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Being on Camera

Being on camera is not natural for most people, particularly those of us who grew up without constantly being attached to a phone camera. When I was a kid, film was expensive to process and most rolls came with only 24 shots, so you didn’t want to waste them on goofy or unimportant subjects, like pictures of food or a cat playing with a toy. Also, parents weren’t likely to let their kids “play” with an expensive camera, probably the only camera in the house.

Even with today’s ubiquitous cameras that allow for unlimited digital photos, there are still people who are not comfortable being photographed. Some folks actively avoid all photos. I’m not that extreme, but I don’t care to appear in posed photos for several reasons.

Inevitably, I blink when the shutter goes off. This happens so often that it’s a joke in the family. I also can’t hold a natural smile for as long it takes for most people to take a photo.  Further, when I am asked to hold still for too long or I’m nervous, my neck muscles tense and my head pulls slightly to the left. I recently learned I have a scoliotic curve that is probably causing this nervous reaction. In addition, I tend to tilt my head up in photos so my chin is jutting out.

Professional photographers develop special skills to keep people relaxed and smiling during photo sessions. They also catch things like jutting chins and weird poses. Plus, they know to shoot multiple shots of the same pose and have cameras that allow them to do this. Most of us aren’t professional photographers, though we may be enlisted to take group photos at special events.

Take the discomfort of being photographed and put it on steroids and you’ve got what it feels like to be on a video camera. It’s discombobulating to watch and hear oneself on a video recording. The voice I hear on the recording is not the voice I hear in my head. I also don’t look right. There’s a bit of the uncanny valley going on when you see yourself the way others see you and not the way you see yourself in a mirror.

With the pandemic, most of us have been forced to hold meetings and events online via applications like WebEx and Zoom, which means having to deal with being on camera. Not only do we have to confront all our weird tics, we also have to understand how to set up the technology and prepare our surroundings so they are aesthetically pleasing to viewers and don’t have potential distractions. Watch out for glare from lights; have a clear microphone; don’t sit in front of a sunny window; make sure you have an adequate camera; don’t eat while the camera is on; sit so no one can walk behind you; keep embarrassing items off the bookshelf; wear clothing that looks decent; comb your hair … yadda, yadda, yadda.

It’s a lot to think about, which is why there are professional video camera operators who can take care of the technical aspects of recording and professional presenters (news anchors, program hosts, etc.) who handle how information is being presented.

For those intrepid souls who decide to start their own YouTube or Vimeo channels, if they want to create polished videos that get attention, they have to be good at all of this and more.

Hubby and I have been working on videos to show some of his refinishing work now that we are no longer running our mid-century modern furniture refinishing business. Hubby is not comfortable being on camera (it’s a big club!), so the first video we worked on (Unshabbying the Chic) has text and music rather than either of us speaking. He also avoids appearing in the video.

For the video we are working on now, we’re still avoiding appearing on camera, but we’ve decided it’s easier to talk through the process rather than explain it in text later. Hubby has done some of the video sections on his own, so he’s in essence talking to himself as he explains what he is doing.

Even though most of us often keep up running commentaries with ourselves, talking to ourselves for an imaginary audience is next level strange. We’ve found it’s easier for me to be running the camera and asking questions while he works. Dialogues are a lot more natural than monologues, which is why there are so many podcasts and television programs that feature guests being interviewed by hosts.

It helps to plan out what we’re going to discuss, though in the case of furniture refinishing, this is fairly easy; we just follow the process. This would be more difficult with headier discussions, like history or philosophy. We also have to figure out where to position the camera to get the best shot of the action without having to move the camera (very important if one person is both running the camera and appearing on it). Though we’ve been using Erik’s phone camera to fairly good effect, we are currently exploring better microphone options.

While we are willingly learning how to be on camera and dealing with the discomfort that causes, I’m concerned that society at large is going to come to expect everyone to appear on camera and to be excellent at doing so. It’s a further push for everyone to favor extraversion over introversion, to favor performance over simply being, to favor perfection over naturally messy humanity.

Let me be my slightly anxious, pensive, chin-jutting, play-with-my-hair, blinking-too-much, “umming” self without a camera on, please.

Thoughtful comments welcome.