The Worst Webcam Background I’ve Ever Seen

Lee Feinstein, the former U.S. ambassador to Poland, has an impressive résumé. He served under two presidents (Clinton and Obama), worked at the Departments of Defense and State, and is a prolific author. Today, he serves as the Senior Transatlantic Fellow for the German Marshall Fund.

But when I saw this tweet on Sunday night, I knew I’d want to write about an interview he recently gave.

Feinstein Tweet

Lee Feinstein Background

The tweeter, @JudgeElihu, snapped a photo from Mr. Feinstein’s television appearance, which aired on BBC World. Although I couldn’t find the video from this appearance, I did find video of another interview Feinstein conducted from the same room in March.

The room from which Mr. Feinstein conducted the interview was a mess: a nightstand door was open, a bed was directly behind him, and small, barely detectable items were perched on the dresser.

It’s difficult to imagine that viewers weren’t distracted by the unusually messy background, which may have prevented some viewers from hearing the points he was trying to make (even worse, their overall impression of Mr. Feinstein could have been unnecessarily diminished).

This post is not intended to come across as “catty,” so here are some practical suggestions.

First, Mr. Feinstein could find a better background in that room—even a bare wall would be preferable—or use a different angle. A minimally decorated wall with a framed print, a lamp, and/or a large house plant can also look good on camera; just be sure that none of those objects appear to be poking out from your head.

Second, sitting closer to a wall would have resulted in a tighter shot with fewer distractions. He could position the desk a few feet away from a clean wall and sit with his back to the wall.

The video of his March interview (photo below) shows that Mr. Feinstein angled the camera higher, which is at least a little better (although he should, at a minimum, lift the laptop up to eye level using a platform to prevent him from always looking down).

Lee Feinstein Background March

Third, Mr. Feinstein can use a portable backdrop. As blogger Ken Molay wrote in a recent guest post on the topic, “It is quicker and easier to set up a neutral backdrop behind you than to clean and arrange your bookshelves and office space. It also lets you broadcast from any location without worrying about what is behind you. One option is the CVI Studio portable backdrop.”

As an example, here’s the backdrop viewers see when they watch one of my videos:

Brad Phillips Video Background

But it would look awful if I used a wider framing of the same background:

Brad Phillips Ugly Background

What do you think? Did the poor background detract from Mr. Feinstein’s credibility? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.