A photographer’s guide on how to give a good impression on Zoom
25 sisters from sister snog on a zoom call and waving at their cameras



I saw a very funny meme on Facebook that hadn’t been credited but was in fact by Sarah Woodard, the Director of development for Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington, USA and I laughed out loud because certainly from my experience it was so true!

This diagram got me thinking about distractions on calls and it reminded me of distractions in images. The way the eye darts around an image instead of the focus being on the main subject.  As a photographer who works with mainly people whether headshots or family photography I am looking at the back of the camera while on a shoot and making sure that there aren’t any particular distractions.  Some distractions I can physically take out of the frame or move the client into a different position on the shoot and other distractions I take out in post production.  On Zoom and other video conferencing apps I am unable to do that unless I have prepared in advance of a call.



We are now over 3 weeks into lockdown with a minimum of a further 3 weeks ahead announced last Thursday.  Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Houseparty, Whatsapp video for many of us,  have become very much part of lives. Whether we have team meetings, networking or catching up with friends and family.

Before the lockdown I had rarely used Facetime and Skype and have always preferred to pick up the phone to call people rather than to see them via video calling.  The lockdown has changed all that and in order to continue with my business networking I am having to embrace video conferencing technology – particularly Zoom.

I have been busy networking with two particular groups via Zoom –  Sister Snog and Athena Wimbledon over the last three weeks.  We all know each other very well and have embraced technology together.  It has been wonderful seeing each other. We have played with the different backgrounds that Zoom has to offer (the tropical palm trees have been a hit) but there is going to come a time when I am going to meet people I don’t know and first impressions are going to be important just as they would be if I was to meeting them face to face.

How Long Does it Take to Form a First Impression?

Some believe it takes 30 seconds to form a first impression. Others believe it takes 2-3 seconds. There was even a study done by Princeton psychologists that found it takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of somebody.

Whatever study or figure you choose to follow, what’s sure is that first impressions are fast. To give you a benchmark to go by, the decisions or judgements the other person is going to make about you will happen on average in about 7 seconds. In this short amount of time, you might not even have the time to speak!

This is the reason for this blog. Now that the initial shock of lockdown is over, video conferencing is here to stay. I see my little Zoom box as a moving headshot.  I am sure on LinkedIn, website and twitter etc you have an image to represent your company/brand.  Care and attention must equally be made to your Zoom/Facetime image as much as you have done for your online visual presence in the past.

Here are some hints and tips that cover not only your presentation but also your background, light, position of the camera and what to wear and make up advice.

Your Zoom space – what does your background look like?

You may already have a home working space designated in your home or it might be that you having to use the kitchen table or a corner of the sitting room.  Your working space doesn’t necessarily have to be your video space. So where is this space going to be? Privacy on a call is obvious so that you are not interrupted, however, I completely understand this isn’t an option for everyone.

I was mulling over – what is more important to tackle first? Light or background?

Taking Selfies to assess spaces

Have a look around your home and take selfies with your phone in landscape mode preferably on a sunny day, morning and evening to see how the light travels around your home.  You may just want a plain wall behind you or book shelves and plants.  Nicola Brown from Construct-Design London is offering a free Background Surgery Session for your virtual space. Get in touch with her HERE for a fun-filled 30 minute makeover.  I know Nicola personally and she has a wonderful bubbly personality!

When analysing the background make sure it is tidy (even if it is only from the waist up). If you have shelving, are the books in order, right way up? Loose papers put away? Are the pictures on the wall straight?  Is there anything that you don’t want people to see eg dressing gowns hung on the back of the door? Are doors closed that are in view?  To help you start to analyse how you can improve your Zoom persona here is an overview of what not to do Robin Kermode has a two wonderful videos that I initially saw on LinkedIn of what not do on a video call! Video 1 and Video 2.

If you are a business owner does your background reflect you and your brand?


I don’t mean putting up a banner behind you with your logo but to seriously think how you can bring your brand colours, imagery on walls that is linked with what you do.

I want to introduce you to Joanna Gilbert who is is contemporary artist. The image below is a perfect example of how this creative has used her studio as a backdrop.  You really believe you are there with her.  I also love the way that she has positioned herself to the side of the frame so that you can see more of her artwork.


Now you have the perfect background – what next? Light!

I have been fascinated by watching the journalists on TV.  Many are struggling with light. Whether they are facing a window and look like ghosts or go to the other extreme and put their backs to the light.

As a photographer my life is about using light and I have often had wonderful locations but have had to manipulate light instead using daylight i.e using speed lights or studio lights.

Too much light on your face – over exposed?

My office is north facing which is perfect, as I never have sunlight streaming into my space. I have a very pleasant background – it is a creative space and is the best place to do video calls with my desktop. However, I need to manipulate the daylight as it is too bright and my face becomes over exposed using the inbuilt camera on my desktop.  See the before and after in the image below – what made the difference?  I used a diffuser!  You may have the same problem so what can you do?  A diffuser is made of a sheer fabric that creates slight shade.  It still allows light through but softens it so it isn’t as harsh. How can you do this at home?  Well you could buy a large Trigrip Lastolite diffuser (can be rested against you desktop), you can use some old net curtains or anything that is sheer and allows light to still come through.  

Another thing to remember is that your screen might be too bright – so turn the level down too to see if that makes a difference.

Light up your face!

