Behind the Scenes of Merry & Bright


    After brainstorming a few ideas, we decided to use blue string lights and luminarias to light the residential quad on the west campus. The lights and luminarias represent our thankfulness for getting through 2020 and our hope for a brighter future.

Wrapping a 25-foot-tall tree in lights

Stringing holiday lights around a 25-foot-tall tree is no easy task, and not having access to a lift made the job more challenging. We used ladders, and a modified pole saw to string the lights half-way up the tree, but we couldn’t reach the top half of the tree, even with a 16-foot ladder. We experimented with many ideas, including using a slingshot and a frisbee to launch the lights into the tree’s upper part, but none of those worked.

Bill Snead, our photographer and digital assets manager, came up with the idea of using a pully system to string the lights into the upper part of the tree. First, he taped twine to a baseball, and then he threw the ball over the tree. Next, he tied a strand of lights to one end of the twine and then pulled the other end of the twine, dragging the strand of lights into the top of the tree.
The only challenge with the pulley idea was throwing the baseball high enough to clear a 25-foot-tall tree. Thankfully, Ashley Wolf, our Social media Coordinator and former division one softball player, is on our team. She cleared the tree on her second try.

Adding an extra touch of “Duke”

Even with the blue string lights and the gothic architecture of the west campus, our message was missing a signature DUKE element. Fortunately, our director, Blyth Morrell, remembered that Alumni Affairs has a set of four-foot-tall cardboard letters that spell out “DUKE.” After a few (several) emails, she tracked them down, and we transported the cardboard letters from the Karsh Center to West Campus. They added the perfect touch of “Duke” to the festive scene.

A thousand luminarias of light

Teamwork makes the dream work, which was the case for creating, placing, and lighting 1,000 luminarias. Making the luminarias were straightforward. One group folded the bags; another group added sand and candles to the bags, while a third group began placing the completed bags on the quad.
Timing the lighting of the luminarias was tricky. We wanted to capture the twilight, so all of them had to be lit by 4:45 pm. But, lighting them too early would cause them to burn out before we got our nighttime shots. To make the timing work, we had six people with grill lighters simultaneously lighting luminarias. We finished lighting them just as dusk arrived.

Merry & Bright

This year’s holiday message was one of the most ambitious projects of 2020. It was a multi-day effort involving over a dozen people, hours of planning, creative problem-solving, and teamwork. However, the result speaks for itself; the glowing luminarias and blue lights transformed the quad into a magical wonderland.


Virtual Veterans Day Ceremony

Back in September, our Creative Team received a request from Paul Grantham, Asst. VP of Communication Services, to produce a virtual version of the annual Veterans Day ceremony, which was exciting and anxiety-inducing at the same time because we’ve never done anything like this before.

We have produced components of events – history of Founder’s Day video, short videos for Marking the Moment, and even the New Student Convocation ceremony, which was mainly speeches.

But this was a production from start to finish of an event with multiple moving parts: ROTC color guard, speeches from administration, highlights from Duke staff and faculty talking about what it means to be a veteran, cadets and staff paying tribute at the Memorial Wall outside the Chapel, the National Anthem, and a bagpiper.

To coordinate all of these efforts, components were assigned to individual team members and we used to post updates about in-the-weeds details and progress for each segment with real-time feedback. My colleague Megan Mendenhall created a storyboard detailing the elements for each production.

Megan also took on the intro for the video, diving into the Library archives for historical photos illustrating Duke’s long history of engagement with the Armed Forces. Megan was also in charge of all of the filming at the Memorial Wall. Our video manager, Julie Schoonmaker, spearheaded the efforts to film all of the speeches from Duke leaders and was responsible for editing the entire production. I led the Color Guard efforts. But each of these components was a team effort, many of them involving four members of our team.

My component was the Color Guard. I started thinking about what would be the ideal time of day to film this. Usually, the Veterans Day ceremony is at 11am, but by then the sun is high, creating flat, unattractive light with harsh shadows in the eyes. Since we had flexibility to film the cadets separately from the administration, I wanted to film the Color Guard at sunrise when the light is prettiest and most dramatic. We did some test shots beginning before sunrise until the sun was high enough in the sky that the shadows on the Chapel doors became problematic, and pinpointed a start and end time for the filming. We only wanted to ask for one hour of the students’ time. I then created a shot list with four different camera angles, including a a GoPro for on-the-go, documentary style footage, and a drone for flyovers. Our digital assets manager Bill Snead has a commercial pilots license and this been creating amazing aerial views of campus for the past two years.

