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Appearing On-Camera: What Should You Wear?

Deciding what to wear on camera is uppermost in the minds of folks who are about to brave the lens and appear on-camera in a video.

Deciding what the “perfect outfit” is needs to be looked at from three angles:

  • Technical demands of video cameras, video production and online video transmission
  • Common-sense fashion tips, having good “fashion sense”
  • Storytelling/Theatrical Characterizations

Here’s a list of tips covering all three angles.

Let’s start with the storytelling and theatrical considerations. How is your inner shrink and amateur novelist feeling today?

Ask yourself:

  • What image do I want to present?
  • Who am I in this video?
  • What “character” do I play?

You don’t have to be a space alien from Traflamadore to consider yourself a “character” in the video.  Your character might be Sally Smith, working mom, if that is who you are.  Joe the Businessman selling widgets.   A hunkster, bad-boy rock ‘n roll star.  Who are you in the video?  Even if the answer is you, yourself, you can still consider that a “character.”

This might seem silly analyzing it this way, but it really helps.

Now, think about what outfit your character would wear if  they were going to a social event where the invitation list is the target audience for the video.  The scene is as formal or informal as whatever would fulfill the expectations of the guests and create a positive atmosphere.  Think of the scene of this get-together as your video.

You want to leave this party as THE talked-about buzz of the night.  Most of the other guests did not know you when you walked into the room but you will be given a platform that elevates you for a moment and all attention will be drawn to you.

You now have one second to either turn the guests on, or off.

What would you wear? 

Giving a good answer to this question takes an advanced sense of fashion.  Standard “Dress for Success” rules apply here.  How to portray an image through appearance.

Whatever that image is.

That’s your outfit.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing a dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans on camera if that fits your image.  Maybe an expensive business suit is the image you need.  Whatever you wear, if it doesn’t fit your image, nothing else matters.  You video will mis-communicate no matter what you say with the rest of the video.   If you WANT to portray a bad-boy rocker, then the expensive business suit is a no-no!

Video and TV are all about image.  Image is conveyed visually. I don’t necessarily like that about the world, but no doubt it is TRUE!

Now that the theatrics and fashion tips are out of the way,  here is the technical.

Avoid tiny patterns with a high level of contrast.

I think this shirt is absolutely adorable with the black and white polka dots.   But on a technical level for video production it is the WORST!

Think of this blouse as too much information. A digital video signal will choke at the small patterns and heavy contrast.  The video picture will glare, glow and annoy in an ugly way.  There is an official name for this, the Morie Effect.

Black and white is, of course, the definition of extreme contrast.  The dots on the blouse are small.  Both factors exacerbate the situation.

For the exact same reasons as the blouse, black and white hounds tooth jacket is a classic no-no for video.  The picture below is perfect example of the Moire Effect.  (Unless the resolution on your monitor is thousands time better than mine.)   On my monitor, that picture glares terribly.  Even if it does not glare, that is really  too small of a pattern to look good on camera.

Which brings me to the subject of online video compression.  Tiny, high contrast patterns look even worse in highly-compressed video, which is what online video is.   So by the very nature of the beast, online video does not like too much digital information, which is essentially how digital video interprets tiny patterns and high contrast.

This does not mean you can’t wear patterns.  Some patters do fine.  Size and contrast are what to look for.

Dots with a six-inch diameter wouldn’t be an issue.

If the tiny pattern was black and very dark gray, it would look better than black and white, but honestly, it still would not look good.

Large patterns with colors that blend well can look nice on camera. No need to avoid them.

AVOID REFLECTIVE CLOTHES AND JEWELRY

Clothes that are shiny and reflective are something to avoid on-camera too.  A bright glare off a shirt can throw the exposure off.  Flashy, shiny jewelry like metal earrings, causes glare problems too.

The best materials to use on cameras have a dull, matte finish.  This goes for everything, background objects too.

Extreme contrasts in color and light-reflectiveness anywhere in your picture can cause exposure issues. Generally, you want the amount of light bouncing off you and the background to be equal.  Most of the time, a video camera gets the best shot when the light reflecting into it is equal in intensity all throughout the picture.  Otherwise, your face will be darker than your shirt.

Keep contrast in mind and you will avoid major mistakes like wearing a white shirt with no jacket and standing in front of a black background.

Thanks for reading Video Production Tips

Lorraine Grula

Internet Video Gal

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Lorraine Grula


Lorraine Grula enjoyed a fast-paced, multifaceted career in the television and video business, producing, shooting, writing, and editing documentary-style videos in both news and corporate settings. Later, she got to teach media and video production in two high schools, which then morphed into instructional design and corporate training. Lorraine is now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge with others who wish to learn the art of video making, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating professional-quality videos for the internet as simply, yet creatively as possible.

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