A couple of weeks ago, we began our mini-series on the best virtual speaker kits. And the first episode was all about sound. What are the best microphones speakers can use to deliver top-notch presentations? As usual, our hosts Brandt Krueger and Will Curran did a deep dive into the subject. But no educational content surrounding this topic would be complete without going into the specificities of lighting and video.
As mentioned in our 2021 event trends guide, attendee expectations will be on the rise. And in order to correspond to said expectations, planners must support their speakers as well as possible. A great first step is, of course, to get educated on the best virtual speaker kits out there. So press play and join us for round two of the Event Tech Podcast’s take on the subject!
Let’s Talk Environment
Before diving into the lighting aspect itself, Will and Brandt begin by talking about the environment. “So my first tip is, do not ever have a window behind you – ever”, says Will. “Because cameras just freak out the second there’s just so much lighting coming in from that window. So you can make yourself look a hundred times better if you turn around. That’s going to increase your lighting tenfold”. Brandt adds that “not only does putting the window behind you not look good, putting the window in front of you can make you look really good”.
“When we’re talking about lighting and when we’re talking about your setup, I always encourage people to do their speaker check-in calls at the time that those people are going to be speaking”, says Brandt. “So that it’s as close as possible to the time that they’re going to be speaking. So you can watch out for the way the sunlight hits”.
Rock Your Space
“The next part of free is using what you’ve got around you”, Brandt continues. “When I first started, my primary and key lighting were two beer sconces, Greenbelt beer sconces hanging on the wall. And they actually have a nice amber glow to them. This is my casual look when I’m not using my primary lighting. And they work pretty well. It’s enough to get a little bit of color on my face”.
“So my point being, really, what have you got for desk lamps? If you have to broadcast from a hotel room or something like that, grab the light, take the shade off, unscrew the top, you know, put that in front of you. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to you. It matters what it looks like on camera”, he adds.
Brandt also reminds us of the importance of recording yourself. “If you add something or change something, just kill the camera and then turn it back on again. Just to see how it goes. And then, as we talked about in the last episode, record yourself on zoom, try a couple of different things. What happens if I move my laptop over here versus over there? Where’s the window in the room, what lights do you have? What happens if I bring the light a little higher, a little lower, does it shine up in your glasses?”.
Virtual Speaker Kits: Lighting
The first low-cost solution Will mentions is…lightbulbs! “Some idea to look at is getting a light bulb. Everyone loves Phillips Hue bulbs. So those are the more expensive I think, of the options, but look for a bulb that can transition color temperature too so you can go from warm to white.”, says Will. “That should be around 30 bucks on Amazon, 40 max”. A cheaper option suggested by Brandt are the Wyze bulbs, which are definitely 20 bucks or less and they have a basic color correction as well.
“I’ll add into that too when you’re looking at bulbs, the brighter bulbs, the better. So then that way you don’t have to do multiple lights”, says Will. Brandt uses NEWER to supplement his Greenbelt beer sconces – they come in a two-pack for cheap!
“I like those ring lights because they’re really soft. The bigger the light is, and the more spread out it is, the softer, the better. And I also like them because they come attached to a tripod. So then you can attach your webcam to it, so it’s direct light, and that’s the one that works best for most people”, explains Will. “Pro-tip is when you’re looking at the specs of the light, you’re going to be looking for something called CRI, color rendering index. You want to look for as close to a hundred percent as possible. 98 is incredible. And if you can get 89 for a $20 light, that’s great”.
Virtual Speaker Kits: Video
Moving on to the next sessions of virtual speaker kits! “My thing continues to be try everything. So as part of the classes that I was working on, I literally grabbed every camera that I had and set them all up. And just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. So it’s even more of a reason to, again, fire up a zoom call and start flipping between the cameras and see what looks better. Because my Surface Pro tablet looks so much better than my MacBook Pro”, says Brandt.
“Start by getting really, really good lighting and really good audio. And then my little pro-tip is, not only testing the different webcams you have access to but also just raise your webcam. If you’re giving a presentation or having someone present, get them to put their laptop on a couple of books, get that webcam perfectly in line with them. So then when they’re looking forward at you, they’re not looking down at a laptop and they’re not having it look up at their nose or anything like that”, adds Will.
Brandt actually gave this pro-tip to Will a few years ago – webcam settings are your BFF! “You pretty much have to have it. If you’re using a Mac and an external webcam, you should be using webcam settings. And it’s like $2. It might even be in the app store to be perfectly honest. Brightness contrast, saturation, sharpness, aperture priority, exposure, time gain, you can do everything. You can zoom in, zoom out, pan tilt. Because it’s got that 4k canvas, you’re then just zooming in a little bit and lowering the resolution”, says Brant. So run to the app store!
Into The Next Level
“When you move away from webcams, you’re moving into the territory of what I have in my setup right now”, says Will. “I use an actual mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses and it goes into what’s called a capture card. And the capture card basically just says, anything that’s HDMI you could hook up. Any kind of camera you want to, and basically just turns that and captures it as if it’s a webcam and a camera source on your computer”.
“So start with the capture card. The brand that I recommend is Elgato. And then grab that $700 DSLR camera that you bought so you could take the family photos that you never learned how to use and make that your webcam”. Brandt adds that these particular cameras “give you that depth of field and depth of field is that out-of-focus background. So you are in focus and then everything else behind you is that nice, soft, cinematic look”.
“It’s not about the most expensive body, which is like the part that has all the buttons and all these things. It’s really about the lenses that you have. So the two things that you want to look at when you’re looking at cameras is the ability to take on and off lenses. You want to look for something with very low aperture. Also, the shorter it is, the wider it is – and that matters”, says Will.
New Times, New Tech
“This idea of being able to remotely focus the camera and remotely adjust the settings, I think is huge”, says Brandt. “And so I think that as we do more remote presentations and have more hybrid presenters and hybrid audiences, and purely online events, this ability to remote control without having to have someone there really holds a lot of appeal, not only in the COVID world but also in the post COVID world”, says Brandt.
And that’s a wrap on another incredible episode of the Event Tech Podcast! This round of virtual speaker kits was all about video and lighting. But stay tuned for another session coming up about backgrounds. And in the meantime, check out the Endless blog to stay up to date with the latest news and educational content in the industry!