Looking at your face through the unforgiving green eye of a webcam can be confronting. You might look older, more exhausted or simply less put together than you thought – and then there’s the fact that, for the other people in the meeting, your face is taking up the entire screen.
We asked three beauty experts, who are all very familiar with the potential ravages of digital communication, how to put your best face forward on camera.
Set the scene
Where you put your laptop or phone makes more difference to how you’ll look on camera than what you’re wearing or how you’ve done your makeup.
Paula Joye, the founder and editor of lifestyle website The Joye, says we need to “think a lot more Helmut Newton about this”. She suggests: “You’ve got to light yourself evenly. Try and put your computer near a window. Natural light’s your friend.”
How you position your camera matters too. “It amuses me no end when you see people beam in like the Moon in the Wishing Tree,” says Joye. “You don’t have to put your face on the screen like a dinner plate.” It may be called a laptop, but putting your computer on your lap for a video call is a quick way to make yourself look much worse than usual.
Instead, she suggests positioning your camera at or just above eye level, and moving yourself slightly further away from it. Make sure your background is clean too, “nobody wants to see last night’s dinner.”
Think like a newsreader
Joye says that for meetings in the cloud, “all the basics of dress and presentation still apply. When you’re still doing external meetings … managing [client] expectations that the sky isn’t falling … you probably want to be dressed as though you were seeing them in person.” However, she warns that spots, stripes and other patterned tops will not show up well on camera. “Think about newsreader style … A neutral colour is really good. No crazy patterns, it’s not the time for a Ken Done sweater.”
Lillian Ahenkan – a DJ, presenter and beauty expert who shares her wisdom under the moniker FlexMami, suggests you “transition the energy you put towards getting dressed” like making sure your nails are done and your shoes go with your outfit, “and put that towards your face and hair” … “And by doing your hair I mean ‘put it in a ponytail and call it a day’.”
Finally, like a newsreader, “it’s really what’s above the desk that counts”, says Joye. Or, as Ahenkan puts it, “pyjama bottoms all the way”.
Give yourself dimension
Nicole Thompson, a makeup artist and author of Making It Up, says over video “things can look quite flat”. If you’re time poor – which with kids at home is more than likely – she suggests focusing on two quick areas: your cheeks and your brows.
For your cheeks “it’s good to give dimension to your skin, highlighting is great, whether it’s a cream or a powder ... it’ll make things look fresh”. Both Joye and Thompson agree that blush is also a fast way to give your face definition.
As for your brows, these “are what you are showing your expression through”, says Thompson. Making sure they’re clearly defined will make it easier for people to read and understand your emotions. “Maybe for a serious meeting make your brows darker,” Thompson laughs.
Check yourself out
Thompson, Joye and Ahenkan all suggest checking out how you look in your own webcam before you beam into a big meeting. Because cameras tend to wash people out, you might want to wear a bit more foundation than usual, for instance. But if your jawline is not blended properly, it will really show up, warns Joye.
While it’s a great way to make yourself look more put together quickly, Joye and Thompson note there can be some pitfalls to lipstick. “Really bright lipstick can look so wrong on a screen,” Joye notes. While Thompson says “on video anything that’s dark can look smaller. What that means is if you’re going to wear a dark lipstick that day, make sure you use a lipliner so your lips don’t look too tiny. Or perhaps overdraw it slightly or soften the edges.”
She adds, “it’s the same thing with eyes. Don’t go too dark on the eyes because everything can go dark and small.” Thompson suggests ditching a time-consuming smokey eye in favour of curled eyelashes and lots of mascara, as these things are quicker, and will open up your face.
Filters are your friend
“If you’re using FaceTime or an iPhone, says Joye, “there are filters, so you can muck around with them. I have no problem zooming into a conference in black and white. Maybe not the dog ears. But there’s nothing wrong with going Marilyn Monroe old age of Hollywood.”
On Zoom, there’s a face softening filter that will put your camera into a softer focus, while calls or video messages over Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have a whole range of filters to play with. While it’s probably not ideal for a formal meeting, Akenhan says filters can bring a bit of joy into a casual catchup.
“I would use any filter that doesn’t look lifelike, because it comes to a point where ... it gets confusing. I’m always wary of using smoothing filters or lip enlarging filters because I fear having body dysmorphia. I feel like makeup in itself is inherently dysmorphic, so I try to wear my bare face as often as I wear makeup ... Just use the elf filter, or a fairy. Something that looks nothing like you so you don’t get confused when you stare in the mirror.”