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Presenting to a camera

How to present to camera.
OK. Hi, Marty. Hello, how are you? I’m good thanks. Thanks for agreeing to get involved in the course. That’s absolutely fine. Yeah, it’s great to have you with us. And before we get cracking, could you just very quickly introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do, as well. Sure, yeah. I am a science communicator, but I guess what I do, I have done in the past a lot of is television. I spent a long time working as a television producer and working in a television company and making television programmes. I’ve also spent a lot of time all through that period doing stage shows.
So I do science stage shows, but I also do a lot of “in front of the camera” presenting on television, particularly BBC One these days. Sounds fun. So I think you’re going to talk to us today about presenting to camera, aren’t you, because I guess– That’s the general idea, yes. Yeah. So I guess up until quite recently that was something that was alien to a lot of people because you don’t typically have to do that in daily life, but all of a sudden a lot of us are having to present digitally to a camera. Yeah, and I think presenting to camera is its own special skill set.
You might be somebody that does, I don’t know, regular talks to, lectures to students or to community groups, or whatever it is. And that live of interaction is something that you might be good at. I mean, it might not be something you’re good at, but this is a completely different skill set. What I’m doing right now is different to that. It’s related, obviously, but there’s a lot of different things that you need to get under your belt to be able to present to camera really well. OK. So Marty, what are your top tips for someone who is very new to this, bit nervous, not done it before, they don’t want to make a mess of it. Where do they start?
Right. Practise. That’s the first thing you need to know. I mean, the great thing about presenting to camera is you can practise in a way that you can’t presenting to a live audience. If you’re presenting to a live audience, the only time you’re going to get the actual experience of that presentation is when you have the live audience. But you can present to camera as much as you want because you can record it, and the audience doesn’t actually need to be there. I mean, it might not be there, I mean, you might be recording it, or you might be live.
But the thing is, the experience of presenting to camera is going to be the same every time you do it, whether or not the record button is pressed or not. So rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Practise, Practise, Practise. It does take time to get used to presenting to camera. It’s sort of a weird thing. I mean, right now I’m presenting to a camera, I’m talking to you, but I’m not looking at you because I’m looking at the camera, and therefore I’m not actually looking at you. And I can just about see out of my– you’re down here, and the camera’s up there. And I can just about see you in the corner of my eye, and I can see you’re nodding furiously.
But I’m making a special effort to not look at you, because if I look at you, I’m not looking at the camera. And that’s one of these things that you have to be really careful of. Because when you’re presenting to camera, you’ve got to look at the camera. The camera is your audience. So you have to stare at the lens. This little piece of polished glass that’s there is my audience. And the little picture that you might have down here of the Zoom meeting or whatever it is, that’s not your audience, that’s just your feedback. So you have to really learn to look at the camera, and that can be very difficult.
If you’re looking at a camera that’s on a laptop screen, that’s especially difficult because the camera’s now invariably right next to that monitor window, that dreaded monitor window. So if I look down from the camera I’m actually using to the camera that’s on my laptop, which is here, I can now see you, you’re immediately below. And actually even worse than that, there’s a little picture of me right below the camera. And that is the most distracting thing in the world. And that’s one of the hardest things about presenting to cameras in some respect that you have to get over. This is my top tip. We are all programmed to see and recognise and look at human faces.
So when you’re talking to somebody, you look at their face. When you’re talking to an audience, a real audience, a live audience, you look at faces. But when you’re talking to a camera, you have to look at the camera. And if, as I say, when I look down at the screen here, I look at my computer webcam, which is just here, my face is immediately below it. So what tends to happen is you look at your face, and then you look at the face below that, and now I’m looking at your face and not looking at the camera. So you have to get rid of that. The simplest thing to do is to get a different camera.
Get a webcam, which is pretty straightforward, just on a USB. Plug that in and position that on a tripod or something so that it’s a little distance away. Now, my webcam is sitting about that far– I’ll just measure– yeah, it’s that far literally above the top of my laptop screen, which is immediately below. So that I can just about see you in the corner of my eye or just down here. But you’re not distracting me because there’s nothing in this area immediately around the camera to draw my eye away so I’m less tending to do that.
