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Young woman holding a laptop with a webcamIt’s probably been a while since you filled out a stack of red and pink Valentine’s Day cards – these days you’re more likely to send an e-card or a saucy text message or a Facebook event invite. However, despite all the technological advancements, it’s still about the need to communicate. With 80% of communication being non-verbal (body language, facial expressions), it makes sense that the next best thing to being there is video chat. However, not all video chat is created equal so we’ve rounded up a handful of helpful starter tips.

Don’t: Video chat at work if it’s personal (that’s just asking for trouble). If you must, use your mobile device (like FaceTime on iPhone) or a video chat app with a sturdy stand like GorillaPod.

Do: Check your background. That pile of laundry? A Twilight poster? Make an effort to spruce up the room you’ll be video chatting in, and double check for anything that might be inappropriate (unless of course, that’s the idea). Likewise:

Do: Set the scene. If you’re chatting with a special someone, make the surroundings special: put out flowers, light candles in the background. If you’re having a meeting with your D & D guild, hang dragon posters. You get the idea.

Don’t: Wear red. Sounds unintuitive but red is the most difficult color for video to reproduce. Instead, try blue which is much easier or white – which also helps your webcam find an accurate white balance (making for more accurate colors over all).

Do: Use another light source. This honestly cannot be stressed enough. Your monitor is not an attractive light source. Use a desk lamp, preferably an adjustable one so you can position the light in a few places and see where you get the best results. You can also turn the lamp so that the light bounces off the surrounding walls. This produces a diffused effect that can also be achieved by taping a piece of typing paper over the lamp or by using colored scarves.

Do: Look at the camera. Not at yourself in the monitor. Not at your cell phone. Not at your Twitter account (rude). Think of the camera as the eyes of the person you’re talking to and try to make it natural. Add to this: Sit up straight. Yes. Your father was right all those years that he nagged you.

Also Do: Position your webcam carefully. The best possible place for your webcam to be is level with your eyes – a place where it’s natural to look to. Slightly higher than your eye-line will also work, but don’t position the camera at an upward angle – which is an angle that flatters no one

Do: Adjust your monitors brightness. If you adjust the brightness (and sometimes the contrast as well) on your monitor, you’ll get less of that attractive “blue glow” look. This is also helpful for those who wear glasses, as it cuts down on the reflection.

Don’t: Add background music. Webcam microphones are, in general, not the sharpest tool and tend to amplify background noise, so ditch the Toni Braxton on the boombox and sit as close as you comfortably can in order to come through loud and clear. If possible, use the microphone on your computer (instead of the one in your webcam).

Do: Share. While ambient music might be a no-go, how about sharing that Barry White video with your chat-mate via YouTube? Or play a game together, like ChatHopper. You can even edit still images with a site like Cameroid. Pull things into the frame that you want your loved one to see but be warned:

Don’t: Move your webcam around. Yes, of course you can do such a thing – webcams are perfectly mobile and you can pick one right up and spin it around to give your intentioned a sneak-preview of your bedroom, but that’s going to effectively ruin all your previous careful positioning and lighting. Might just be better to leave the thing put.

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