During this time, we were still waiting on one of the two OIT drones checked out to students to come back from loan so we could use it, as our office didn’t own a drone. But those drones had not been returned since the pandemic began after Spring Break and we had no idea if or when they would be available. We had been hoping to purchase our own drone for more than a year, so our director, Blyth Morrell, used this opportunity to put in a special $2499 purchase request for a drone and fortunately it was approved, after showing the multiple photography and videography uses in everything from #dukeuniversity to presidential messaging videos to Duke’s annual financial report.

Julie reached out to numerous Duke staff and faculty who are veterans to see if they would be interested in participating in the ceremony, and if so, film themselves speaking with a smartphone. She also lined up the dates to film the various administration’s speeches, including President Vincent Price; Kyle Cavanaugh, VP of administration; Antwan Lofton, asst. VP of human resources; and Paul Crews, director of the Durham VA., as well as a morning to film James Chambers, the bagpiper.

We tried to film everything on as few dates as possible to streamline the production and also to strive for consistency with light. But we ended up having to film over multiple mornings due to various schedules, with both full sun and cloud cover.

We soon realized with our shooting schedule, spread out over a few weeks, that a traditional wreath with fresh flowers wouldn’t work so Bill volunteered to make one with plastic flowers from Walmart. Though smaller than the typical wreath, the end result was beautiful and subbed in nicely.

We had to reschedule our filming of the Color Guard multiple times due to overcast and rainy weather, as I was holding out hope for that sunny morning I envisioned. The nearly two-week delay in shooting was a plus and minus for us. Our new drone arrived the day before, so that was a huge bonus. Otherwise the drone footage would have been of just the Chapel without the cadets. But we ended up having to shoot without our key video team member Julie, out on vacation, so I divided up her shots and asked Blyth to operate the GoPro and help keep us on schedule.

After filming the Color Guard, we then transitioned to the Memorial Wall, where Megan and Julie had scouted and strategized about different camera angles and shots of the cadets paying tribute to fallen soldiers.

We learned that a director to oversee each shot and camera angle was key. Another lesson: it was virtually impossible to film any aerials while any other filming was going on because our crew and gear were in the shots.

Once I saw the awe-inspiring drone flyover of the cadets up to the top of the Chapel spires, I realized I needed to find equally inspiring National Anthem music to match. After sending out a handful of emails, including an alum who I photographed with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, I was connected with junior Logan Welborn, also with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Out of the Blue, and a recording artist in her own right with Small Town Records. About a week later Logan sent a beautiful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, recorded on her iPhone.

Julie was able to line up James the bagpiper immediately after our session with President Price, so this was another busy morning. Since we took the opportunity with Pres. Price to film multiple different messages, we set up two locations with lighting before his arrival. Since one of the locations was in the Chapel archway, Bill and I stood on either side holding signs asking pedestrians to stay quiet while passing through, while Julie and Megan filmed Pres. Price.


We then spent a fun hour with James filming him in the varied positions Megan and Julie had worked out, and ended the shoot with him walking under the canopied woods behind the Chapel as Bill filmed from above with the drone.

All told, team members posted 57 virtual Veterans Day ceremony updates in from the initial request on Sept. 11 to project completion on Nov. 10. We set Fri. Nov. 6 as the date for completion and review by Paul, Pres. Price, and Mike Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the video was approved on Mon. Nov. 9. But in sharing the video with Army ROTC, I discovered I needed to make a minor change to the sequencing of the color guard, so we ended up finishing it a day before the ceremony.

Now with the added title of video and event producers – I say this half-joking – our team is poised for more challenges and adventure in the year ahead.

Behind the scenes: Class of 2024 Welcome Mural

The Duke DISCO team creates a chalk mural to welcome the class of 2024 to campus for the Fall in front of Duke Chapel.

Members of the Duke DISCO team create a chalk mural to welcome the class of 2024 to campus for the Fall in front of Duke Chapel.

We caused the sidewalk chalk shortage in Durham, NC. But we did it for a good reason; to welcome the newest members of the Duke family, the class of 2024!


