Why Do I Look So Bad On Video Conferencing?

Since the pandemic started, people have become hyper-aware of their appearance while being overexposed to what they look like on videoconferencing. A tsunami of visits to the plastic surgeon has resulted, with patients asking to change more things about themselves than ever before. 

“Zoom Dysmorphia” gives us an unrealistic body image. Sure, stress and taking breaks from aesthetic treatments during the pandemic played a part, but there are other reasons people look especially bad on videoconferencing. 

Clinical and aesthetic photography expert Doug Canfield joins Dr. Bass to explain the reasons for this phenomenon and give us ways to look better on videoconferencing right now without seeing a surgeon. 

About Doug Canfield

Doug Canfield is the president of New Jersey based company Canfield Scientific, which provides imaging systems, services, and products for the healthcare industry, with an emphasis on aesthetics and dermatology.


Learn more about Canfield Scientific

About Dr. Lawrence Bass

Innovator. Industry veteran. In-demand Park Avenue board certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Bass is a true master of his craft, not only in the OR but as an industry pioneer in the development and evaluation of new aesthetic technologies. With locations in both Manhattan (on Park Avenue between 62nd and 63rd Streets) and in Great Neck, Long Island, Dr. Bass has earned his reputation as the plastic surgeon for the most discerning patients in NYC and beyond.

To learn more, visit the Bass Plastic Surgery website or follow the team on Instagram @drbassnyc

Subscribe to the Park Avenue Plastic Surgery Class newsletter to be notified of new episodes & receive exclusive invitations, offers, and information from Dr. Bass. 


Doreen Wu (00:00):
Welcome to another episode of Park Avenue Plastic Surgery Class, the podcast where we explore controversies and breaking issues in plastic surgery. I’m your co-host Doreen Wu. I’m excited to be here with Dr. Lawrence Bass Park Avenue plastic surgeon, educator, and technology innovator, and our special guest, Doug Canfield, president of Canfield Scientific in Parsippany, New Jersey. The title of today’s episode is “Why Do I Look So Bad On Video Conferencing?” We’ve all had this experience. We sign into the video conference with our work colleagues and spend the next hour looking at our face beamed back at us, too much time to get uncomfortably familiar with some things on our faces and necks that we’d rather not see. Dr. Bass, is this stress from the pandemic? Do we really look like that? What’s going on?

Dr. Lawrence Bass (00:49):
Really, it’s multifactorial, there’s a lot going on. Certainly we’re stressed and that’s taken a toll on people’s appearance. A lot of people have put off beauty and medical treatments because they’re working from home a lot more of the time. And so it really shows how much Botox and fillers and facials and other treatments contribute to the quality of our appearance. But also there are some technical reasons and I’m going to let our guests discuss them a little bit. We’re very pleased to have Doug Canfield with us, who’s the president of Canfield Scientific. Canfield Scientific is the leading company in plastic surgery and cosmetic dermatology and medical dermatology as well for advanced photo imaging solutions, amongst a variety of other things. And so Doug is an expert on photography as it applies to human appearance and medical care. So Doug, maybe you can share with us some of the reasons why these video conferencing solutions seem to show us in such a poor light.

Dr. Doug Canfield (02:15):
Thank you, Dr. Bass. And thank you, Doreen. Most of us are using webcams that are built into our computers or clipped onto our computers and by definition webcams have wide angle lenses and that flattens our face and distorts our features. So, you know, that’s, inherent to video conferencing. And certainly I think there are some ways that we can overcome some of that. But I think it’s inherent to video conferencing and webcams, and unless we’re using supplemental cameras for our video conferencing, we have to deal with those distortions.

Doreen Wu (02:56):
And are there things about photography in general that make us look good or bad or show us some feature we don’t normally see?

Dr. Doug Canfield (03:03):
Absolutely. I think lighting and we have to remember that photography is the recording of light and that the lighting systems themselves produce different shadows. So if we’re in a room where we have a window light, that’s coming across our face in a certain direction that can give us shadows that make more features pronounced. And for example, for me, I have fairly deep glabella lines and in my forehead and I have fairly deep intraoral hollows. And if I don’t have flat lighting coming from the front you can really see the pronounced effects of those, of those skin folds.

