How to Create A Great-Looking Skype Video Feed
March 25, 2015 by Steve Hullfish
Experts often play an important role in a live company webcast, sales or training product. They provide great content, authority and expertise that the audience perceives as valuable. But a major issue with including experts is that they are often not available to be on-location for the meeting, or flying them in creates a cost that can’t be justified.
Luckily, there is great technology that can solve this issue and allow your audience a high quality presentation of an expert from a remote location – even a continent away. NewTek has introduced a product called TalkShow that allows Skype video calls to be easily integrated into a live production environment with controls that can deliver broadcast quality sound and video of a remote expert or interviewee.
TalkShow allows you to add live interviews, perspective, and credibility to your program, meeting or training by easily incorporating any connected Skype user as a guest speaker without the expense and effort of flying in an expert or hiring a crew to do a live remote feed. Any video-enabled Skype user is just a call away. The advantage with TalkShow is that the quality of presentation – and therefor engagement with your audience – is infinitely better than trying to use the free download consumer-grade version of Skype most people are familiar with.
While TalkShow can dramatically enhance the technical quality (the sound, the video quality, the color correction) there are a few things it can’t do. It can’t improve the bandwidth between you and your remote caller - although there are things you can do apart from TalkShow to make sure you’re getting the best signal possible. (That’s a topic for a future post.) It can’t improve the lighting. It can’t improve the background. It can’t improve the microphone placement. It can’t improve the composition of the shot. So have a brief chat with your remote expert and ask them to do the following things:
- TV lighting comes from the front, not above, like in most rooms. To look good without a studio, during the daytime, it would help if the interviewee sits FACING a window or with a large window to the side. If the interview occurs at night, have the interviewee be careful not to sit under overhead lights (or turn them off) and place a table lamp or floor lamp several feet away with the bulbs or shades at about eye level or slightly above, so that they are lit from the front, not the top. Also note that the laptop has been elevated from desktop level using a briefcase and a blanket.
It would really be great to have a lamp on either side of his or her face. If they can’t move the lamps, then sit where the lamps will light them from the front. Have the presenter look at themselves on their webcam and position the lights so that the shadows are pleasing and soft, without too much shadow on either side of the face. Note the two example photos. Both were taken by a webcam on a laptop. The first was taken with only overhead lights. The second with two tabletop lamps near the presenter. If the background seems too dark when using table lamps, move them further away from the presenter. This second image is the webcam view from the position in the photo above with the two lamps.
It may even be possible to use a Kindle or iPad or some other tablet to be used as a light source if it’s just off screen. There are actually apps to help do this, though simply calling up a mostly white page in Photos or in a book would work.
- Make sure that there is either an interesting background to the shot or something very plain. Actually, because compression prefers a nice simple background, a plain wall behind the interviewee may be best, even if it’s not very visually interesting. Have them sit far enough from the wall that the light cast from the lamps doesn’t create a shadow on the wall behind them. The shot will be improved by just having the subject of the interview be aware of the background at all. Have them search the frame around their face for an unmade bed, a messy desk, or clothes draped over a chair in the background. Adjust the camera position and angle to eliminate distracting items in the background or remove them.
- Make sure the composition of the shot is pleasing and professional. It would be good if the Skype camera (generally a laptop’s internal camera) isn’t too low, so that the audience feels they’re looking up the interviewee’s nose. Even elevating the laptop or camera by a few inches can make a big difference. Make it as close to eye level as possible, just like a real TV camera would be. Either the camera (laptop) can be placed on a pillow or some books or luggage, or the presenter’s chair can be lowered. The typical desktop level for a laptop means that the camera is about 8 – 12” too low. Setting a piece of “roll aboard” luggage on the desk under the laptop or camera should be enough to improve the shot. Also, since most webcams can’t zoom, sit close enough to the screen or camera that the expert’s face is the dominant visual element.
Take a look at our two example photographs. Both were taken using the same laptop webcam. Both were taken of the same subject in the same room in the same spot with no lighting equipment. The bad one was taken from desktop level looking up at the subject, with a messy background and too much space above the subject’s head. The good one was taken in the exact same spot, turned slightly to take advantage of the sunlight coming through the window, with the laptop placed at eye level, the distracting elements removed from the background and the webcam aimed so that there is very little empty space above the subject’s head.
- If at all possible, arrange ahead of time for the interviewee to have a headset or at least a decent microphone. They can even pick one up at Walmart virtually anywhere. (walmart.com/ip/Logitech-H110-Headset/14944825) TalkShow can do some impressive things if the interviewee is wearing a headset – allowing a producer to feed questions or instructions to the interviewee without the audience hearing it.
But having a lavalier mic or a “podcast mic” like one of the BLUE mics (www.bluemic.com), will provide much better sound than the built-in mic on the laptop or camera. Blue’s “Snowflake” mic is very portable and easy to use. The key is to have the mic as close to the expert’s mouth as possible. It’s up to you if you want the mic to be seen in the shot. Even though it’s for show, David Letterman always has that big mic sitting on his desk, so really it’s no big deal if it’s visible. Your audience would probably rather have great sound than an annoying, tinny or echoey voice with a lot of ambience from the room and air conditioner noise. Speaking of the air conditioner, if it’s at all possible, have them turn off the air conditioner, mini-fridge and TV set completely – maybe even unplug them. And while they’re at it, turn off the cell phone, hotel phone or office phone and change the settings on the computer to eliminate audible alerts for incoming emails or other prompts.
So with some decent lighting, a good background, correct camera position and good sound, TalkShow will do the rest.
The other part of this equation is to have a well-prepared presenter to interact with the expert. The presenter should facilitate the discussion with the expert by introducing them and then guiding the conversation so that the intended content stays on-track and useful to the audience. The presenter should feed appropriate questions to the expert in a logical order and follow up with questions to prompt answers that the audience may need to follow along. The key here is that a presenter acts as a guide for the audience and for the expert to provide the content that keeps your audience engaged. Between these two important “content providers” and the technical delivery of that content in an engaging visual manner you can deliver a high quality, powerful presentation at your next meeting or training session without breaking the budget.
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