How to make your Skype or Hangouts video look great on your desktop

Video chatting with friends and co-workers has practically become a way of life in our modern world. I use Skype and FaceTime pretty much daily in my home and work life, and because of that, I've spent a good deal of time trying to perfect my video quality.

Whether you wear pajama bottoms or a dress shirt for a video chat, you shouldn't have to settle for sub-par results: Here are my favorite tips for making your webcam video look better than the rest.

Film from above, not below

Whether you're using a desktop, laptop, third-party webcam, or phone, the worst you can do is have your camera below your face, pointed up — human faces do not look great chin-first. In an ideal world, you want your camera positioned slightly above eye-level, looking down at you. Make sure not to position it too high, however: You don't want to look like you're craning to stare into the camera when talking to someone.

Light it up

While the "calling you from a dark cave" look is great if you're trying to cultivate an air of mystery, it's not the best way to chat with your co-workers. If you want to communicate effectively, you want some light on your face. The best way I've found is with ambient lighting behind your computer or webcam — adjustable Hue lights that bounce their light off the wall like a Hue Go, or Nanoleaf Aurora.

If you need to bathe an entire office in light, consider getting a few portable LED lights and tripods: iMore editor-at-large Rene Ritchie uses these to light up his personal studio at home for video shows like MacBreak Weekly.

A word of advice: You never want to point lights directly at your face unless they're from a distance and allowed to diffuse somewhat, and you'll want to make sure you're evenly lighting yourself on both sides, lest you get the opposite of dark cave calling — "I'm in an interrogation room, send help."

Create a good backdrop

If you're routinely chatting from a specific space in your home — especially if these video chats are for work — it may behoove you to declutter your surroundings.

A few things to avoid in the background of video chats:

  • Windows and lit lights: Both will create giant highlight spots that can either provide a wacky backlight or just pull focus from your face. To fix, cover your windows with drapes and turn your lights off
  • Crazy patterns: They'll pull focus
  • Reflective glass in picture frames: I've broken this rule myself, but be careful of putting posters or pictures on a wall that can reflect your studio lights, or use anti-reflective acrylic.
  • Garbage and other mess: Especially if you're calling someone for work, make your studio space look professional and ditch the mess

Your tips and suggestions?

Do you have any tips and suggestions for great webcam video? Let me know below.

Serenity Caldwell