Dr. Lawrence Bass (03:46):
And I think that’s kind of the difference between medical photography and portrait photography and this kind of basic imaging where we’re just trying to show the person that they’re present and attending on a video conference. You know, medical photography is very format fixed to produce something very reproducible. Portrait photography does a lot of things to soften our appearance and hide their flaws. People are typically photographed at a little bit of an angle, not head on the lighting is going to be softer to conceal things and make us look our best video photography and conferencing is, you know, your boss wants to see if you’re awake during the meeting. They want to see, you know, you want to see your colleagues who you haven’t seen maybe in a while and just know they’re there and see their smile. So it wasn’t engineered, I would guess to be particularly technically accurate in rendering how we actually look. Does that make sense?

Dr. Doug Canfield (05:03):
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And you know, for me you make a lot of good points that we enforce for most of our meetings that have cameras on because we want to see people present and there’s so much interaction that happens right between between teams that you don’t need to interrupt each other. You can sort of see the facial lines and the expressions and the thumbs up. And this interaction only happens if you have your video camera on.

Doreen Wu (05:36):
Exactly. Now tell me Dr. Bass, have you seen this effect a lot with all the work and social video meetings taking place during the pandemic?

Dr. Lawrence Bass (05:45):
Yes. this is an extremely common occurrence and it’s actually been termed zoom dysmorphia because we have really gotten an unrealistic view, a not real view of our body image based on how we look on zoom. And this is different from Snapchat dysmorphia, you know, Snapchat dysmorphia is you’re looking at everybody else. They look pretty good because of those filters. So they’re looking better than they really are. And you’re looking at yourself the way you really are and saying, why don’t I look as good as them? And the reason is because that’s not real, it’s been altered in zoom. It kind of pushing you in the other direction. I mean, first just you’re looking at yourself, not like you look in the mirror, but reflected back unflipped and sitting there for an hour, looking at yourself, looking at your face as you move and talk and animate that always shows more wrinkles, more sags and bags than a static picture, where you pose and look your best. Hopefully. So there’s no question that people are seeing things they didn’t know before. There’s no question. This is fed unhappiness with one’s appearance, and there’s no question it’s bringing people into the office now that things have opened up, you know, at the tail end of the pandemic, people are coming in to chase things that they saw on video conference.

Doreen Wu (07:22):
Does that mean I just have to live with it or is plastic surgery an option?

Dr. Lawrence Bass (07:27):
Well, there are always surgical and non-surgical treatments that we can use to enhance your appearance. And things you see on zoom sometimes are real things. You know, we don’t look down under our neck very much in real life, but we sure see that a lot more often on video conferencing than we do in real life. And you may not realize how much skin is hanging there, that wasn’t there five years ago. So that’s something that we realistically would address with some kind of plastic surgery, but there are a bunch of other things you can do to improve your appearance on these video conferences from a photography point of view. So Doug, how can that be done?

Dr. Doug Canfield (08:16):
The very first thing we can do is that you’re having a conversation. You need to have your camera at eye level. You need to be able to look into the camera. And oftentimes with the laptops, the, the video camera can be at the hinge can be low and looking up your nose instead of having a conversation, you have this very distorted view. If you have it too high, it’s more like a selfie pose where you’re trying to thin out your face, but it’s not a conversation. So the very first advice is to get the camera at the height of your eyes and to frame the your view so that you’re not too too close, but that you have a nice portrait view. And, and typically that’s the upper chest and you frame yourself that way. And then there are things, you know, that you can do with the lighting that can make a big difference.

Dr. Doug Canfield (09:10):
So adding some soft light behind your screen, that’s slightly above the screen and behind it will soften your features. And then the last bit for sort of composing the scene is, you know, thinking about what’s behind you and do you have a neutral wall? Do you have a few things to for on the wall? That’s okay, but if it’s cluttered, it’s probably not. Okay. And, you know, so these are all the things that we can think about as we sort of set the scene. And the color of your background is important both in clinical photography, but it’s also important in your video conferencing, because if it’s too distracting or too harsh, that can actually change the color balance of your video camera. So you want to have that neutral backdrop. So you are the point of focus.

