Friday, March 5, 2021

Advanced Stream Camera Techniques

The camera is an important part of most Twitch streams. And while it's usually not necessary to purchase anything to make your streams look a bit better, it can sometimes require elbow grease and a bit of technical understanding to get yours to look the way you want. I've already helped you to get past some of the most common challenges that Twitch streamers face regarding their camera setups. In the entry How to Make Your Camera Look Better, I spoke about properly utilizing the two most important camera-related concepts: composition and lighting. And in the more recent entry Focusing a Streaming Webcam I covered the underlying concepts that govern how your camera sees the space around it. In this entry, we will dive deeper into the world of cameras and filters with some more advanced stream camera techniques.


Typically, someone making a livestream will opt for a webcam. They’re easy to set up and don’t take a lot of hassle to maintain. Some of us are a little more comfortable with video equipment however, and might want to utilize other hardware options. If you fall into this more advanced category, and you’re okay with using a less stable, but prettier solution for your streaming visuals, you can try switching to another type of camera. DSLR cameras are excellent steps up from the average webcam. In the movie and TV worlds these cameras are considered very affordable, though for a stream they’ll set you back at least 5x the price of your average webcam. And while I’ve seen streamers use these higher-tier cameras to great effect, they’re also extremely easy to mess up. So I wouldn’t really suggest you buy one of these for your channel unless you really know what you’re doing with it, and are confident that it’ll help your shows in some way. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest buying one specifically for your streams at all. I’d only really suggest trying this strategy if you already own a DSLR camera for some other purpose. As I say in almost every Twitch Playbook entry, getting better at streaming is always more important than buying better equipment for streaming.

Fancier cameras have more options, but they require
more know-how and patience.

If you do have a DSLR camera however, it has the capacity to look great on your shows. These cameras are going to have bigger chips than a webcam, resulting in a much clearer image. They also usually have the option for interchangeable lenses and much subtler control over the aperture, gain and shutter speed. If you want the ‘blurry background’ effect in your shot, this becomes much easier to accomplish without filters in a DSLR camera. There are a few quirks you’ll have to get used to though. Unlike webcams, DSLRs aren’t really made to display their real-time feeds for extended spans. The typical user would turn the camera on, get the shot, and turn it off again, so they run on relatively short batteries. Depending on what’s in your camera kit, you may need to get a few extra parts to make it work for a stream, like an AC power adapter and some kind of tripod or mounting device to attach it to your monitor. Plus, depending on what kind of crop factor your camera has (Full Frame, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, etc.) you could find that you have to free up a lot more room between the camera and yourself, requiring some redecorating in your streaming area. You may also need to install separate software to make your camera display continuously on your computer and allow your streaming application to display it. This is all a lot of work, and there will be even more considerations to keep in mind based on your personal setup, so I will reiterate that I really only recommend this strategy to someone who already owns and knows what they’re doing with one of these devices. It’s a big expense, and it’s very finicky even once you get your hands on it, so keep in mind that with the high reward there is also a very high risk.

I will mention as well, that just because you know how to use cameras doesn’t mean you have to have the fanciest video hardware for your broadcasts. I’ve been operating cameras professionally for TV and video shoots for ten years, but I still stick with a webcam on my personal streams. As I always say in these entries, it comes down to what you want from your content. I personally would rather take the time I save by opting for a simpler camera, and put it toward other aspects of my shows. But if you do a lot of IRL streams, or intricate model building, or some other type of show where the camera is of paramount importance, it could be worth looking into DSLRs.


If you don’t want to fully commit to a new camera, here’s an option that just about everyone can employ: camera filters. I’m sure you’re already familiar with filters in some way. We use them on Instagram, Snapchat, and basically every other camera app in existence in order to make our images look better. But have you tried using them on your streams to improve the look of your camera shot? OBS and most other streaming software gives you the ability to change the look of your camera through several post-processing techniques. Depending on which software you use, it may be possible to crop and distort the image, or mask out unwanted areas. You can also color correct, altering the contrast, temperature, gamma and other settings to get the most out of your frame. The color key, which we’ve covered in the entry Using a Green Screen for Streaming, also falls under this 'filters' category. 

Filters can make a cool shot look even cooler.

Make sure you only start adding and adjusting filters once you’ve finished setting up your camera’s composition and lighting however, because these steps in the reverse order might make it more difficult to properly set up your shot. Filters should always be the icing on the cake. By using filters creatively, I’ve seen streamers achieve extremely bold looks, like turning themselves into an army of rainbow colored clones, making their room look like a psychedelic lava lamp, or inserting themselves into famous movie moments. I’ve also seen filters used in very simple, yet tasteful ways to fine-tune the color tone or contrast on a stream and make it look that much more professional. Whichever way you go with filters, this can be a very powerful technique to employ on your broadcasts if you keep an open mind. 


Whether you’re already a video professional, or you just want to experiment with new ideas, there is a lot your can do with your camera. Visualize what you want your stream to look like, and what steps it might take to get there. You might find that there are fewer obstacles in that way than you expected. Just stay smart about it, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. By employing a few advanced stream camera techniques, anyone can find something that works for their shows. 

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