by Oliver Pearce
Whatever the app, whatever the occasion, video calling is here to stay. Award-winning fashion photographer Oliver Pearce shows you 4 simple steps to always look your best on-screen.
Getting your set-up right is key to achieving a consistently flattering look on video conferencing apps like zoom. Ridley London's Gail is pictured here working from home in her Alicia printed floral silk midi dress in the ivory symphony print
Hi everyone and thanks for getting me involved in this tutorial Camilla. It’s lovely to be working with you guys at Ridley London again and to be using my experience to help you all look your best on-screen. Regardless of the app or device, you're using. There are some very simple steps you can take which will really improve the way you look on your video calls and will help you achieve a consistently high quality, professional image going forwards.
1. Set your space up
For those of you who are regularly using video conferencing and especially those of you using it for work, I’d recommend finding a space somewhere around your home that's free from noise and distractions. Somewhere you can close the door and you’re not going to be disturbed. And make sure there’s no background noise. Social calls are a bit more relaxed, as a viewer, it can be nice to feel like you’ve been invited into someones' home. For work calls, I’d recommend a location with a clean white or neutral coloured wall with objects coming in from either side so you are framed. This can be a pot plant or a piece of furniture. Somewhere completely plain can look a little harsh and cold. Think about what the objects you are showing represent and what they communicate about yourself to the viewers. Try to keep the background simple as certain objects such as bookcases can become very distracting. Have you ever found yourself looking at what books are on the shelf when you see some being interviewed at home on the news? Set up your background in advance and test it using the selfie mode on your device. You’ll also want a desk or table in front of you to place your phone, tablet or computer on for the video call. This will keep the camera stable and will remove the stress of trying to support something through a lengthy conversation. I’d advise keeping the area it set up permanently to avoid scrambling to find somewhere appropriate for that last-minute video call. Remember Overall the background should remain quite clean as the focus needs to be on you and not the background.
1. Think about your location in advance
2. For work, create a space where you minimise disturbance
3. Make sure your background is clean, uncluttered and reflects you
4. Keep your space set up and ready for future calls
2. Get your lighting right
The right lighting is vital to achieving a consistently flattering look on screen, and it isn't difficult. For social calls, you can't beat in-direct soft evening sunlight to create a really healthy, youthful glow. Camilla is pictured here with her stepmother Bridget both wearing their printed floral silk Ridley London tops
If you haven’t got access to a window or it’s night time you can use an artificial light source like a lamp to create the same effect. First of all, switch off any overhead ceiling lights as they will cast unflattering shadows. Position the light source in front of you just behind your computer, about half a meter from your face. And test the effect in selfie mode. I’d recommend purchasing daylight bulbs for your lamp for a softer effect
To create the most consistent flattering look, a ring light is a very worthwhile investment. These aren’t expensive and you’ll use it time and time again if you’re doing regular video calls. They're also absolutely great for doing make-up in front of. This 18-inch example available from Amazon is ideal. Ring lights were originally designed for medical use and are constantly used by the beauty industry for the amazing flattering soft light they produce. This one is particularly good as it’s a large light source that will spread a really flattering light. It’s on a handy adjustable stand that can be placed just behind the table in front of you. It also has a built-in dimmer so you can control the strength of the light to the most flattering level. This one also allows you to control colour temperature. So if you have darker colouring you can cool the light source slightly which will give you an even balanced look. Equally, if you’re quite pale or feeling tired and run down a slightly warmer light will be more flattering.
I’d also recommend Placing a reflector on the table in front of you to bounce a diffused light up onto the underside of your face helping to create a softer, even, and flattering look. Essentially this is a matte white surface like a piece of paper, card of fabric. The more space you cover the better, so a sheet or towel would also work well. Just make sure it can’t bee seen in the frame of the video.
Many people are also using apps like zoom for social interactions, like catching up with friends over an evening drink. A sunny evening around dusk is an incredibly flattering soft light and brings a radiant golden glow to everyone. I’d recommend placing your device on a table in front of you with the light source coming slightly from behind over your shoulder and a reflector on the table in front. If you are doing a video call outside during the day, avoid direct sunlight particularly midday sun from above. This will cast unflattering shadows and result in dark panda eyes. Instead, find a shady spot
1. Sit in front of a window, but out of direct sunlight
2. Invest in daylight bulbs or a ring light for a consistently flattering look
3. Place a reflector out of frame on the surface directly in front of you
4. If you're outside, avoid direct sunlight, especially from above
5. Use soft evening light shining over your shoulder for a relaxed evening glow
Once the right lighting is set up, you need to find the most flattering camera angle. Essentially the camera needs to be placed above eye level and angled down towards the face. A stack of books works perfectly here to lift Gail's laptop to the right height
3. Use the most flattering camera angle
For the most flattering look, you want the cameral of your device positioned above eye level and angled slightly down towards your face. Conversely, anything low and looking up is going to emphasise your chin and nostrils, which isn’t a good look. I suggest putting the computer up on a stack of books or a box so the camera is slightly higher than your head. Say, about the top of your head. And then point it down into your eyes. If you’re using a smartphone for regular video calls, I'd recommend purchasing an inexpensive stand and doing the same thing. I’d also always recommend using smartphones in landscape mode for a more flattering look. In terms of crop or what you’re showing of yourself on screen, for business you should definitely show your head and shoulders in frame. It often helps to turn your shoulders slightly as this is more flattering. Try to make sure you look at the camera so it appears you are looking directly at the person. Keep an eye on your own 'picture in picture' so you will see what your audience is seeing.
