5 Tips for Looking Your Best on Screen
Along with these five tips, try doing a video test call with a close friend or family member to check both sound and video quality.
With more than 500 million users worldwide, Skype, FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts, ooVoo, Fring, and Tango have redefined not only how job interviews are conducted but the way we communicate in general. On a recent press junket for Iron Man 3, Gwyneth Paltrow fielded a series of fan questions via a Skype session on MSN.com. The megastar appeared flawless on one side of the split screen, while her amateur interviewers looked blurry and distorted—that is, alarmingly human—on the other. Being video ready is no longer a concern just for people who are professionally on camera; it’s an issue for everyone. And while everyone has a version of Mirror Face—cheeks tighten, lips pucker, and brows lift into a doll-like position rarely seen in actual life—none of us who aren’t Hollywood celebs have figured out how to maintain Mirror Face while moving.
Do you manage to evade requests for video calls by feigning poor reception or unavailability. “No service!” I text back. “Can’t talk now!” ? Does the notion of an impromptu on-camera conversation feels less like catching up and more like an audition? Do you feel like on video, eye contact is interrupted by glimpses at your own face—a nagging, sallow, undefined distraction in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Rather than risking letting my contacts lose momentum or, worse, fizzle out in a string of missed calls and lackluster text messages, resolve to master the perfect video chat.
Use natural lighting near a window
Ensure you have several light sources and that they are all indirect to avoid dark shadows or a shiny-face effect. Try putting the light source behind the computer works best.
A beautiful finish on the extra-small screen takes preparation and practice. YouTube phenomenon and makeup artist Michelle Phan, built a following of more than 4.5 million subscribers—and now has her own line of cosmetics, em michelle phan—broadcasting from a laptop in her Florida bedroom. She said to begin with natural lighting, near a window if possible—”there’s no better source than the sun”—since artificial overheads can accentuate dark circles and wrinkles.
“Think about movies, when a criminal is being interrogated,” Phan says. “There’s just one spotlight on the suspect, and it never looks good.” Lighting from below is similarly unflattering. “When someone tells a horror story and they put a flashlight under their chin, it makes the person’s face look scary.” For after-hours calls, even a basic table lamp can cast a camera-friendly halo. In the early days of film, cinematographers developed a face-flattering technique known as Rembrandt Lighting that’s still used today. A strategically placed bulb—positioned to one side of the subject, and just above eye level—brightens one half of the face while casting a slimming pyramid of light on the opposite, shadowed side. The result? A glow to rival that of the Dutch master’s radiant Artemisia—handmaiden not included.
Try doubling up on light to deliver an overexposed look. Take a seat in a room with a large window to the right and an adjustable floor lamp directly to your left, at face level. Swap a old fluorescent bulb for a more forgiving 35-watt frosted halogen one.
Create some distance. The closer your face is to the camera, the more it can be distorted.
Looking down at the camera often makes your face seem wider. Place the camera on a surface that’s directly in line with your forehead. If you’re on a laptop with a built-in camera, don’t tilt the screen up — always place it on a higher surface and tip it down towards you.
With laptop open, log on and check your reflection without dialing anyone. Your face may look stretched. According to Phan, “The closer your face is to the camera, the more it can be distorted.” Regardless of whether you’re using a laptop, iPad, or phone, Phan suggests creating some distance. “I hold my phone out as far as my arms can reach,” she says. Try propping a laptop two feet away on an eye-level stack of magazines on a coffee table.
Makeup guru and avid video caller Mally Ronal says to find your best angle by taking test shots. But if snapping multiple selfies feels, well, self-indulgent, Roncal says there is one universal pose that works for every face shape: The Tilt. Nod forward slightly—not too far, or you’ll veer into double-chin territory—to create the look of a more delicate jawline and larger eyes.
Make Eye Contact
Look into the webcam and not at the screen. It’s easy to be distracted by the personal video preview (the little box that shows how the other person sees you), but this can lead to unflattering postures on camera and a lack of eye contact with the other caller.
Sit up Straight
Make sure your total upper body — not just your face — is visible in the camera area. To provide you with some comfort, keep in mind the caller on the other side only sees you from the waist up.
Beware of Patterns
While you want to express your personal style, keep in mind that bold patterns can look “messy” on the viewer’s screen. Additionally, some pieces of jewelry can reflect light in a way that distracts the viewer. Less is more with jewelry. And if you wear a pattern, be sure you don’t sit in front of one. The best background is a dark, solid color that doesn’t clash with you. I conveniently — and unintentionally — wore a pretty bold dress today, so this was interesting to see on camera.
Along with these tips, try doing a video test call with a close friend or family member to check both sound and video quality.
The next time a FaceTime call comes through, slide over to the window, tilt your face toward the sun, and press Accept.