The Power of Eyes: On Camera Tips for Virtual Communications
By Sally Smithwick, Managing Editor, RDBA Weekly
When I was a young girl, I became interested in summer community theater, which led to many years of participating in plays and musicals, high school performing arts, a scholarship to the Cincinnati Conservatory musical theater program, and when I was 22, a role on a CBS prime time television series working with stars such as Tyne Daly (Cagney and Lacey) Kellie Martin (ER, Life Goes On), Academy Award winner Tess Harper (Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart), Levar Burton (Star Trek, Reading Rainbow) and more.
Although I had an extensive resume for stage acting experience by the time I got the TV job, this was my first time acting for the camera, and I was a ball of nerves my first day on set. While stage acting requires a more “bigger than life” approach, on-camera acting is a much more real and intimate medium. The cinematographer happened to notice my anxiety and pulled me aside to offer some quick advice. What he said to me changed everything. He told me the most important thing I could do (besides knowing my lines and listening to the director) was to be aware of the perimeter of the camera lens and position my eyes, so the lens could capture them fully. In other words, if I looked down or to the side, whatever emotion was in my eyes would be completely lost to the viewer.
It makes sense! Think about the power of communication with the eyes in everyday interaction whether it’s business negotiations or personal conversation. Your eyes alone can convey confidence, enthusiasm, and your level of interest. We’ve all had conversations with someone before where we could sense distraction or uncertainty based alone on where the other person was looking.
Unlike acting for movies and TV, where the actor normally does not break the “third wall,” as an RD presenting a message in a video or interacting with media, you have the benefit of addressing the camera directly. And with your eyes alone, you can use the camera lens to make your message more powerful and personal for the viewer. Here are some tips for connecting with your viewers through the lens:
- Breathe and look up: Photographers commonly coach people through photo sessions by reminding them to breathe, which helps the eyes relax and open up. Taking a breath and looking up into the camera is a great technique to use as you begin. In fact, if you want to really feel relaxed, ten minutes of meditation, focusing on breathing, or even a few yoga poses can be a huge help preparing.
- Imagine you are speaking to an individual: Another great technique to make your message more personal is to imagine as you look into the camera that you are speaking to a specific individual and mentally defining what you’d like them to hear. Are you speaking to a shopper, a colleague, another RD? How would you speak to that person if they were directly across the table from you?
- Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look: While looking into the camera is important, you don’t want to get locked into an uncomfortable stare. It’s okay to have moments of looking to the side as long as it feels natural and isn’t for too long as you don’t want to break the connection with your viewer.
- Make your lighting and background friendly: Experiment with creating a clean and warm environment that makes you feel more comfortable. Lights that are too bright can cause tension in the eyes, and lighting that is too low or with intense shadows can take away from your face. Desktop ring lights are inexpensive, easy to use, and usually come with a few settings. Their purpose is to create even light that illuminates shadows, reduces blemishes and helps capture the focus in the eyes. Typically, a ring light is used around the camera, but you can experiment with different angles. Be sure that if you are wearing glasses, there is no visible reflection of the ring.
- Camera angles: This is something else with which you’ll want to experiment. Often when people use their laptop cameras, the lens can be too low, giving an angle that favors the nose. The viewer can lose your face when the lens is too high. You’ll want to experiment with raising up your lens if you’re using a laptop. If you’re using a smart phone, make sure to check the grid on your phone, so the camera isn’t tilted. It’s also important to be aware of your distance from the lens. You don’t want to be too close as that could feel aggressive.
- Don’t get distracted by your monitor: Often times our eyes are pulled to the mirror view of ourselves or if there are other video participants, you could get lost watching their video. Check ahead of time that you are comfortable with your setting, and then stay focused on your lens.
- Notes: You can always find creative ways to post notes around your laptop or phone if you need them to remember key points. The main thing you want to avoid is looking down to read your notes and breaking connection with your viewer.