Dr. Lawrence Bass (10:00):
And are there technical things that the video conferencing platforms provide that can help us modify our appearance? Similar to what I described for Snapchat, has this filtered into Zoom and Microsoft Teams and some of the other video conferencing?

Dr. Doug Canfield (10:18):
Absolutely. So the filters are there. And you know, I typically don’t personally like the synthetic backgrounds because you, when people move you can see the sort of the breakthrough, but what I think does work quite well is to use the blur, where they are actually blurring the background. And then it’s your actual background with just softened again, allowing you to sort of stand out in front of it. And that looks much I think more professional and tends to handle the artifacts better. And then of course the last thing, if you’re so inclined is you can use a filter on your face as well and soften the features. And usually if you go to the extreme, it’s visible to the audience, but if you do a moderate amount of filtering, you can really soften some of those lines and features on your face as well. And the last one is exposure a little bit brighter and you’re going to fill in those shadows a little bit more and your skin is gonna look a little bit more even. So, you know, a brighter image maybe a little softer on the face on the skin tones. And then I personally like the soft background behind you.

Doreen Wu (11:38):
These are some great tips and tricks for our listeners and are all relatively easy to implement. So lastly, I’d like to wrap up this episode with some final takeaways for our listeners?

Dr. Lawrence Bass (11:48):
So it’s important to realize the video conferencing does not really show us the way we actually look because of that close distance in front of the computer and the nature of the video cameras. In most computers, we tend to flatten and widen our facial appearance and anything that’s coming from low, a low sitting camera or a handheld cell phone, which is often held at or below the jaw line definitively shows us at our worst. So adjusting position, adjusting lighting is critical to looking our best in these applications, separate from that. We’re looking at ourselves differently than we look in the mirror. And so it’s natural that we feel different about our appearance because it doesn’t seem like us. I had that experience today. I was looking at myself on a video call and a little feature on one of my eyebrows that’s not on the other side,

Dr. Lawrence Bass (12:58):
you know, it’s flipped from what I saw in the mirror when I shaved this morning. And I’m saying like, “wait, am I getting that on the other side as well?” And then I realized, no, it’s just flipped around. So it’s natural that we have some discordance or mismatch about our appearance when we look at these video pictures. That being said, though, it does say some things about how we actually look to the outside world and just like tailoring our appearance, if we’re going to a party or a wedding or a business meeting is important. Tailoring our appearance on these video conferences is important to put our best foot forward. So I will stop with that. And Doug, thank you for joining us in sharing your excellent insights and anything you’d add at this point?

Dr. Doug Canfield (13:51):
Well, I think the big one is to make sure that you make eye contact with the camera and to bring your smile. It makes a really big difference. And you, I think will spend more time looking at your audience and less time studying your asymmetric eyebrows. <Laugh> I, want to thank both Dr. Bass and Doreen for inviting me and I hope you’ll invite me back sometime.

Doreen Wu (14:17):
Definitely. Thank you, Doug, for being a guest on our podcast and sharing your insight and knowledge with us today, and thank you to all of our listeners for joining us to hear about the reasons why what we see on video conferencing is not our most flattering angle. I hope you found this episode as fascinating and informative as I did. If you think of other exciting developments or trends in plastic surgery that you would like us to discuss in upcoming episodes, please reach out via email or Instagram. We’ll see you next time. This is Doreen Wu, thanking you for joining Dr. Bass, Mr. Doug Canfield, and me for this discussion of how you can look your best on video conferencing technologies. Be sure to tune in next time. And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast, to stay up to date with all of the exciting content that is coming your way.

Speaker 4 (15:00):
Thank you for joining us in this episode of the Park Avenue Plastic Surgery Class podcast with Dr. Lawrence Bass Park Avenue plastic surgeon, educator, and technology innovator. The commentary in this podcast represents opinion. This podcast does not present medical advice, but rather general information about plastic surgery that does not necessarily relate to the specific conditions of any individual patient. No doctor patient relationship is established by listening to or participating in this podcast, consult your physician to advise you about your individual healthcare. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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