Now if you don’t have a webcam, what you can do is that monitor window, you can just drag it into the corner, minimise it, get rid of it so that there’s nothing on the screen that can distract you. If you need to have the monitor for some reason, because you’re holding things up to the camera or something, you need to be able to see the position, then just put it enough out of the way that it’s not distracting, so that it’s just in the corner.
On a lot of systems on– I’m going to do it now– on Zoom, which is what we’re using, I can, if you hover over your image, your own image, there’s a little dot dot dot appears. And if you click on that, you can then choose– where is it? Is it Show Self View or– I can’t– I haven’t got my glasses on, that’s the other problem. But you can make yourself disappear, so to speak, so that you turn yourself off. So those are my top tips, I think, for presenting to camera. Sometimes it’s quite difficult with webcams on computers.
It might help to put little sticky labels sort of pointing at the camera so that you know– I’ve got to look here, stuff like that. Something to draw your attention to the camera and away from all the other stuff that’s around you. OK, OK, they’re good tips, very good tips. In terms of a setup, so talking digitally, so you’ve got a lovely setup behind you. I can hear you clearly, I can see you clearly. It’s lovely. What advice do you have from that perspective, as well? Because I think that’s quite a big part of it, isn’t it. If you can’t see– Yeah, it is Someone– Yeah, I mean talking to camera, you’re your own camera person, I mean, probably.
I mean, if you’re lucky, you’ve got somebody to operate the camera for you, and you’ve got a camera operator, in which case you’ve got a whole other ballgame. But let’s assume that you’re doing what we’re all doing these days, which is setting up our own cameras and doing it that way. To take it to the next level, the first thing to do is sound. Sound is the unforgivable sin– I’ve been watching a lot of Harry Potter, you can tell– is the unforgivable sin. If your sound is rubbish, people notice in a way that they will forgive if your video is a bit rubbish. So try and get your sound better.
Now that’s really difficult if you don’t have a decent piece of kit. The obvious thing to do is to get a headset that has a microphone that’s near your mouth. If you’ve got these little jobbies, these ear buds or whatever they’re called, you could use those. They’re not bad, but I’m actually using a completely separate microphone. It’s here, look I’ll show you. It’s this thing. This is an old microphone I’ve had for ages, and that’s plugged into my computer. And then I’m using that as my microphone. And there’s all sorts– they’re not too expensive, these USB microphones. It’s worth it if you’re going to do a lot of it. So that’s the first thing, get your sound right.
I’m actually not in the best room in the house to do this, but it happens to be the only room I can use for various family reasons, because this is quite big, echoey room. A smaller room will give you less echoey sound, so that’s good. That’s the first thing, get your sound right. The second thing is think about your background. Again, for reasons that– I mean, you say it’s nice, but actually this background, I think, is too cluttered. These curtains are a little bit too much, and there’s light coming through them, so they’re not perfect. I’m actually sat at a funny angle in this room.
Because if I sit at the table properly, I’m sat at 45 degrees, the camera angle, I’ll show you, includes this lovely piece of furniture here, which is fantastic. Was inherited, it’s an antique piece of furniture. But the trouble is it’s got a dirty great mirror on it. And mirrors are bad because they confuse, and you get all sorts of weird reflections, and then you get light shining in the wrong direction. So try not to have mirrors in your background. So I have to try and adjust myself so that I’ve not got too much of this, but I got a little bit these nice plants.
Your backgrounds quite nice, you’ve got books you’ve got a classic, little bit of interest, but not too much interest. Yeah, thank you. So my perfect background would be slightly plainer, maybe– and I have actually looked into buying plainer curtains, but you know, life, and it means going to IKEA, as well. I can’t be bothered with IKEA, I just cannot be bothered going to IKEA. So slightly plainer. Then you have to think about where you’re sitting in the frame. Now, I actually thought we might talk about this, so what I’ve got here is I’ve got this little overlay that I’ve put on myself. OK, so this overlay, OK, this is thirds.
OK, so you’ve got third, and the third, and then the third and third there, OK. Now the general theory is that you use the rule of thirds, which is the same thing they use for camera composition. So that if you’re composing a picture, you want things that are important to be on those thirds here and here, and that gives you a nice composition supposedly, I’m no photographer. But it works for this as well. And especially when you’ve got heads, you want your eye line to be on that third, OK. And that should be true no matter where you are positioned in terms of the camera.
