Friday, January 31, 2020

How to Make Your Camera Look Better

What's one piece of equipment most streamers think about above all the others? The camera. The reason is simple: people don't want to look bad in front of everyone who might be watching. Many of us put a lot into our appearances just to go about our normal days, and that means we're even more critical about how we show ourselves on a stream. This causes many of us spring for a better camera, in the hopes that it'll magically make us look better on our shows.

Of course, once we've unboxed our shiny new toys, we realize a camera can do very little to change our appearances. But isn't there anything you can do to optimize the way your facecam looks on stream? You'll be glad to hear that there is. And you'll be gladder to hear that it won't cost you a cent. As long as you keep in mind the two critical factors of composition and lighting, your stream camera will always look great. In this entry, I'll teach you to wield these two powerful techniques, as well as which pitfalls to avoid. You won't be a master cinematographer by the end, but you'll know enough to make a good looking Twitch stream.

Please be aware though, especially if you've never been with The Twitch Playbook before and you skipped to this entry first: EXPERIENCE is always more valuable than a perfect looking stream. If you haven't done at least a dozen combined hours of broadcasts on your channel already, put this entry down and start streaming right now. You can come back to employ these optimizations later. If you still don't think you're ready to stream, see the entry Start Your Twitch Channel with No Money. This entry is meant for those who are already consistent at streaming and want to optimize their shows- if you haven't streamed yet, doing these tweaks will be just another procrastination. There's no excuse not to start your journey today.


Think of an image of any kind- whether it's the Mona Lisa, a family photo, or a scene from your favorite movie. How did the creator decide where the subjects, props and background elements should fit within the frame? This comes down to a field of study called composition, which rules over every visual art, whether the frame in that art be a canvas, a photo, a movie screen, or in our cases, a Twitch stream's facecam. Most of what makes a good photo or movie shot is its composition, and utilizing this correctly can help you make your stream's camera look much better. There are many rules to creating artful composition which I learned twice over by studying both fine arts and film, but for our purposes you can throw most of those out the window. As far as Twitch streams are concerned, you don't really need artful composition. All you really need to think about is your camera height, and how big your face is within the frame.

You want to look like Drake in this scene, not Sully.
First, you want your camera to be level with your face, or only slightly above. Do not place the camera below your face looking upwards, unless you want to look like a Universal movie monster from the 1930's. Upwards angles are unflattering- don't make people stare into your nostrils for your entire show. A camera that's level with your face or slightly above it and pointing down (such as one mounted on top of your computer monitor) is always preferable.

After understanding which angle to use, it's time to make your face look larger in frame. Don't forget- your facecam usually only takes up a small portion of the screen on a Twitch stream. Viewers will have a hard enough time seeing your face, as many of them will be on small laptop or phone screens. Don't make it even harder for them to empathize with your reactions by having your head be small within that window- you want your face to be as large as possible within your camera shot. This can be most easily achieved by placing the camera closer to your face. It doesn't matter if you don't have a tripod or surface where you can place it- get creative! Stack books, duct tape it to something sturdy, it doesn't matter how you do it as long as it works. If you simply can't get the camera any closer, you still have one option: cropping. Most stream software will allow you to crop your camera's frame, meaning you're able to drag the edges inwards to eliminate wasted space. So simply decide where you'll be sitting, and cut away all the negative space areas around your head. Then you can enlarge that frame to the size you want for your facecam.


Sunken eyes is a good look for an
intimidating mob boss, but not for
your stream.
Once your camera is properly placed, you can start thinking about lighting. This is the other piece of the puzzle when creating a good looking camera shot for Twitch. Lighting is another incredibly complex and artistic discipline, but for our purposes there are really only three things to think about: placing lights, controlling the shadows, and keeping things comfortable during your shows.

Think about the amount of light in your room, and where it's coming from. It's likely that your bedroom, living room or any other room in your house is set up for living, but not for filming. Cameras don't see light the same way the human eye does, so you'll likely need to relocate your lights to make your shot work. The number one rule is to always make you, the subject, lighter than anything behind you. If you use a lamp in your room, it's likely to be somewhere near the back of the room, which might show up in your camera shot. You may have a window visible behind you. Any source of light behind you is going to make you backlit, meaning you'll look darker and the background will look lighter. Get rid of these light sources by turning off lights, moving standing lamps, or drawing the curtains, and make sure the majority of lights are near your face.

Don't place lights below your head
or you'll look like Boris Karloff.
Next, you want to control the shadows. If you have very bright lights installed overhead, or tall lamps right above your head, it'll create harsh downward shadows. Cinematographers call this 'The Godfather,' as it's the way they created that sunken, dead looking stare on Marlon Brando's character in the film of the same name. It won't look flattering on you. Similarly, don't use lights located below your face, as it'll cast your shadow upwards and make you look like a 1930's movie monster again. In Twitch streaming, we're not going for extreme lighting setups, instead favoring very mild and flat lighting. Use a lamp slightly taller than you are, located a few feet in front of you, to spread even light on your face. If you have access to two lights, place them at 45 degree angles from your face, one slightly farther away than the other. This will make it so you have a mild shadow on one side of your face, but not a harsh one that distorts your features.

Lastly, make sure whatever lighting setup you have is sustainable. If a naked bulb beaming into your eyes makes you look great, but it causes you to see spots every time you stream, that's no good. This is a crucial step, as it may require walking back your lighting ambitions slightly, in order to make your shows more enjoyable overall. Don't forget- the object here is to be able to do every stream like this. If you always associate streaming with uncomfortable lights blaring into your eyes, you'll eventually resent the act of streaming itself, and that'll be just another excuse for you to stop doing it altogether in the future. If your scene looks good but it hurts your eyes to sit in your computer chair, you need to find another way to make the scene look good.


You want people to see you at your best, and that means taking some basic steps to make your camera look good. If you keep these essentials about composition and lighting in mind, there's no reason you can't make your streams look that much better. And you'll be doing it without spending a dime! Always remember that the audience will only ever see you through a lens. So as long as you see yourself from their point of view, you can make your camera look a whole lot better!

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