My whole life is on video now. Zoom, Houseparty, Facetime, Hangout, Skype — I’m signing up for all these services to keep up with business, family, friends. We’re swapping devices. We’re using phones, laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, whatever’s around.
Whatever you pick, there’s a drawback. Phones are easy to use and have great front-facing cameras, but are small and hard to share. Laptops are great for propping up and being hands-free, and the camera’s perfectly positioned — but laptops are bulky, and the cameras are often terrible. (Tips for making even a mediocre laptop webcam look better are here.)
Then there’s the iPad. That bigger display, that better-than-your-laptop front-facing camera, its ease of use. It sounds like group-chat magic. It generally is, but there are some issues, too.
How to prop it up?
The iPad on its own is a large, flat slab that you could hold in your hands, but I’d rather prop up. There are plenty of cases that double as stands, which is your obvious first step.
But the thing about cases: their angles are usually limited. Apple’s expensive Smart Keyboard case has only two angles, and they’re angled upward, so Zooming can look like it’s aimed at the ceiling or the underside of your chin.
I take a few books and gently angle the case edge so the whole thing tilts down a bit, but I’m careful not to let the iPad fall, of course.
Read more: More Zoom tips and tricks
You could also prop the iPad between some piles of books or heavy objects, so it stays upright (just be gentle with the iPad’s glass display).
Don’t frame too far away from everyone, but you may need to be creative. At Passover, I had to put the iPad on a folding table and back it off a few feet so we could all be in frame for a multifamily Passover Zoom.
Generally speaking, for single-person video chats, you want the camera at just above eye level for a clean, pro-looking shot.
Landscape mode equals off-center camera
Most iPad cases mean the iPad is horizontal (landscape), which also fits the most people in a wide shot. But unlike a laptop, which centers the camera on the long edge, the iPad’s camera is on the shorter edge…so it’s off-center when you do landscape chat.
It means you’re suddenly seeing your face off-angle, and your eyes aren’t looking at the camera. It looks weird.
There’s no great fix here, other than video chatting with the iPad in portrait (upright) mode, which means holding the iPad up, most likely. But just make sure to talk while looking at the left edge of the iPad to make it look like you’re making eye contact. You could drag the window showing your face to the same part of the screen, making it feel a bit more normal — but not all apps allow parts of the display to be moved or resized.
Light yourself and your room well
CNET’s Brian Cooley has some great tips for self-shot video and webchats. Don’t have a bright window or lights behind you, or you’ll be overexposed. Make sure things in your room are put away or at least look OK where you’re focused (move the iPad to frame the shot better, it’s easier than cleaning up).
Get into virtual backgrounds
Zoom’s virtual backgrounds don’t always work on laptops, but they’re great on iPads. Tap in the settings area to launch virtual backgrounds, then you can pull a photo from your library. Or, take a screenshot of something (press the volume and power button, or the home button and power button) to save a shot and make it your new virtual wallpaper, and don’t even worry about what your room looks like.
Eliminate your environment with headphones
iPads generally have pretty good microphones, and the new iPad Pro’s microphones are stellar. But still, environmental noise can creep in, meaning, kids, pets, loud shows, whatever else is happening in your crazy house (mine’s pretty noisy sometimes).
Headphones are your friend. AirPods are excellent and small, or you could use any small set of earbuds (AirPods have great microphones and can be worn in just one ear if you want to listen more casually).
But really, any headphones can help. Unless you’re doing a group chat at home, that is.
Turn off notifications
Little pop-up banners get annoying in a chat. You can toggle them off in Settings. I’d advise it.
Toggle Gallery vs. Active Speaker for large groups
I’ve been in 60-person Zooms, and 4-person ones. It’s easy to forget where people are, especially those who aren’t talking. Tapping the Gallery View button on the left, or Active Speaker when Gallery is on, can switch between everyone being in a giant Hollywood Squares/Brady Bunch grid or just showing who’s talking. Both have advantages, and it depends on the situation.
Finally: We’re all roughing it, nothing’s perfect
Look, we all have weird hair now, and strange clothes. We are living and working wherever we can. Just connecting is enough. Being with people is the key thing. Turn your video off if you need to (toggle it in the app, through the camera-shaped icon). But these are just some tips to get through things a little more easily.
Hang in there.