This year’s new student orientation will be a mostly virtual experience, and our student affairs asked our team to create a short welcome video to kick off orientation. After a brain-storming session, we came up with the idea that would welcome students to campus and highlight Duke’s commitment to campus safety. Our approach was to welcome the students to college by creating a visual narrative where First-Year Advisory Counselor (FAC) students create a welcome mural out of sidewalk chalk to greet the class of 2024.

Bringing the mural to life

We wanted an aerial shot of the chalk mural with the Chapel in the background, so we opted for an early morning filming session to take advantage of the soft morning light and avoid the high temperatures of North Carolina’s summers.

University photographer Megan Mendenhall, left, uses a crumpled plastic bag to blend the chalk by wiping it over the chalk in a circular motion.

University Photographer Megan Mendenhall, left, uses a crumpled plastic bag to blend the chalk by wiping it over the chalk in a circular motion.

Making a chalk mural was a new experience for the entire team. But thanks to a few “how-to” videos, we learned a helpful tip: crumpled plastic bags are the perfect tool for blending chalk. They save your hands from getting scraped by the rough pavement and create a smooth transition when mixing two different colors.

Welcome home, class of 2024!

Smart Phone Filming Cheat Sheet

Since everyone has been working from home for the past couple months, I’ve received at least 100 video files, maybe more, from students, faculty, staff and alumni. With a little bit of video editing work, I’ve turned the self-recorded videos into video messages or montages with video reflections strung together to tell a story or share collective thoughts.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of some videos I’ve received, especially the ones filmed on smartphones. The majority of our cell phones now capture video in 4K resolution, so it makes sense the image would come across crisp and clear, making it simple to edit the footage and share it on websites, video sharing platforms and social channels.

Our creative team has run into problems with quite a few of the videos that have been recorded using web conferencing technology. In many cases, the settings have not been updated to capture footage in high definition, so we receive video files that have very low resolution. Those small files make editing brutal because no matter how great the message is, the footage is blurry especially when appearing next to another clip captured in HD.

To ensure the best resolution possible on your at home video recordings, our creative team created a cheat sheet to make sure your video messages shine when viewed online. We recommend to keep it simple and use your smart phone to record, make sure it’s turned in the horizontal position and prop it against a makeshift tripod to keep your phone stable and eye-level. It’s also key to find a quiet place to record videos with a nice backdrop that’s well-lit. The hope is, once you have a good recording system in place, it will be simple to record video messages on a regular basis without thinking much about your set up.

Smart Phone Filming Cheat Sheet

Instructions for filming messages from home using your smart phone.

Download the Cheat Sheet as a PDF

A picture is worth: Baldwin’s Supermoon

On January 31st, 2018 we experienced a “Blue Moon” – the second of two full moons in one calendar month – that was also at a super-close apogee making it appear really large (supermoon), which also happened to be passing through the Earth’s umbra at Moonrise giving it a ruddy glow (bloodmoon). This “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” event was too good to pass up, but what to do with it? I had a couple of photos in mind, one of which entailed capturing this “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” over Duke somehow. But how?

I eventually made two photos that day – one of the Moonset early in the morning out at the Outer Banks, and another that evening of the subsequent Moonrise over Duke. Here’s how I did it.

Using an app called PhotoPills (, I was able to determine just where and when each moonrise and moonset would be relative to locations I wanted to photograph with it in. The moon, like the sun, rises in the east and sets in the west, but unlike the sun, the moon can rise and set at various times of the day through the seasons. On this day, the “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” would set early that morning, and rise again that evening. This gave me two chances to photograph it against the horizon, which is where I’d need it for the images I had planned. The idea? To get a familiar object small enough to fit near or inside the moon itself, like this example from Photopills:

This isn’t a post-production or photoshop trick. It’s merely one of perspective. Since the moon is approximately 225,000 miles away, you can’t really effectively change your distance from it in any meaningful way visually. But, you can effectively and easily change your distance from earth-bound objects. And objects far away tend to appear smaller to us versus objects that are closer. So, if the moon stays effectively the same size no matter what, but you get far enough away from something to make it appear smaller, say a mile or two, and place it against the moonscape, then the moon effectively appears very, very large. That’s the basic technique.

