A Photographers Tips for Zoom (WebEx, GoTo) Meetings

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had several wonderful mentors in my experiences with photography. When I was about 14 or 15, my friend’s father recognized my interest and actually offered me paid work!

However, my first gig did not require I actually touch a camera. “Back in the day” top event photographers would use large format cameras (2 1/4″ square negative) typically with an off-camera mounted high-powered flash unit. But that was not sufficient.

Honeywell vintage flash unit.

Leading photographers tend to be extreme perfectionists and even neurotic about getting the best possible result. So, these event photographers would have an assistant who held a second “slave” flash. That was me.

As the slave flash assistant, you had three responsibilities. First, make sure the flash was pointed at the subject. Second, make sure the slave sensor was pointed at the main flash. And, third, alert the photographer to any background elements that might ruin the picture.

Avoid distracting background elements!

These included poles or other background elements that might appear to be growing from the subject’s head. Or, a very bright light that could distract from the subjects or even ruin the exposure. In the heat of photographic battle, it is amazingly easy to miss things like this. So, having an assistant and second pair of eyes looking for these visual distractions was a big deal.

As a young photographer, learning about distracting backgrounds was an important lesson to learn. In the age of Zoom, it is equally significant. Look carefully at your background. Is there something growing from your subject’s head? Just this morning my wife and I were looking at a major network news broadcast. It appeared a highly respected female commentator had a “growth” of some sort coming out of her shoulder. What made it worse – the top she was wearing, and the background distraction were the same color!

This same mentor would tell me, “when doing posed photos, ask the subjects to lower their chin by about 1/2 inch.” As he explained, “no one wants to see anyone’s neck, and the slightly lowered face would lead to a more aesthetic result.” I probably shouldn’t say this, but as people get older, this is even more true!

Way too much ceiling. Camera needs to be higher and pointed straight at subject.

So, what does this mean today? During an online meeting, no one wants to be looking up someone’s nostrils. They do not want to see more than half the screen be the ceiling above the speaker. To accomplish this, you must move the camera higher and point it downward. The typical angle of a notebook computer or tablet attached to a keyboard is guilty of making this happen. Move the computer on to a very thick book. Tilt the screen forward and look at the result. No more ceiling or nostrils!

Very harsh lighting should be avoided, but the camera angle is good!

If you are paying attention to the wide variety of home-shot material that is dominating our pandemic induced broadcasts you will see a considerable variety of production values. In all the situations where a “professional” is helping, or from a high end in-their-own-house studio (hello John Legend, Keith Urban, Steven Colbert, etc.) you will see the camera angle is exactly as it should be.

A simple way to get the camera moved higher.

Check the the resolution of the camera you are using. Anything less than 720p High Definition is no longer acceptable. We have an older Logitech webcam that clips onto the top of the monitor. Due to its age, it has a maximum resolution of 480p. It turns out that the camera built into my laptop is 720p and the difference is huge.

Since Zoom and other meeting applications use a lot of bandwidth, make sure your modem and router combination are strong too. An old router will cause video and audio delay and will ruin the experience for your viewers.

Tripod mounts for the iPad (and iPhone) are very useful for Zoom meetings.

Another basic lesson from photography. The camera must be steady! Mount the camera in a stationary way. If you are walking around with your phone during a Zoom meeting, it is not a comfortable feeling for the viewer!

Zoom meetings are becoming a needed way to do business or check in with others as we go through Corona-Ville. Turns out they can be fun and truly enable another channel for supportive and enjoyable communication that will outlast the virus. We may as well do it right.

Small table top tripod for iPad provides flexibility. Camera is raised with object beneath it and iPad is tilted down.

Do You Believe In Science?

I’ve always been a science person. I remember reading Popular Mechanics and doing science projects when I was still in elementary school. When my neighbor received a really nice telescope as a Christmas gift, we were out in the freezing New York City weather trying to view the rings of Saturn. This was way before telescopes had GPS and finder devices, so it took considerable effort to find and focus the telescope on our target.

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PG&E Part III – Implement a Knowledge Based Culture

Many of the readers of this blog know I was employed by the “premium content” electronic publishing industry for almost forty years. In our positioning of products to our clients, we would often discuss the need for a knowledge-based culture. This was especially important with our corporate audience with the closing or absence of libraries.

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Dreams and Responsibility: Having Plan B

It is graduation time and many commencement speeches and greeting cards talk about following your dreams. Transitions are always a good time to be thinking about “what am I going to be when I grow up?” All changes in life lead to thinking about where one is going.

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Your Information Environment

We are living in a time where millions believe they are well informed if they watch one broadcast network, take a peek at a social networking site, and maybe do a few web searches. Those who are knowledgeable in fact-based research skills are disturbed by the impact of this broad perception.

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Junior High Assignments Made Me Use the Library

In my post “Higher Truth and How to Get There” I talked about how to access and use quality information. In today’s world of manipulative and biased sources, how can one be confident they are getting the “best stuff?” The answer is simple: use the library!

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Toughest Teacher Paves Career Path

We’ve all had teachers like this. Fierce reputation. Toughest teacher in the school. Or, maybe later, a professor. “You’ll never get an A.” “Will try to intimidate you.” “Very demanding.” These or similar comments were often heard from fellow students.

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All Work and No Play?

At this point, it would be reasonable to say I was a very dull boy. Library research, culturally based school trips, debate team – not exactly the fun stuff of the early teenage years. However, there were other interests, much more fun things, that also took root during the Junior High School years.

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Tom Seaver: A Personal Hero

I’ve never been a real Mets fan. As a lifelong Yankee, this doesn’t usually happen. But I am a huge Tom Seaver fan. When Seaver won the Rookie of the Year award in 1967 he was the first good thing that happened to the Mets. Yankee fans were not impressed when a team loses 547 games in their first five years.

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