How To Instantly Look Better On Video Calls: Lighting, Microphones, and Virtual Backgrounds | Zoë Davidson | Skillshare

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How To Instantly Look Better On Video Calls: Lighting, Microphones, and Virtual Backgrounds

teacher avatar Zoë Davidson, Software Engineer & Cinematographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Camera Position


    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.



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About This Class

This class will teach you everything you need to know to have a stellar Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google meeting setup, including:

  • Choosing the correct lighting
  • Microphone placement and audio devices
  • Flattering camera angles

My name is Zoë, I'm a cinematographer and professor of film. I've been shooting films for many years now, and the projects I've worked on have gone on to be shown at dozens of film festivals including Sundance and CaribbeanTales. You can check out my work here.

This class is for anyone who regularly or semi-regularly attends video meetings, no matter their level of film experience. Every lesson in this course covers options for beginners and more experienced students. Your class project will be to set up your own meeting environment. 

This class will include a step-by-step guide on how to light, adjust your camera angle, utilize virtual backgrounds, and make the most of your audio. A few things you'll learn include:

  • How to work with available light
  • Virtual backgrounds vs real backgrounds
  • When to use headphones

Once you've taken the course, be sure to leave a review on what you thought of it!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Zoë Davidson

Software Engineer & Cinematographer


Hey! I'm Zoe, a software engineer, filmmaker, and former professor from Toronto, Canada. I have an MFA in Film from Howard University, and also do work as a software engineer.

In the past, I've worked for the University of the District of Columbia, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Lionsgate, Huffington Post, and I'm a member of organizations like the Canadian Society of Cinematographers.

The films that I've worked on have been featured at festivals around the world, including Sundance, ABFF, Trinidad Tobago Film Festival, and CaribbeanTales.

Check out my latest work, here:

See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Intro: I attend a lot of Zoom, Teams, and Google meetings, and I'm sure you do too. Today, we're going to talk about how to best set up your lighting environment for your meetings. My name is Zoe, I'm a cinematographer and a Professor of Film. I've been shooting films for many years now. The projects I've worked on have gone on to be shown at festivals like Sundance and Caribbean Tales. By the end of this course, you'll be able to craft your own stellar Zoom meeting setup. We'll talk about the best lighting positions, how to work with a built-in camera in your computer, what to do with your background, and options for an audio setup. Let's get started. 2. Class Project: [MUSIC] Class project. The project for this class will be to set up your own meeting environment using whatever tools you have around your house. This might mean moving a lamp around, changing the angle of your desk or possibly switching rooms entirely. Feel free to play around with what works best for you and allow yourself to find or create the ideal working environment for your setup. Once you've got something you're happy with, take a picture or record a quick clip of your hard work and share it in the Projects and Resources tab underneath. I'd love to see what you come up with. [MUSIC] 3. Lighting: [MUSIC] Lighting. More than any other area, I think lighting is the one place in which most people can radically improve their Zoom setups. The fact of the matter is usually the rooms and environments that we're working in, aren't the best lit for video specifically. Although you might not feel like you're straining your eyes as you're working and that the environment might be generally well-lit, if your video lighting isn't great, odds are the light might not be properly landing on your face. This leads to your webcam to struggle to pick up a decent quality image of you resulting in a subpar picture. The easiest thing we can do to remedy this is to work with our lights. There are many different ways you can fix this problem. You can do everything from simply turning the angle of your setup to buying a professional light to light your room. We're going to talk about both ends of the spectrum and everything in-between. On the lower end of the spectrum, if you have the space and ability to physically move around, make sure that you're positioning yourself so that you're facing either the window or whatever the biggest light source is. When you feel the light hitting your face, you know that you're getting to the right place and the best position in the room for the light. This is a quick and easy way to begin to improve your lighting setup. You'll then want to double-check by logging into your meeting app of choice and either starting a fake meeting or going into your video preferences and see how it's worked. Some lights create harsher shadows than others. Be sure to adjust your position accordingly if you can. If however, you don't necessarily have enough light or consistent sun from the window in the room that you're working in, we still have some options. If you have other lamps in your home, see which ones you're not using and if they can be incorporated into your space. Or alternatively, see if you can move to another space where the lighting is better. Either way, you just want to make sure that the lighting is hitting your face in a relatively even manner. The third option is to buy professional lights. Now, this light that I'm using here is an amaran 60x. Including the stand and the softbox, this all probably costs around $250. As a professional cinematographer and a professor of film, this was more than worth it for my purposes. Because it's a super compact but powerful light that I can use on set and in different scenarios. If this is something you have the budget for, I'd highly recommend it. Not only is it an LED light, but it also has Bluetooth, which allows me to turn on and off the light from my phone from different rooms. It's very convenient to use. As you can see, I typically have this light position slightly over to one side and bouncing light around the entire room. The reason I got this lantern softbox was to be able to light the entire space. Although I do want to light myself, I also want my environment to be well lit and continue to bounce light on me. Remember, we're not going for finesse lighting in this scenario. We're going for as much even light on our faces as possible. Well, within reason. [MUSIC] 4. Camera Position: Camera position. Even on professional television shows like when you're watching CNN or MSNBC and someone calls into their show from their home environment, I see such interesting camera angles being used. I think camera angles are one of the quickest things you can fix in your Zoom meeting environment. Personally, and for the last couple of years now, I've used laptop stands in order to elevate my laptop. However, using a laptop stand throughout the day does mean also having a separate keyboard and a separate mouse. Now, if you already have the setup or are already interested in getting one, perfect, we just need to put it together. But if you really just need your camera to be elevated for calls, there's another way to go about this. The goal of the laptop stand is really just to elevate the level of the camera so it's closer to your eye level. You don't want to be shooting from underneath as that's an unflattering angle. But when your laptop is on your table or desk, this is the default position for the camera. Instead, you'd want a slightly elevated camera position. Think about having your camera at or maybe slightly above eye level. To achieve this, all you need to do is lift your computer. Now if you don't have a laptop stand, the easiest way to do this is to get a couple of big books or just something sturdy like a shoebox that you can place your computer on for an extended period of time. If you do have a laptop stand, it's as simple as adjusting it for the correct height. I usually have my stand set at the default lowest height depending on the height of my desk, and then just before the call, I'll tilt the webcam slightly to suit. Now, some folks want to use a spare DSLR or buy new webcams for this purpose. However, personally, I found that if I simply just upgrade the lighting, then the camera isn't as important because you already get much better looking video when it's well-lit. However, if you do want to purchase a webcam, then you can simply pop it on top of your monitor or attach it somewhere else that is eye level and use that instead. 5. Background: Background. Whatever background you choose to use for your filming setup, it should be a professional one, and it shouldn't be distracting from the meeting itself. If you choose to go with your real-world environment, that's totally fine. But as I said, make sure that it is free of a lot of things in the background that'll be really distracting. Like other people, large posters or anything you might not want to show on camera. Another trick to this is that if you do want to use a real-life background, but maybe you don't want everything shown, most of these meeting apps now have the option to blur out the background. So it's still your real background, but you actually just have a little mask on top and everything's a bit softer and less prominent in the scene, keeping the attention on you. If you do want to use a virtual background, then I have a couple of recommendations. Try to choose something that is conducive to your lighting setup. So if you have really nice, proper bright lighting, you want to choose a background that mirrors this lighting setup. I personally love to use bright, airy kitchens or living rooms as my background, because I think it really goes well with my bright daylight balanced light. Another thing I really try to do is keep the same or at least similar backgrounds across my meeting platforms. So if I'm in a meeting on Zoom or Webex or Google Meet, I'll try to ensure that the background I use is similar across all of them. For me, it's just about consistency. But if you're trying to pass off a virtual background as a real background, it does make that a lot easier. There are tons of free places online where you can find backgrounds for your Zoom meetings. Personally, I found some really great options on Unsplash. [MUSIC] 6. Audio: Audio. While it's not strictly necessary to have headphones and microphones for your Zoom setup, they can greatly improve the quality of your audio. Personally, I don't have a separate microphone that I use for my Zoom setup, but it is something that I have considered investing in. There are really great options out there from companies like Shure and Blue. However, these mics can range in price from $100 to upwards of $300, and even more when you consider the stand and the cables that you'll also need to use them. If you're not looking to spend that much money on an audio setup, you can do what I do. For my Zoom calls, I use any type of headphones with a built-in microphone that I can connect to my computer and that's how I work through most of my meetings. Sometimes, depending on my environment, I'll decide to do a meeting without headphones and just use what's already built into the computer. But if I'm in a noisy environment, maybe there's a truck or a bus passing by outside or if somebody else is at home, I prefer to use headphones. Primarily, because I feel that it's much easier for me to focus on the meeting itself. A lot of these virtual meeting apps like Zoom have gotten really good at canceling on background noise. These days you really have to worry a lot less about people hearing what's going on in your background. However, if you are the person who likes to have their mic unmuted throughout the entire meeting and I would strongly recommend using a pair of headphones. Depending on how your speakers are setup, there can be a really off-putting echo that gets generated when somebody has their mic muted throughout the entire meeting. Having headphones really diminishes the risk of this happening. 7. Conclusion: We talked about a lot in this video, from how to set up a proper lighting environment, to potentially using professional microphones for your Zoom meetings. Just remember that the at the end of the day, your setup is only part of your work and not your work itself. Try and have some fun with how you have your room setup, and don't take it too seriously. I know some folks invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars into setting up the perfect Zoom environment. But as I said in this guide, you can really get by without spending a penny, by using what you have at home already. I'd love to see what you decide to do with your meeting setup. Please take a picture or record a video and post it in the Projects and Resources tab underneath this course, so I can see all the hard work that you've done. I do read every comment and every review and look at every project submission. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment in the review section below, or to reach out to me directly. check out my Profile page for more information about that. If you'd like to learn a lot more about lighting and camera techniques, check out my profile as well to see all the different videos I have. I have videos on camera techniques, on choosing the right lens, how to write a script. If you actually end up having to write scripts for your presentations or videos, you can definitely use that format. Or if you just want to learn a little bit more about lighting and how to have a professional lighting setup for a scene, definitely check out my page , and I'll see you in the next one.