We reached out to Pedro Porro, a Manhattan based Architect and Interior Designer, to provide us with valuable tips on how to elevate your video conference background as we leave the casual nature of summer behind. Here’s what he had to say:
The global pandemic has required many of us to work from home and communicate through video conferencing. This new technology brings a host of unintended consequences having to do with business colleagues getting an intimate look into our personal environments. One of my favorite cartoons growing up was The Jetsons. The show featured the most innovative and imaginative ideas of what futuristic technology could do. For example, Jane Jetson had the advantage of a “morning mask” with which she could conceal her bedraggled face and look primped and professional for any unexpected video calls. While we don’t yet have Jane’s technology, as an architect and interior designer, I can recommend a few things that will help your background reflect the professional you.
1. Think of Your Background as a Set: Social media has become obsessed with (and made a sport of judging) backgrounds. Inquiring minds are honing in on the titles of books on shelves, reading meaning into every knick-knack on a coffee table and obsessing about decor. It helps to think of your background as a set that reflects how you want to be seen. There is no need to divulge intimate information about yourself, but at the same time, you don’t want to go too far and appear like you are posing for a mugshot.
A few thoughtful adjustments and tricks of the trade is all it takes to create a pleasing backdrop that looks polished without breaking the bank.
- Frame your face with a piece of artwork or drapes.
- If you have posters from your favorite concert or art exhibit, make sure they are framed and level. A frame elevates the importance of anything on paper or canvas.
- A design and photography trick is the “rule of odd numbers” – grouping objects in 3s is very appealing. Groups of 5 and 7 may also work, but you don’t want it to look cluttered.
- To avoid having a sterile background, add something organic – a plant, fresh flowers, fruit or even a piece of driftwood you found on the beach. Organic objects add warmth to your setting.
- If sitting in front of a bookshelf take note of the books that are visible. Are they appropriate? Do they need a dusting? Vary the heights of the book. You can find beautiful or fun bookends that reflect your personality in many places. Did you know that some independent books stores are curating bookshelves for video calls?
2. Lighting: You can have the most beautiful set in the world with stunning furniture, exquisite artwork and expensive textiles, however without good lighting it will look less than ideal. This is especially true on a video call. To look your best, position yourself in front of a window to diffuse sunlight which will flatter your face. Turn off all overhead lighting which can cast harsh shadows. If this is not possible, invest in an inexpensive ring light and position it behind and slightly above your computer to mimic the light from a window to evenly light your face.
3. Reduce Visual Clutter: Another common eyesore is visual clutter from tech devices and accessories. If you have a lot of electronics or you work at the family charging station, invest in quality accessories that elevate your work space. Give some thought to cable management for the tidiest appearance. Cords and chargers for computers, phones, lights, microphones, etc. can quickly get unwieldy. Austere sent me one of their Power Products that can power and charge multiple devices at the same time and is stunning enough that you don’t need to hide it.
4. Your Mom was right - Clean Your Room. Too many times to count, I’ve been on a video call with people in their bedrooms with an unmade bed and dirty clothes on the floor. Most of us show up to a meeting with a kempt appearance, even if our houses are a mess. Your home is now just as important and an extension of your professional appearance. Make your bed!
5. Converging Vertical Lines: Finally, in architectural and interior photography we strive to avoid something called “parallax errors” (converging vertical lines). The ideal interior photo keeps all vertical lines parallel. When these vertical lines are askew it makes the room feel like it is falling off the page. Similarly, on a video call, strange angles in your background make other participants feel unconsciously uneasy. Not to mention the fact that a low camera angle gives an unintended view of your nostrils and double chins. Most of us have our computers set up directly on our desks or dining tables. In the U.S., those tabletops have a standard height of 30 inches. This is usually too low for the camera to focus on our face at eye level, so we tilt the screen back until our face is in view but then our background is full of “converging vertical lines.” Sound familiar? Not to worry, there is an easy fix. Prop your laptop or computer on a stack of books or magazines to get the camera at the right height. If your face is in the frame and all the vertical lines in your background are parallel, then you know you’ve achieved the perfect height for your computer’s camera.
I hope these 5 tips help you put your best foot forward to project an air of professional confidence and success!
Pedro Porro of Pedro Porro Design provides architectural and interior design services and specializes in Condo and Coop renovations in Manhattan.