I initially wanted to get Duke Chapel in or against the moon somehow, but the Chapel actually sits in a depression lower than its surrounding area and I was unable to find a location East of (for moonset) or West of (for moonrise) the Chapel that would let me photograph it against the horizon. But, I discovered in my experimentation, that from the perspective of the Chapel Tower, the “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” would be rising very near to Baldwin Auditorium on east Campus. But Baldwin is much bigger than a person, so to have it “fit” inside the circumference of the moon would necessitate me being many miles away. As it is, Baldwin is only about 2 miles from the Chapel as the crow flies, so this would just have to be a “be there and see how it goes” kinda thing.

With the height, angle and time set for my attempt to capture moonrise over Baldwin, I worked on my calculations for moonset due earlier that morning. North Carolina is thankfully still a state with very many trees. While this is great from a conservation perspective, its less so if you’re trying to get a clear shot of the moon AND an object together on the horizon from very far away. You either have to get very high (chapel tower) or look for a very wide open area. One of the largest areas with an open westerly view that I could think of was our very own Outer Banks, so a friend and I headed out to Jockey’s Ridge the night before to scout and setup my second idea, which ended up being the first photo that day as the Super-Blue-Blood Moon set just before sunrise. Since we were in the vicinity of Kitty Hawk, I wanted to capture her flying a kite against the supermoon. But it was barely in the teens out on the dunes, so we’re both quite bundled up, so the scene is a bit of a non-sequitur (women all bundled up, flying a kite against a full-moon? What’s that about?), but it was a fun and challenging experiment, and that’s half the point. I was about a half-mile away from her position – here’s the photo we captured:

Super-Blue-Blood Moon at Jockey’s Ridge. 420mm, 200iso, f/4, 1/8 sec

Super-Blue-Blood Moon at Jockey’s Ridge. 420mm, 200iso, f/4, 1/8 sec

After we warmed up over a nice OBX breakfast, I headed back onto campus in time for the evening photo of the same super-moon rising over East campus after sunset almost 12 hours later. Joni Harris, program Director at the Chapel, was nice enough to arrange access for us as she joined me on the climb up the 10,000 239 steps up to the Chapel Tower. Toting my camera, tripod, and longest lens up those stairs, I’m glad I use Micro-four thirds gear, as its size and weight is a fraction of full-frame gear. After setting up and framing Baldwin in my sights, it wasn’t long before the moon made its appearance and I got my photo:

Super-Blue-Blood Moon rising over Baldwin Auditorium. 420mm, 200iso, f/5.6, 1/5 sec

Super-Blue-Blood Moon rising over Baldwin Auditorium. 420mm, 200iso, f/5.6, 1/5 sec

Neither photo is perfect: atmospheric haze and too-slow shutter speeds prevent them from being as tack sharp as I would have liked. To do them over again, I would use a higher iso and faster shutter speeds. There are also now even longer focal length lenses available for my system, so I’d likely rent one of those for even better magnification. Still, for a first time experiment, I’m happy with these for what they are. And, post-production/photoshop work is minimal other than cropping, and I did remove one distracting twig in the sand of the OBX photo.

I hope this gives you a sense of what can go into the making of a photo, and that it might inspire you to get out and make some of your own.

A picture’s worth: Duke’s South Clinic and North Hospital

Last spring, I set out to capture the “busy-ness” of activity around some of Duke’s Health facilities. I was also looking for a way to connect the health system with the University, and so I was looking for viewpoints that would show some of both Medical and University campuses.

My goal was to tell a story of University/Medical connections, locate the photos as being of Duke, hint at the role of technology and expansion of capabilities, and portray the hive of human activity and care the Medical campus can be. All in one photo.

In scouting locations and times of day for this project, I considered a daytime timelapse portraying the human foot traffic in and out of Duke North and South Clinic. But I did not think daytime lighting would be dynamic enough for what I wanted to portray. No, this would be a nighttime photo, but from where?

I’ve always been intrigued with the aerial perspective, as it unmoors us from the usual convention of seeing things from head-height, but a drone flight after civil-twilight was out of the question at this time. Luckily, both South Clinic and Duke North Hospital have parking decks located nearby.

To show an idea of activity and busyness, I decided I would need a long exposure – to capture accumulating light trails of vehicle traffic. This would necessitate the use of a tripod, a remote release (however softly, the action of manually pressing a shutter release will introduce enough vibration to prevent the photo from being as sharp as it could be), and a lot of patience waiting for the right conditions as the temperatures dipped after sunset.

