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For Your Eyes Only - What You Need To Know About Wearing Sunglasses on Camera

In this blog I’m going to answer a question from Chelsea Brinkley, the owner of Travel Brinkley, a company that helps people plan trips to explore the world about when its okay to wear sunglasses on camera.

Chelsea asks:

"I was listening to I believe episode number 7 where you mentioned the importance of seeing the eyes of the person on camera clearly.

My question is what your thoughts are on wearing sunglasses in video? For example, Casey Neistat the well-known You Tuber always wears sunglasses in his videos. It’s kind of become his thing.

I also ask because the videos I will be doing more of will all be outside sharing adventure travel stuff that we do. I was originally thinking (when it makes sense) I would likely be wearing sunglasses in a lot of those videos for a couple reasons… one, for some reason it makes me feel more comfortable in front of the camera that way. I’m not as nervous and feel more like myself.

Two, my eyes are a light blue color so my eyes are super sensitive to the sun. I’m pretty much always wearing sunglasses outside (even when it seems not bright to others) or I’m squinting which is a bad look. So, I was just curious your thoughts on that. I know you mentioned once you know the rules, you decide which ones you break and didn’t know if that applied."

Thanks Chelsea, great question!

First of all, let’s talk a little bit about why it’s important to see your eyes.

“The eyes are the window to your soul.” - William Shakespeare

The great Roman philosopher Cicero also said, "The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter." There’s even a reference in the Bible in the book of Matthew which says, "The eye is the lamp of the body.” 

So with this kind of attention over the ages, it seems our eyes are pretty important in communicating how we are feeling on the inside.

When you look into a person’s eyes you get an idea of who they are. And the eyes tell you things about a person their words might not - its part of your body language.

Think of a time you looked someone in the eyes and thought they look happy or sad or engaged or distracted. How did that help you in your communication with them?

Eyes eyes give you a lot of information about someone’s emotional state.

Remember the 7-38-55 rule and how much of our communication is non-verbal? Your eyes are a really big part of that.

You can also tell an authentic smile from a fake one by looking into the persons eyes while they are smiling - if the eyes the corners of their eyes crinkle it’s the real deal. It’s a natural reflex.

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever watched a video and the person on camera is wearing sunglasses, or have you had your photo taken on a special occasion? And when you looked at it later on you wished you weren’t wearing sunglasses so you could see your eyes?

We Connect Through Our Eyes

I used to coach an executive leader and we’d meet off site at a coffee shop outdoors. He would keep his glasses on the whole time, even if we were in the shade. It really threw me off balance not being able to see his eyes. I think he may have been using this to his advantage because it was hard to tell what he was thinking. ;0)

If we know the eyes are the windows to the soul, here are a couple of things to think about when you are getting ready to shoot a video and want to wear sunglasses:

1. think about the context and the purpose of your message.

If you are outdoors on a sunny day, like hiking a trail or walking the beach, and you are talking about something that relates to your setting, it’s natural to be wearing sunglasses.

If you are inside, or it’s a rainy day, not so much that is unless you are Jack Nicholson or Casey Neistat.

2. Think about your relationship with your audience. If you have an established connection with them already, it’s not AS critical to make eye contact as if you have not built a relationship yet.

If the purpose of your message is to create an intimate connection, then seeing your eyes is more important.

If it’s to share information and the one-one isn’t as important, then sunglasses are okay - you could also shoot parts of your video in the shade, like the intro and close and then the rest on location.

I watched Casey’s video about why he always wears sunglasses and noticed that he lifted his shades on several occasions to connect with the viewer so that’s a possibility too. Here’s link to his video in the show notes so you can check it out for yourself.

Just remember, there is a layer that’s created between you and your viewer when you are wearing sunglasses.

Being comfortable on camera is critical to confident message delivery and if wearing glasses helps you build your confidence, I say go for it - just realize there is a trade off AND there are ways you can work around it.

I totally get having sensitive eyes. Living in southern California I spend a lot of time at the beach I always wear a visor or hat and sunglasses outside and I squint a lot.

To minimize squinting, I will wear my visor or find a shady location.

You can also wear a baseball cap to reduce your squint, just be sure to adjust it so there is enough light to see your eyes. And also make sure that the hat doesn’t take the focus off of you. It there’s something on your hat that’s hard to read, your views are going to be trying to figure that out instead of listening to you,

It’s an easy thing to wear sunglasses to feel more comfortable. I’m tempted to do it too, especially if I’m tired or it’s really bright. Hopefully, once you start building your on camera confidence, you won’t feel he need to wear sunglasses to feel more comfortable.

In addition to wearing a visor or shooting in the shade, Here are a couple of things you can try with lighting that can help you work around squinting on camera:

If you want or need to shoot with the sun to your back, because you are in some really cool location, be sure to expose for your face and not your background. Sometimes that means your background will be over exposed, but your viewers will be able to see your face.

If your background is important to your message, look for a different location where you and your background are evenly lit or wait until a time of day when the light is more flattering.

Remember early morning and late afternoon sun is the most flattering and forgiving. Avoid shooting at the noon hour when the sun is straight overhead and causes harsh shadows.

If you have a ring light, or other light source you can shoot in the shade and increase the light on your face and still see your background.

A lot of times I will look for a shady spot created by a building or a tree and set up there and that way I can still have a nice outdoor background and I’m not as likely to squint.

Full sun is always tough and most likely, you’ll end up with hat and sunglasses. Just think about the purpose of your message and your relationship with your viewer.

Summing it up:

1. Remember the eyes are the window to the soul, people get a lot of information from looking at your eyes.

2. Pay attention to context and purpose of your message. Are in a place that you viewers would expect to see you wearing sunglasses? And does that match the purpose of your video?

What is your relationship with your audience and what are you hoping to accomplish through your video? Do you need to connect on a deeper level?

3. Try a few lighting tricks to allow you to be lit and still make eye contact. Use the shade when possible and pay attention to time of day.

Well, I hope that helps, Chelsea, and thanks for the great question. And if have a question, feel free to email me and I’m happy to answer your question on a future episode.

Remember with a prior planning you can be ready for your close up, every time.

Val Brown is an Emmy Award winning television producer, story, visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She consults and coaches high performing business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence and credibility on camera. Val teaches you how to use your story to support your brand in video and photos. 

p.s. I’d love to connect on social media and hear your questions and concerns about being in front of the camera.


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