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Sara L Russell

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This article is for poets who have web cams, wishing to have a go at making their own poetry recitals, to submit to e-book publishers (on a CD ROM).

A lot of fun can be had making poetry recitals. These are the basic things you need:

A fast, high-RAM PC with space for several videos of 10MB or over

A web cam with a reasonable speed of video capture

The necessary video editing software for the cam, including "compression codecs"

A well-lit position for your PC and cam, i.e., near a window

A sense of humour coupled with lack of self-consciousness.


Positioning your cam and yourself...

Keep your cam perched on top of your monitor, or if you have a slimline monitor, perch it on your PC hard drive tower. If your hard drive is horizontal, perch the cam on a tall, sturdy stand for thick candles, or a pile of books, on top of the hard drive (not blocking any ventilation holes).

Angle your cam so that when you look at the moving preview of your image on screen, your whole face and shoulders are in view.

Fix your poem somewhere at a similar level to the cam, so that your eyes appear to be looking into the camera. Do not hold the page in front of your face. If you are reciting a poem longer than a sonnet, have the text on screen and discreetly scroll the page up as you read, so that your eye level does not wander down too low towards the end of the recital. You do not have to be looking into the camera, but a descending eye level can look odd, with your eyes looking almost closed.

Video Preferences...

These will vary according to which brand of web cam you are using. Click Help to find out what to do. My personal ideal settings (Logitech Cam) are:

Compression: I use Indeo Video 5.0, quality set at 98, key frame every 2 frames.

Sound should be at least 8 bit, mono or stereo, so that more computers will play the sound as well as the moving image.

Some cams allow you to set a file size limit, and automatically compress a video to that size or just below, dropping unimportant frames. Some cams can actually compress a video after it is recorded, though in some cases that can corrupt a video file. The new Logitech cams allow simple title frames, with text, to be added at the beginning, or credits at the end, but if you add text frames, be sure to remember that this does increase the file size, so choose a short value of seconds for titles to be displayed.

Fun With Lighting...

Lighting is simple to play around with when making a poetry recital. For a dramatic "floating face" effect for reciting sinister poems, simply put a table lamp behind the cam, so that it highlights your face, but have your curtains closed and the room light off. The cam only picks up the light shining on your face and PC mic. Use a green, blue or red bulb in the lamp for other fun effects.

Another variation on the "floating face" style of video is to have a disco ball revolving in the background (these can be picked up in novelty shops), as well as the lamp shining on your face. Put the ball near a wall so that the flecks of colour are picked up by the cam as they move across the wall behind you.

If you are having an "ugly day", try to make your video at a time of day when sunlight shines in at the window near your PC and cam. Strong sunlight reflecting on your face will give your skin a radiant glow, eliminating puffy eyes, crow's feet and any other blemishes. You will see your image on screen, so turn your face to the best angle, before you click "record video", and try to keep your face at that angle until the video is done. Another good technique for eliminating a tired look is to twist your focus ring so that the picture is very slightly softened.


If you use a backdrop, ensure that you fix it high up behind you, using something sturdy such as two step ladders, with a patterned cloth draped between them. Otherwise your backdrop will sag and flop around, and you'll make more out-takes than final video.

Don't Recite With A Head Cold.

Only make video recitals when you sound and look good. A head cold is going to make your voice harder for your intended audience to understand.


If you want something like a candle in the background, ensure it is not near anything flammable, and maybe put it inside a glass candle holder. Candles actually don't look all that great on a web cam image, they come out as bright balls of light, with not much subtlety to the flame movement.


Small ornaments placed just in front (to one side) of the cam can appear like magnificent, huge statues, as you recite your poem behind them. Large plants and flowers can look good in the background. Backgrounds should not be too cluttered, so angle your cam so that it picks up your image, but not huge piles of books or magazines behind you.

Emote, inflect, scintillate...

Put a bit of life and expression into your voice, and a glint in your eyes. Imagine that you are reading your poem to a group of adorable, attentive children, who are hanging on to your every word. Don't be scared of the camera, you are alone in your house and can do as many re-takes as you like. If you are reading a funny poem, and you laugh at the end - but when you play it back it looks good - keep it in. At other times, it may be better with a straight face.


I hope this article is of help to anyone interested in making video recitals. I have made quite a few video recitals for e-books over the years - see also my Books and News sections on AuthorsDen.

Good luck, and have fun with it. If you have any problems not mentioned here, contact me on my message board and I will see if I can help.

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Reviewed by Sara Russell 11/9/2003
Thanks for your comments, Janet and Guido... In answer to your question, Guido, I have not tried a lip sync to a poetry video with a 3D character, but have made Magix music mixes and made them dance to the music with swirling patterns in the background. Also on my latest e-book Worlds Inside The Head, I made a satirical animation of a boy band dancing about (in a silly way), for my poem "Sonnet of The Boy Band Factory"... it's about 100 frames and uses four Poser figures. There is also a music midi on the page, and they move in time with it.

Reviewed by Janet Caldwell 3/6/2003
Thank you Sara, this IS very helpful, full of great info.

Janet xoxoxo

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