Duke North Hospital

Duke North Hospital

For this photo of Duke North Hospital, I chose a vantage point atop the Duke Hospital parking garage across Erwin Rd from the Hospital (always alert the proper authorities when you’re going to be skulking around on rooftops with tripods – just sayin’). I had to choose a moment when the fading light of the twilight sky would allow the lights from the hospital and traffic to show up distinctly, yet still show an illuminated sky not in complete blackness (while a black sky can be dramatic, in the city it is rarely so, and usually lit up by the green-orange glow of sodium vapor lamps and not what I was wanting here). What I was after was a blue sky, to contrast against the warmer colors of incandescent lighting I was hoping to capture.

To keep the fading twilight of the sky, and yet capture the light trails of many vehicles going by, I would need a very long exposure – many minutes, not just seconds, long. The problem with very long exposures in digital photography is that the sensors get very warm and generate a lot of “noise”, sometimes to the point of rendering the image unusable. Fortunately, the camera system I use allows for a feature they call “Live Composite”, which allows for combining many short exposures (say, just 0.5, 1, or 2 seconds long) into one long minutes or hours long exposure. Without getting into too much nitty gritty details, this blend of optical and computational photography can provide the ISO and noise results from a much shorter exposure, but “stacks” or “adds” these together over a much longer exposure time. In the case of the Duke North photo, my initial exposure was half a second for the main exposure, but accumulated any new objects (such as new approaching vehicles) onto the base image over a 6 minute time span, producing the results of a 6-minute long exposure but with the noise and exposure of a half-second exposure. As both darkness and temperatures began to fall, I headed over to the Duke Medicine Circle garage for a go at the South Clinic:

Duke South Clinic

Duke South Clinic

While not as dramatic as the North Hospital results, I was eventually able to find a viewpoint to show parts of the clinic, the main walkway, some construction cranes and of course, our iconic Duke Chapel in the distance. I became intrigued by the bus stop activity, and set out to try to capture that in some way.

After some captures of single busses at each stop, I changed settings to allow for an even longer overall exposure (8 minutes I think), and managed to capture a bus at each stop, which I thought was a much more satisfactory photo. As it is, it’s the same bus – stopping just long enough at each stop to register in the exposure. I really liked this two-bus composition better than any of the other shots I made from this location, but there were only a few other cars that had driven through the frame and I just didn’t have as many light trails as I wanted. And I could see from my rooftop vantage point, that there wasn’t much more traffic coming soon. So, I hopped into my car, hurried down the garage ramps and drove back and forth several times to add my own light trails. As it happened, several other vehicles did drive by about the same time, giving me the diversity I needed to pull it all together. I’m not really happy about the dead space near the lower third of the photo, but c’est la vie.

The nice thing though, essential really, in creating long-exposure work like this is the ability for digital cameras to show you the photo as it “develops” on the back of the camera. In the old days, it would be an educated guess as to what results you’d get (or not get). In this case, I could “see” that I had the busses where I wanted, but not enough light trails, so I could paint the light as I went along in real time. In another example, I was at first using a much “wider” aperture to benefit the exposure. But the artificial lights just didn’t “pop”, so I stopped down to a smaller aperture, which often has the effect of creating the little “star-bursts” that you can see around the specular highlights, which I could preview in real time, choosing the aperture that gave me the desired results.

By the way, both of these photos are, as they say, “Out of Camera”. No elements were added or removed in post-production.

I hope this gives you a sense of what can go into the making of a photo, and that it might inspire you to get out at night and make some of your own.

Duke-ify Your Zoom Backgrounds

This is a decorative image

Duke-ifiy your Zoom backgrounds with custom Duke imagery.

The Ucomms team has curated a collection of Duke images that are perfect for “Duke-ified” zoom backgrounds.

You can download these images from Duke’s Asset Management System (NETID required). The system is a wonderful resource of over 7,000 images. It is refreshed regularly with community-sourced photos as well as new imagery captured by the University Communications team.

Follow these steps to login and start downloading Duke imagery on your desktop or laptop.

Step 1: Go to

Step 2: Log on using your NetID and password

Step 3: Select the “Explore” link

The image shows landing page for

Select the “Explore” link

Step 4: Scroll down the left column until you see the “Selections by Theme” folder

The image shows a page from

Scroll down the column on the left side until you see the “Selections by Theme” folder.

