What Zoom And Photography Have In Common

Have you ever looked at a family photo, really looked at it, and wondered why various members pose the way they do – where they stand vis à vis the group, whether their arms are around others’ shoulders or around themselves, whether their heads are inclined toward their kin or away?

How we choose to stand says a lot. This is the psychology of photography.

I’ve always been intrigued by it, and no wonder. I was a psych major in college, and, soon after graduation, took up photography. My books often mention the psychology of photography, most recently, A Week at the Shore, in which annual Fourth-of-July photos lining a stairwell tell stories about family members and their place in the group.

Lately, our faces are often captured on Zoom. I use this videoconferencing platform often, not only to enjoy virtual wine and cheese with other couples, but for long heart-to-hearts with a girlfriend, for telehealth visits with doctors, and for online courses (like studying the works of Jane Austen, which I love).

When it comes to family gatherings, my crew has used zoom for birthdays and holidays, and will likely do so again for Thanksgiving.

What Zoom And Photography Have In Common by @BarbaraDelinsky #Zoom #video #COVID19

Passover 2020

That said, you don’t have to use Zoom yourself to appreciate this blog. Picture the screen on your device filled with little boxes of faces. Picture how each face appears.

  • Is it centered?
  • Well-lit or shadowed?
  • Cut off?
  • Distorted?
  • Smiling?
  • Scowling?

Please remember that the person using the device can see her own face and, therefore, knows how others see her. For this reason, we have to assume she has at least some small choice in how she appears.

I’m not talking here about backgrounds, such as those of celebrities in entertainment, news, or politics. Their backgrounds are as carefully curated as their clothes. Politicians, for instance, want a flag, a campaign banner, or a crowd of adoring supporters behind them. Entertainers, news icons, even authors are different.

Some put themselves before shelves of books for an intellectual look, some play chic with a single piece of art and a plant, others go worldly in front of a window with a gorgeous view.

For now, though, forget backgrounds. Forget celebrities. Let’s talk about the way we everyday people choose to show ourselves on the screen. I’ve done enough videoconferencing to have seen a lot – and, in fairness, many of the people on my Zoom screen are well-placed, well-lit, and engaged. I’m guessing that’s how these folks are in real life.

For the sake of this blog, though, let’s focus on the others. Inevitably, there are one or two on a screen of ten who are either amusing, puzzling, or downright annoying.

Let’s consider what that says about them.

1. The Cornered One

She positions herself in the very lowest corner of the screen so that only her head shows. I can only assume she wants this because it would be simple to turn her device a tad or move over a bit or sit on a cushion to hit the middle of the screen. But no. Week after week, she chooses her corner.

The psychologist would say she is self-conscious and shy. She doesn’t like having her picture taken, doesn’t particularly want to be seen. Oh, she could go to non-video mode so that only her name shows, but she worries this will be too obvious. So she clings to her tiny distant corner.

2. The Skulker

This one comes and goes, allowing only the hair on the top of her head to show until she is ready to talk, at which time she readjusts her device to show her whole face. Since she returns to the other as soon as she’s done, we know that her top-of-the-head view is deliberate.

This speaks of a person who wants to see everyone else without giving them the courtesy of seeing her. The rest of us may be vexed. I mean, you either participate, or you don’t, right?

3. The Dark One

Her face is in total shadow, while bright lights glare behind her. To be fair, this person may not understand how camera lighting works. If a device perceives a large amount of bright light, it will shut down a little for a better rendering of that background. If you happen to be in the foreground, you will present as dark.

Many a time, others in my Zoom groups have directed this person to either close the blinds in back or turn on a lamp in front. If she does it this once, then returns to darkness the next time, we know it’s by choice. Poor thing. She is that insecure.

4. The Bored One

You guys know who you are. You’re the ones who think we can’t figure out what you’re doing when your eyes are downcast all the time. You’re texting, emailing, or surfing. Honestly, this offends us.

As for the person who takes to swaying from side to side, while we’re not offended, we’re simply distracted. Stop.  Both of you. Please.

What Zoom And Photography Have In Common by @BarbaraDelinsky #Zoom #video #COVID19

5. The Oblivious One

Here’s the guy who positions himself two inches from his screen, perhaps so that he can see better. Unfortunately, all we see is his bulbous nose. He can’t be so near-sighted that he doesn’t realize this. Or maybe he thinks that thing on his screen is … is a computer glitch?

Whatever, he is short-sighted in that other sense of the word, too. He isn’t considering others. He refuses to see that our view is disgusting. Apparently, he doesn’t care. Good for him. Bad for us.

6. The Sleepy One

Do we actually hear snoring? No, but I’ve seen a head or two fall to a chest or two or, worse, fall back with an open mouth. This has happened in the middle of one of my courses, and it’s all I can do not to laugh. A milder version of this is The Sloucher, who lounges back in her chair through the meeting.

Unfortunately, if she’s using a laptop, what we see most is the bulge of her belly. Worse, maybe, her crotch. Not. Pretty. Clearly, like The Oblivious One, she doesn’t care. I wish I didn’t. Seeing her, I put back my shoulders and sit straight.

7. The Scowler

The Scowler is earnest. She is listening and concentrating and trying to ingest every last bit of information from the session. We can’t fault her. We just wish she were enjoying herself. Because here’s the thing. We want people to be friendly. We want to feel as though our time with them on Zoom is akin to being in a living room with them.

This is why I, for one, try to be the following.

8. The Smiler

This Zoomer is happy to be there, happy to interact with others, even if virtually, happy to be discussing or learning or just being. The Smiler may not be a natural smiler; Lord knows, I’m not. My natural expression, which I inherit from a somber dad, is serious. When I’m on Zoom, though, I see myself as others see me and consciously smile.

If you do Zoom, have you seen other quirks on your screen?  If so, what are they?  Feel free to comment below, so I’ll know I’m not the only grinch out there.


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