So, You're Going to Be on Camera

Joe Oberster Learn

So, You're Going to Be on Camera

As a videographer, I often take photos or video of people who don’t spend a lot of time (if any) in front of a camera. Being on camera can be stressful! To many, the biggest worry is... "What on earth do I wear!?" Folks, I’m here to help... well, kind of. 

If you want to talk about style or what color looks best with your skin tone, I'm not your guy. But I am here with some hard facts about color and pattern that will ensure you look good, while leaving the details up to you.

Stay away from deep black and bright white clothing

I know, I know. Black is slimming, and white is clean and crisp. But deep, dark black and bright white are some of the worst colors to wear on camera. This is because when we expose the shot, we're adjusting to make the brightness of your face look correct, not your clothing. (Keep in mind this rule gets a little looser if your black or white shirt is partially covered by a sweater or jacket.)

The deepest black fabrics do one thing really well; they suck up light. Camera sensors are not nearly as good as our human eyes at detecting slight differences in levels of dark shadow and color, so it’s best to stay away from black. This causes what we call "clipping," which means multiple areas of your shirt could be so dark that we just see a void of blackness. As an alternative, consider wearing dark gray or charcoal.

Woman wearing a gray shirt

At the opposite end of the spectrum (pun intended), we have bright, clean, ultra-reflective white. As you can imagine, since black sucks up light, white reflects it. A lot. Just like with black, your average camera sensor might not be able to tell the difference between levels of bright white, resulting in that "clipping" I mentioned earlier. White is so reflective, in fact, it can reflect other colors in the vicinity onto your face. For example, if you’re sitting next to a large plant, the green of the leaves could reflect off of your shirt, casting a slight green shade on your skin. If you’re next to bright blue wall, you could end up with a blue shade on your face. If white is truly your favorite color of clothing, consider cream or beige for on camera.

Be Exciting!

There’s a side effect of black and white clothing that I haven’t mentioned yet. They’re boring! We want you to look GREAT on camera. Biologically, humans love color. If you’ve never seen the Planet Earth segment covering the courtship dances of Birds of Paradise, you need to do yourself a favor and check that out.

Smiling Man wearing unique sunglassesThe colors you choose are going to be based on personal preference, skin tone, eye and hair color, things like that. So, I can’t tell you exactly what colors to wear, but just know that bold fun colors like teal, cobalt, purple and coral will look great on video and in photographs. Again, this is all personal preference. If you are a fun person, then please wear a fun design! This is simply my point of view. Colors are GOOD and, above all, visually interesting! Your preferred style may vary!

Cheery woman in sundress_This doesn't mean neutral clothing doesn't look good. Neutral is clean, classic and timeless. They're easy if you don't want to put a lot of thought into your wardrobe, and it's really simple and effective to dress up neutral clothing with neat accessories. So, wear your grays, your creams, your tans and bring the excitement with your wonderful personality, instead of a teal sweater!

Color Science

Color harmonies chartI’m going to try really hard to not get into the weeds on this one. You remember the color wheel from elementary school, right? The color wheel taught us that opposite colors are complimentary. So blue compliments orange, red compliments green, purple and yellow, etc. You get the idea. In this case, the color harmony has more to do with your surroundings. If you’re going to be on camera in front of a particular color, then we'll definitely let you know.

Man in orange jacket standing in front of light blue background

But you can also apply this rule specifically to your overall wardrobe. If you're wearing multiple layers, like a shirt and jacket, necktie, jewelry or other accessories, keep the color wheel in mind. (Beyond complimentary colors, there are tons of resources online that can tell you the "meaning" of different colors, if that sort of thing is important to you.)

Man in white shirt and purple zip-up jacket standing in front of yellow background

That’s a Moire Effect

Moire effectI’m not going to get into the science of what the Moire Effect is, just know that small tight patterns can be visually confusing to a camera’s sensor. Just as cameras aren’t as sensitive to light as our human eyes, the same can be said of their sensitivity to detail. When you wear clothing with a LOT of tiny detail in its texture (things like tweed, knits, small herringbone designs, etc.), the camera essentially becomes confused and does a pretty bad job showing the texture and detail of the fabric. It’s normally best to avoid fabrics like this altogether. Not everything you wear has to be a single solid color, but that's the safest way to go. So, feel free to wear your fun clothing with stripes, designs, whatever you want! But keep these details in mind when selecting your wardrobe. Check out the example above of how a camera might interpret your tightly patterned clothing. This may even be something you've noticed in the past. Well, now you know what it is!

Woman in black and white striped shirt

Don’t Be a Billboard (For the Wrong People)

If you’re on camera on behalf of your company, employer, or other organization, by all means, wear clothing that sports a logo or message that fits the goals of the video. However, try not to act as a billboard for clothing companies, businesses, pop culture icons, political candidates, or any other licensed logos or works that have nothing to do with the video. This can result in the need to blur out information or even cause legal issues depending on the subject matter of the video. It's a complicated thing, so try to avoid free advertising for unrelated organizations.

Whatever You Wear, Wear It Proudly!

The most important thing to wear during your on-screen appearance? Your confidence! A solid wardrobe is a great start to feeling more comfortable on camera. Now don't be afraid to back that up with your own wonderful, unique self!

 Want to see some of this in action? Check out our video portfolio