Step 5: Select the “Selections by Theme” folder. You will see 12 themed subfolders. Each collection has a variety of Duke images to choose from.

The image shows a page from

Explore the many galleries and download your favorite Duke images.

Step 6: Explore the collections and download your favorite images and use them in your marketing and communications efforts.

  • Users have unlimited downloads, so feel free to download several images or video clips.
  • Users can also explore other folders on the site and use the search function to find specific images and video clips.

This tutorial shows you how to upload photos and videos as a virtual background for your zoom meeting.

* Please note that Zoom’s virtual background feature may not be available for all computers/laptops

Using a mobile device? Follow this “how-to” guide to logon

go to will be prompted to logon you will be directed to Shibboleth Logon You will be prompted to logon using your Duke NetID and password You will be directed to the homepage Start by selecting an image folder to explore Choose an image and click download Click on the "Submit" button to start the download Upload your image to zoom!

Using Zoom to Record Videos on Your Computer

The images depicts a young woman sitting in front of a laptop for video conferencing.

These steps will guide you through the process of creating video recordings using zoom.

Step 1. Install Zoom meetings software

Zoom is available to Duke students, faculty, and staff free of charge.

You can download it here:

Step 2. Under Zoom preferences, adjust the following settings

Audio Settings
  • Under audio settings, select “automatically adjust microphone volume

The image shows the location of the option to have zoom automatically adjust volume.

Be sure to select the option to “automatically adjust microphone volume” to ensure the best results.

Video Settings
  • Under video settings, select “16:9 (widescreen)”
  • Under video settings, select “enable HD”

The image shows the location of the video settings in zoom.

Select the 16:9 (Widescreen) option and the “Enable HD option for best results.

Recording Settings
  • Under “local recordings” at the very top, pick a spot on your computer to store your video recordings. (for instance, you can create a folder on your desktop called “Zoom recordings” and send all your clips there.)
  • Under recordings, select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.

This image show the location of the option to "optimize for 3rd party video editing" on zoom.

Under “local recordings” at the very top, pick a spot on your computer to store your video recordings. Then select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.

Step 3. Launch Zoom and select “new meeting,” which is the orange icon on the top row
  • If prompted, allow Zoom to access your computer’s video camera and microphone
  • When the next screen pops up, you should be able to see a video of yourself

This image shows the location of the " "Join With Computer Audio" tab on zoom.

When prompted, select the “Join With Computer Audio” tab.

Step 4. Select “unmute”

Be sure that you are “unmute” (on the lower-left corner of the recording screen) so the computer will record your voice

This image shows the location of the mute button on zoom. It is located in the lower left corner of the screen.

The mute button is located on the lower-left corner of the screen. Make sure you are not muted when you begin your recording.

Step 5. Begin recording
  • In the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “record” and choose whether you’d like to save your recording to the computer or cloud
  • Direct your gaze toward the top of the computer screen where the camera is located
  • Speak clearly at your normal volume.

The image shows the location of the record button on zoom. It is located on the bottom of the screen, toward the middle.

The record button is located on the bottom of the screen, toward the middle on the screen.

Step 6. Conclude recording
  • Press “stop recording” on the top left of the screen
  • Then select “end meeting” on the bottom right of the screen
  • At that point, your video will convert to a .mp4 video file
  • You can share the file through Duke Box

*If you use a smartphone or tablet for video recordings, make sure to record video in one of the following settings:

  • 1080 HD at 24 or 30 frames per second (this option will take up less recording space on your device)
  • 4K at 24 or 30 fps

Look Your Best During Virtual Meetings and Video Recordings

We’ve put together a few tips for looking your best during video calls and while making video recordings.

The image depicts a young woman sitting at kitchen table in front of a laptop. Her face in being illuminated with a desk lamp.

Achieving flattering lighting doesn’t have to be complicated. Use a simple desk lamp or window to illuminate yourself during video conferences or when recording a video.

Dress for success
  • Choose your outfit based on your dress for an in-office meeting.
  • Solid colors, muted earth tones or blues work well.
  • Bright colors and white clothes reflect lots of light and are not the best choices.
  • Patterns, stripes, and plaids can blur and be distracting on camera.
  • Avoid any accessory that jingles or makes noise.
Find a well-lit recording location

The image shows how to set up a desk lamp so that it properly illuminates a subject's face for a video conference or recording session.