An unlit face on a call could be due to the fact you are facing a wall away from daylight or you haven’t enough light in your room to illuminate you. In that case you need to bring a light in front of you.  A temporary fix is to use a desk lamp to light up the area where you positioned but it might be worth investing in a dimmable selfie ring light which comes with a LED light and a holder for your phone.  Also, turn up the brightness on your laptop / desktop. The ring light can be positioned to the side of your desktop or laptop.  Obviously, you can use the light for one to one FaceTime/ Skype very easily in another area of your home.  You don’t have to be an Instagram influencer to own one!  Examples are Neewer 18-inch Outer Dimmable SMD LED Ring Light Kit – which is quite substantial and for a small light which can attach to the edge of a table the Handsfree Diyife Selfie Ring Light.  

Camera position – desktop and laptop

Desktop – 
the camera is positioned at the top of the screen so there is an advantage of being just above eye line as it is a flattering view.

Laptop – whether it is on your lap or your desk you are going to be looking down at the camera at the top of the screen. I loved Robin Kermode’s first video showing the different positions over a laptop that people are adopting while on calls.  Video streaming your double chin and flaring nostrils are not attractive – so what do you do?  You can buy a laptop stand for your desk to bring the camera up to be above eye level.  Balancing on books could be a temporary option (not advised) but as video conferencing is going to be very much part of lives my advice is to invest if you haven’t got a desktop in your home.  After doing a google search on the “best laptop stands”  the Evening Standard last October had highly recommended the following stands.  Please check when purchasing that the stand is compatible to make and size of your laptop.

Camera position – Mobile devices

Mobile phones – It is really quite tiring holding a phone while on video call and I usually end up slouching on my sofa with my arm resting on a cushion after a prolonged call – not a good look!  I previously mentioned the selfie lights and stands from a light point of view but these stands are a fabulous investment for all those individual calls you are going to do.  Whether they clip on to the side of your desk or they are on situated on a stand.  One good tip is to have the phone in landscape as if the person you are video calling is on their laptop you will be seen more clearly on their screen.

Tablets – These are a little more tricky to handle as they are bulkier to hold on a call and again you end up looking down at the camera. Even if you have a simple stand the angle isn’t the best for video calling. You want the tablet / iPad to be at a more upright position.  See the following which attaches to the desk and was recommended by The Telegraph.  As you can see the bendy arm can be manipulated to get the right position. This is the Lamicall Gooseneck Tablet Holder, Universal Tablet Stand : 360 Flexible Lazy Arm

Are you ready to do business online?

When I am commissioned for headshots whether personal branding photography, corporate or just a simple headshot for LinkedIn I forward my clients a “What to Wear” guide which not only includes clothes but make up advice for women and grooming advice for men.  Depending on the nature of the business my recommendations for my clients could range from smart casual to more formal structured garments eg suit.  However, being online in your home, formality is being relaxed so here are some tips on your personal presentation for business.

Women – make up and what to wear

The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable. There have been many jokey comments that we are dressed for business only from the waist up and if that is the case there is no problem with that (unless you leave the zoom room and you forget to turn your video off).  I know from my experience that part of the preparation for an online meeting is my mental prep. By getting up early, showering, doing my hair and make up and dressing in smart casual clothes personally helps me with my confidence.   So what about your wardrobe? Is this the time to have a rethink?  Are you fully confident that the colours you wear suit you? Do you need a second opinion?  Anita Feron Clark offers help with colour and styling and has years of experience of working with both professional men and women. 

One of the pieces of advice for my personal branding clients is to avoid big patterns and stripes. White and black are not advised as these colours do not suit the majority but the problem with white and very light colours is that they can be picked up by the inbuilt cameras and overexpose the area and detail is lost.  For business owners can you bring a hint of your brand colours into what you are wearing?

I asked my good friend Rachel Barclay who is MUA (make up artist) for tips make up tips.

As we enter another week of Zooming don’t stress about looking good, as here are some great tips to make you vibrantly visible and looking the very best version of you! Apply some tinted moisturiser or bb cream to brighten up and even out your face, no need for full coverage in Zoom life! A little black or brown eyeliner on the upper waterline will really open up your eyes and of course mascara to fan those lashes! Brush some bronzer on the cheeks, upper forehead and jawline and  blend in, this will act as a natural contour, thinning the face and accentuating where necessary. Then chose a nice bright lipstick as that makes the vision really pop! Also remember to brush and style your hair, maybe tie a jaunty scarf in it or place a pretty hair clip in, remember your hair frames everything that’s going on in that little square of loveliness and connection.

Rachel Barclay


Men – what to wear

Who are you networking with? What is your business? You will know and have a sense of what is expected of you as far as the way you dress is concerned. If you are usually clean shaven then to continue being so (unless you fancy growing a beard). One piece of advice I give for my headshots is to check for nasal hair, hair out of earlobes. Your face is going to be so much of a focus than it would be in a face to face meeting and people are going to notice those details.

My advice is not to wear pure white or light colours as the built-in cameras can over expose.  Avoid stripes, patterns and large checks unless you are in a creative industry and that is part of your brand and your personality. If you do wear a white shirt then break it up with a pullover (if it isn’t too warm outside) or a jacket if the business you are in requires formal attire.

One of the problems both men and women are having in lockdown is hair! It may mean shaving around the neck to make the hairline more tidy and use styling products to try and tame hair.

I do hope this blog post has been useful to you and if you would like my “What to wear guide” or you need advice on this subject at all please contact me at annie@anniearmitage.com


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