By John Gilstrap
Back in October of 2020, I posted a piece here that I called “The Virtual You,” which Talked about some of the basic lessons I’d learned about Zooming. That article talks about framing and lighting and a little about set design. A lot has changed since then, so I thought I’d share some updates.
My New Set
Two months ago, we completed our move to West Virginia, which was two years in the making, the final 7 months of which was in a tiny apartment in an urban part of Northern Virginia. In moving into the new place I designed my office around the reality of video-oriented promotional opportunities. My office in the previous house was designed such that my desk was in front of a pretty bay window that looked out onto the neighborhood. I enjoyed having all that light coming in over my shoulders while I worked, but it made for a terrible video backdrop. As a consequence, I did all my Zooming from the bar in my basement. It looked cool, but was not appropriate for all audiences.
Now, in the West Virginia forever office, I can shoot video from my desk, and the backdrop is a bookcase loaded with my books. (Always be marketing, right?) It’s quite the relief not to have to go traipsing down two levels every time I need to do an interview.
Because I can do what I need to do from my desk, I have the advantage of a second screen on which I can see the people I’m talking to without looking down, or, in the case of videos for my YouTube Channel, I can have an outline of what I want to say right there in my peripheral vision. In my old YouTube setup, I would have to tape cheat sheets to the walls and bookcases to keep the narrative on track.
Note The Angle Of The Camera
In the first iteration of “The Virtual You” I talked about my obsession about not featuring my various chins in the video frame–the curse of recording through my laptop’s built-in camera. What you see in the photo is a Logitech 1080p Webcam. Mine is a couple of years old, but the newer versions cost less than $60.
It’s a bit tricky getting Windows to recognize the external webcam as the default device. You have to go into settings and disable the built-in cameras. (That was about 45 minutes of research boiled down to a sentence. You’re welcome.)
New Lighting Design
The French doors you see on the right in the photo create interesting challenges for lighting. Those doors face due west. Without obscuring them with a blanket–something I don’t want to do–any camera work that happens in the last 30 minutes before sunset will be impossible to light properly. For the rest of the day, though, I find that if I turn on the overhead light, and crank up the ring light in the corner, I can live with what I get. The light is pointed toward the wall because the reflected light works better than straight-on.
With the publication of Blue Fire back in February, I have been slammed with podcasts and radio interviews. One of the most enjoyable interviews was with David Temple, who hosts The Thriller Zone podcast. At the conclusion of the interview, I asked him specifically for suggestions on how to make my own performance (if that’s the right word) better. Reluctantly, he told me that my audio quality was substandard with lots of echo. At my request, he sent some recommendations for high-quality yet affordable sound equipment.
After a couple of weeks of due diligence, I decided on the Rode NT-USB Mini studio-quality microphone. For less than $100, I am very pleased with the results. Since then, several interviewers have commented without my asking that the quality of sound is very good. And let’s face it, when you’re listening to a podcast, bad sound is a turnoff. Through experimentation, I learned that closer is better when using the USB Mini, so I bought a mic stand that keeps the device about two inches from my lips while I speak, yet still below the lower margin of the viewing frame.
Anything Worth Doing . . .
You know the adage, and you know it’s true. Remote speaking and teaching and conferencing are a permanent part of our business lives. How are y’all embracing the new reality?