Video chatting for newbies

Here's our foolproof guide to getting even the most technophobic relatives and friends online for some face-to-face time.

Set Up Your Webcam

Setting up a webcam should be pretty straightforward, but here are a few tips to ensure a trouble-free setup.

1. Plug the webcam in: If your webcam doesn't plug in (it's a wireless- or Bluetooth-enabled model), turn it on and make sure your computer recognizes it as a webcam. If you can't tell whether your computer is recognizing the webcam, go to Cameroid and click Snap; if your computer recognizes your webcam, you'll get an Adobe Flash window that requests camera and microphone access. Click Allow, and check for a picture.

2. Download and install the latest drivers: Verify that you have the latest drivers for your webcam by going to the webcam's manufacturer's website. You may not need to do this if your webcam is a plug-and-play USB device. Also be sure to download and install the latest version of Adobe Flash, if you plan on using a Flash-based video-chat service (such as Google Talk).

3. Lighting, lighting, lighting: Webcam image quality isn't great, but that doesn't mean it has to be terrible. To get some decent lighting, follow a few rules. Don't use your computer monitor as a source of light, and don't put a light behind you (your face will just look dark). Instead, position a source of light (such as a desk lamp) in front of you or beside you. Soften the light by taping a piece of white paper over the bulb -- this will make you look less orange and oversaturated.

4. Wear white: Many webcams have automatic exposure and white balance. Basically, that means the webcam will focus on the brightest thing in the picture and assume that it is white, adjusting its picture accordingly. You need to put something that's actually white in the picture, or your webcam will focus on something that isn't white--and your picture will end up looking all weird. You can either wear a white shirt or constantly hold up a piece of white paper (your choice).

For more tips on how to perfect your webcam video, check out photography blogger Strobist's post on getting a good picture.

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