viral on social media after an in-home interview aired on the BBC Wales when I women did not pay proper attention to her background and shared views to items on the bookshelf that perhaps she did not wish to have seen. [See the cover photo] Check your backgrounds. See whatever anyone else will see. See it first before you go on camera.
There is another famous case of a women who was on a company call using her smartphone. She had to use the washroom. Her mistake was not turn off her microphone and camera. She took her smartphone into the washroom and placed it in the counter for all to see her on the toilet. She lost her job.
There are hundreds of videos that show family members in various stages of clothing wondering through a background while someone was engaged in a business call. These are difficult times but video calls will likely prevail long after COVID has past. So, make sure that you consider your framing of your shot from many angles.
I see so many video clips with awkward pauses, hums and haws, and weird noises and distracting images today. No one seems to take the time to do a little editing. By tightening up you scenes and cutting out distracting pieces of video and audio, we make a more compelling story that locks in the viewers.
Editing need not be overly complicated nor expensive to do. Many computers come with basic editing solutions built in and they are so simple to use. Think about your viewers. Provide them with compelling content that will leave them wanting more.
You can make huge advances in the quality of your content by using an editing tool to enhance the content and make the story stronger by controlling the pace, rhythm, and emotion in your videos.
The importance of video editing cannot be understated. After editing that is it – you have your final video like it or not. And, if viewers fail to respond well to it, chances are there could have been some editing issues that were overlooked.
It should come as no surprise to you that high quality editing can drastically change the overall outcome of a corporate video. Your final cut should flow seamlessly, make complete sense to anyone viewing it, and be worth the cost of having the editing process, even if you do it all yourself.
If every step of the production process was carefully planned out, your job as editor should not be that difficult. Script, location, proper filming techniques, and most of all, a complete vision from the beginning will all play a role in how much editing to your video you will need to do.
Most built-in or low cost video webcams have no way to change the lens. You live with whatever the manufacturer gives you. Unfortunately, built-in or low cost webcams are rarely a suitable solution and often the source of most web call problems. Getting a camera that can use interchangeable lenses is essential for any serious user.
The focal length of the lens impacts the angle of view, the exposure, the resolution, and the depth of field for what objects in the shot are in focus or diffused in the background. They also impact how you frame the shot and how much headroom surrounds the presenter.
A DSLR is the ideal camera for some vlogs, and using a DSLR means you get to customize the look of your vlog by choosing the perfect lens. Choosing the best camera lens for your YouTube channel can be tricky because there are so many options.
Interchangeable camera lenses can be either a fixed focal length prime lens or a zoom lens. Both types can work well for video calls or recording your vlog. The prime lenses tend to be faster meaning they can operate better in lower or challenging light conditions. Zoom lens have difficulties with low light as a normal rule.
The built-in fixed lenses within a laptop are normally very wide angle lenses covering around 80° for the field of view. If you are too close they look curved and if you are too far away you get lost in the shot. The best vloggers use a medium telephoto lens of about 50mm to 100mm. The cameras are further away from the presenters, so the depth of field looks good and diffuses the background to bring the focus upon you instead of the items behind you. If you do not have the space then a wide angle lens may be better in the 24mm to 35mm range. The wider the lens the deeper the depth of field so more of the foreground and background will be in the shot and will be in focus.
Connections are vital these days and can seriously disrupt your webcast. The audio and video can break up and the speakers will not be understood. This sort of annoyance can seriously disconnect your audience from the topic and destroy your event or meeting.
The uplink speed is most important as connections usually offer sufficient download speeds. The asymmetrical aspect of DSL and cable modems make these types of connections suffer. Not all video web meeting tools utilize the same data rates. So, plan to have a minimum of 5 Mbps uplink to make flawless connections and videos. The down link needs to be at least 15 Mbps. Both the uplink and the downlinks need to be rock solid. Variations in connections suffer most interruptions n the picture and sound.
On a recent call this week, the expert consultants connections repeatedly failed. And, these connections only fail at the worse possible time and when you need them the most.
I gave up on our DSL and now have optical fibre to the home. Connections are never a concern anymore when you have 1.5 Tbps symmetrical for the uplink and the downlink.
Focus on the fundamentals to ensure quality web meetings and webinars. Get the right technology and the rest will fall into place. Make sure that you have considered all of your options for:
If you do it all right, your meetings will be easy to understand and your communications will be effective.
Baggs, R.K. (2021). 5 Things To Upgrade Before Your Camera for Better Content. FStoppers. Retrieved on February 20, 2021 from, https://fstoppers.com/gear/5-things-upgrade-your-camera-better-content-550307?fbclid=IwAR1Wt1puxteOyrgM5ttufsJcjqQIyXoGywHNBHrjR9oKdUhiJgmfT6Jmk8w
Brown, L. (2021). Best Camera Lenses for YouTube. Wondershare. Retrieved on February 20, 2021 from, https://filmora.wondershare.com/vlogger/best-camera-lens-for-youtube.html
Burgess, C. (2016). How to Frame Your Webcam Video Like a Pro. Envato Pty Ltd. Retrieved on February 20, 2021 from, https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-frame-your-webcam-video-like-a-pro–cms-27228
Industry News. (2019). The importance of audio in video conferencing. Remark Group. Retrieved on February 20, 2021 from, https://www.remark-group.co.uk/industry-news/the-importance-of-audio-in-video-conferencing
Unknown. (2021). The Importance of Video Editing. The Sheffield Institute for Recording Arts. Retrieved on February 20, 2021 from, https://www.sheffieldav.com/education/importance-video-editing-corporate-marketing
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.