So if I go back further, I should be a little bit higher up, and if I come in, come in closer, closer, and I now can’t see because the screen’s down here, I need to try and keep my eye line at that third. And what I do, before I come on, I actually just put my fingers on my eyes and then sort of, right, yeah, that’s about a third like that. And I just check that I’m in the right position. So it gives you a bit of head room.
You don’t want– that’s terrible, and you equally don’t want to be sat there like that, because– and you see that quite a lot, people with this massive headroom, and you’re just like, I don’t want to see that. I want to see you. Or very, very close. Well very close has a position, it gives you a more intimate feeling, because then you’re really into someone’s face. So that’s not, I mean it has a place. But is that what you’re trying to say? And if you’re too far away, then especially for something like Zoom, then people will feel like you’re standing at the other side of a room, which you probably are. So yeah, think about what you’ve got.
Think about your lighting. Are you lit properly? Can people see you, or are they just seeing your background? You see that quite often. Quite a lot of people have their laptops against a wall. So you’re sitting at a desk with a wall in front of you here and the camera on your laptop, and then your light is behind you. So you’re backlit, so nobody can see you, but they can see the rest of the room really well. So you have to think about– you have to change that, you have to put a light.
Either put a light in front of or behind the camera shining at you, which can be quite difficult to arrange, or try putting a light just to one side so that it’s bouncing off the wall, so you can use the wall as a reflector. So put your desk lamp and point it at the wall behind the computer so that it reflects light onto you. Or find a position where you can, as I am, I’m sat at a table and there’s lots of windows over there, so they’re providing the light for me. So that illuminates me. So you’ve got that good lighting. So I’ve got these weird, funny green lines on me, I’m going to take them off.
It’s trouble, again, haven’t got my glasses on, need a monitor. So you’ve got that. What else is there to think about? In terms of left/right, obviously if you want a beautiful shot, you tend to position people slightly to one side like that and angle them in like that so they’re kind of talking in like that, so that you see them at three quarters. For Zoom and stuff like that, keep it straight on. Especially because Zoom quite often crops the sides. When you’ve got lots of people on the window, it’ll bring the edges in. And if you’re sat over there like that, then it will cut your head in half.
Yeah, well, I’ve been– Is there anything else I can think of there is– I mean, this is a difficult thing, lighting. You’ve got lighting, camera work, you’ve got your sound. Getting all of that ready and working is not an insignificant task. So give it some time, practise, get it set up, think about how you’re going to set up, and don’t just assume that it’s all going to fall into place like that, because it won’t. Yeah, OK. That’s brilliant, thank you, Marty. I think they’re really useful, practical tips that should be really helpful to lots of people there. So thank you very much. My pleasure.
I mean, the last thing I’ll say, last point, is don’t underestimate how much practise it takes. Don’t underestimate the challenge of presenting to camera. It’s no less difficult than walking out on a stage in front of 400 people for the first time and having to talk to them. So don’t– give yourself a break, basically. Give yourself a break. Allow for mistakes. Record yourself, watch it back, all these sort of things I’m sure you’ve discussed at other times. Just allow yourself to make mistakes as well, because you will. Yeah, yeah. Oh that’s brilliant, thank you, it’s really good. My pleasure. Lovely to chat to you. Take care. See you.
Marty Jopson – TV presenter, science performer, science writer and prop builder

Marty has been making science television for over twenty years and has worked behind the camera as a researcher, prop builder, director, producer, executive and company manager. His career as a presenter spans over ten years as the science reporter on the BBC1 flagship programme, The One Show. He has also appeared on regional, national and international series like Invention Nation (BBC1), The House the 50s Built (C4), Food Factory (BBC1) and Brainiac (Sky1).

When not on television, Marty spends much of his time on stage performing hair-raising and flammable science at science festivals around the country. He builds all of his own props and takes dangerous, high-voltage and high-speed science stunts to the audiences at prestigious venues like the Royal Institution, Cheltenham Science Festival, Edinburgh International Science Festival and BIG Bang Fair at the NEC, to name but a few.

He is currently the proud author of two books, both produced with publisher Michael O’Mara. His first, The Science of Everyday Life, has been on Amazon’s best seller lists and translated into numerous languages. His second, The Science of Food, was published in 2017 and has been doing very well so far.

You can find out more about Marty on his website.

Do you feel comfortable presenting to a camera? Do you think these tips will help you feel more at ease in from of a camera?

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