I would also recommend keeping an eye on your posture. Sit up straight and look directly into the camera. You may even want to tilt your body around so you're sitting slightly side-on if this looks more flattering. Or you may prefer to emphasise a particular side of your face if you think it looks better. Just test this all in advance to get the best results and to ensure you feel comfortable and relaxed.
1. Position the camera of your device above eye level, and angle it down into your eyes
2. Use a makeshift stand so your computer or mobile phone is stable
3. Use the 'picture in picture' tool to make sure you're flatteringly cropped
4. Adjust and test your posture for the most flattering results but ensure you feel comfortable
Award-winning photographer Ollie Pearce has worked with many of the world's most iconic fashions and beauty brands. Ollie is shown here on a Ridley London shoot capturing a beautiful printed floral silk midi dress
4. Know your app and use the most flattering features
Most mobile phones, tablets and computers that are less than four years old are equipped with HD camera technology. This will produce high-quality flattering results when the right set-up, lighting and camera angles are used. This then places the emphasis on each individual app's ability to process high-quality video footage and most importantly your wifi and internet connections. Image quality reduces rapidly as signals and service falls. So for important calls where you want to look your best, ensure you have a full wifi signal.
Different apps are great for different things, but it’s worth remembering everyone on the call needs to be on the same app. For ease of use and the most flattering image, I’d recommend FaceTime for quick calls but this only works between two apple users. If you’re using the mobile version, I'd always recommend flipping your phone around to landscape mode rather than portrait. This landscape crop adds space around your face which is always more flattering than a very close up crop.
What’s App is great for accessibility as anyone on any device can use it. Personally, I’ve never felt the image quality and sharpness is as good as some of the other apps available. House Party is focused on fun and is very popular with younger users. While the multi-player games, filters and features enhance this experience, I’m not sure image quality is the best.
I would always recommend Zoom for work or important social calls, especially if you use a laptop or computer. The image quality is very good and it’s easy and intuitive to use. There are also some nice features within the video settings area (next to the camera icon on the bottom left of the interface screen. These include a touch up filter which appears to soften everything slightly and a rebalancing feature for very dark or light conditions. For best results, I would recommend investing the time to create and test a more flattering lighting set-up. I would avoid the digital backgrounds. They're fun but a but not particularly sophisticated and distort when you move producing a pretty unpleasant effect.
I’m also aware that a number of businesses, as well as schools, are using Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts. I haven’t really used either of these but I would suggest that the same process of establishing your most flattering set up would apply.
While all of the apps I’ve mentioned are intuitive to use and free, It’s definitely worth downloading and testing these in advance of any calls. Especially in combination with your lighting and location set up to ensure the most flattering results. I’d also recommend familiarising yourself with the interface controls, especially the ability to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. Finally, always remember you’re on a video call, so be conscious that everyone can see everything you are doing. So make sure you’re comfortable to avoid unnecessary shifting about. Definitely avoid eating or chewing, there’s nothing more unflattering on-screen, unnecessary scratching or hair fiddling. And if you’re the host, I would also recommend introducing everyone by name as you would at a cocktail party or formal meeting. It just adds an element of connection.
1. Select the right app for your purposes
2. Familiarise yourself with all of the in-app features
3. Test your set-up, lighting and camera angle with the app for your most flattering results
4. Ensure your wifi signal is strong
5. Be conscious that you're always on screen
Good luck and I’m confident that in no time at all you’ll be a master of creating consistently flattering and enjoyable video calls.
Author of the original bestseller ‘How Not to Wear Black’, broadcaster and Senior Colour Lecturer at The London College of Style, Jules has worked as an image adviser to governments, numerous celebrities, charities and well-known corporations. Most importantly she advises a number of leading broadcast channels and presenters on dressing for screen. In her Tutorial Jules is going to teach you which colours are going to enhance your unique on screen style and make you look younger, fresher and really glow. She’s also going to show you how to use colour to deliver outstanding outcomes in your daily life.