The desk lamp is pointed toward the subject’s face. Experiment with the angle and position of the lamp to find the most flattering position for your next video meeting or recording session.

  • For filming inside, position yourself facing towards the window so the natural light illuminates your face.
  • You can also use a lamp or other large light source to illuminate your face.
  • Avoid sitting with your back against the window because it will create a dark silhouette.
  • If you’re filming yourself outside, either film in all shade or all sun to avoid mixed lighting on your face.
  • Remember that there will be more ambient noise when filming outside.

The video shows how using a simple desk lamp to illuminate your face during a video meeting or video recording can improve the overall quality of the video.

Choose a neutral background
  • Before you start your call or video, take a moment to look at your background.
  • Remove any items that may be distracting.
  • If you are using Zoom, you might be able to use the virtual background feature. If so, you can choose from the preloaded options or upload a custom image or video of your choosing.
  • Check out our post on how to Duke-ify your Zoom backgrounds using Duke images from our collection!
Maintain good eye contact
  • Position your device so that it is slightly above your eye-level. You might need to place your device on a stack of books or other flat, sturdy household items.
  • Experiment with the distance between you and your camera to find the distance where you look your best.
  • Remember to look at the camera and not your screen when talking.

The image depicts a young woman sitting at a kitchen table in front of a laptop.

Stack your laptop on top of a few books in order to get the camera just above eye level. If you are using a desk lamp as a light source, you may need to also elevate it, so that the light evenly illuminates your face.

Tips to Minimize the Spread of Germs During Video and Photo Sessions

Camera bag with two canisters of disinfecting wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer

Remember to clean your camera equipment with disinfecting wipes before and after use.

We’re all adjusting to life during COVID-19  and for creatives who are used to working closely with others, this means adjusting our workflows to ensure that we are following social distancing practices and thoroughly sanitizing our equipment, especially pieces of gear that come in contact with our faces.

As a team, we’ve adopted these practices to keep our equipment sanitized.

  • Wash your hands before and after touching any equipment.
  • Wipe down gear before and after each session (including equipment cases)
  • Use hand sanitizer during sessions, especially if you are readjusting equipment.
  • Wipe down the lav mic kit before and after interviews with a wipe or disinfectant foam 
  • Guide interview subjects in putting on the lav mic themselves.
  • Keep a safe distance during filming.
  • Remember to pack wipes and hand sanitizer in your equipment kits!

First and foremost, recognize the seriousness of this pandemic and try to postpone video and photo sessions. We are reaching out to our subjects and encouraging them to reschedule their sessions. If the session is time-sensitive, see if your subjects can record themselves using Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other recording software.

If you absolutely need to record an in-person session, we recommend practicing social distancing by staying at least three feet away from your subject.

Stay safe, be smart, and keep washing your hands and equipment.

Instructions on filming Zoom interviews/messages

Step 1. Install Zoom meetings software:

Step 2. Under Zoom preferences, adjust the following settings:

  • Under audio settings, select “automatically adjust microphone volume”
  • Under video settings, select “16:9 (widescreen)”
  • Under recordings, it’s best to choose a spot to store your video recordings. Under “local recordings” at the very top, you can pick a spot on your computer to do this. For instance, you can create a folder on your desktop called “Zoom recordings” and send all your clips there.
  • Under recordings, select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.

Step 3. Launch zoom and select “new meeting,” which is the orange icon on the top row. If prompted, allow Zoom to access your computer’s video camera and microphone. When the next screen pops up, you should be able to see video yourself.

Step 4. On the lower left corner of the recording screen, make sure to select “unmute” so your voice is audible during the recording.

Step 5. In the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “record” and choose whether you’d like to record to your message to the computer or cloud.

Step 6. When recording your message, direct your gaze toward to the top of the computer screen where the camera is located. Speak clearly at your normal volume.

Step 7. When you’ve finished your message, press “stop recording” on the top left of the screen. Then select “end meeting” on the bottom right of the screen. At that point your video will convert to an .mp4 video file. You can upload the video file to Duke box to share it for further editing  such as adding name supers and Duke bumpers or share the file directly on your communication channels.

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