In the last year, the number of online meetings, webinars and networking sessions for translators and interpreters has shot through the roof.

By now, you’ve probably picked up a solid webcam and figured out how to tweak your lighting and framing to look good on camera. You may have even splurged on a green screen to hide all the chaos behind your desk - or created a professional branded background for your online meetings.

If so, you’ve likely stumbled across a common problem. High-quality webcams tend to have wide-angle lenses, which means they tend to pick up way more than that tiny clean patch you’ve carefully curated behind you.

Wish you could crop stuff in the background out of the shot for online meetings? Looking to crop your webcam so it only captures your green screen?

You can.

In this month’s column, we’ll show you how to zoom and crop your webcam for online events using a nifty tool called OBS Studio - and even add in that branded background.

We’ve also created a tutorial video to walk you through every step of the process. Check it out to see how to zoom and crop your webcam in no time flat.

About OBS Studio

OBS Studio is free, open source software for video recording and livestreaming.

Available for Windows, Mac or Linux, OBS started out small and has picked up steam in recent years, garnering sponsorships from YouTube, Facebook and Twitch. (But no worries - only aggregated data is shared.)

OBS offers a wide range of features, allowing you to create scenes and transitions, mix audio, and plenty more that you’d do in a broadcasting studio.

But for today, we’ll stick to one simple use case: zooming and cropping your webcam - for free.

How to set up, zoom and crop your camera in OBS Studio

First, download and install the program from the OBS website.

When you open OBS Studio, the configuration wizard will launch automatically. Pick “I will only be using the virtual camera,” then apply the settings.

Now it’s time to bring your webcam into OBS. Click the plus button under Sources, then select “Video Capture Device.” Name the device and click “OK.” Then, select your webcam from the dropdown menu.

You may need to allow OBS to access the camera. After you click “OK,” your webcam will appear.

Now that you’ve brought your camera into OBS, it’s time to tweak the settings so you look great on camera.

To do so, click on the image. You’ll see a red box. (If the box doesn’t appear, right-click the image, then select “Lock Preview.”)

To zoom in and out, click and hold one of the dots on the box, then drag to resize.

To crop the shot, hold down the Alt key, then click and drag one of the dots on the box.

At this point, you can drag the camera anywhere on the screen. You’ll want to resize the shot so it fills the entire canvas. (Make sure you don’t have any black bars around the image.)

If your image is bigger than the frame, OBS will crop out the extra bits.

When framing the shot, place your webcam at or slightly above eye level. Crop the image to frame your shoulders and entire face, leaving yourself in the center of the shot. Avoid putting your face in the middle of the screen, which leaves too much empty space above your head. Instead, draw an imaginary line across the upper third of the screen and rest your eyes on it. (You’ll find more of our favorite tips about getting the right lighting and framing the shot in our post about looking sharp on video calls.)

Once you’ve got the shot properly cropped, it’s time to use OBS’ virtual webcam. Click “Start Virtual Camera” on the right side of the screen. Then, head on over to your meeting platform and select the “OBS Virtual Camera” for video input.

And voilà - your nicely cropped, well-zoomed image has popped right into your virtual meeting.

Using a green screen, chroma key and a custom background in OBS Studio

If you’re using a green screen, you can add a custom background right in OBS.

To drop that background into OBS, click the plus button under Sources, then pick “Image.” Give your image a name, like “Background,” click “OK,” then select the image file. If your background is covering up your webcam, right click on it under Sources, then go to “Order,” “Move to bottom.”

Finally, we need to turn on “chroma key” to filter out the green screen. Right-click your webcam, then select “Filters.” Click the plus button under “Effect Filters” and add “Chroma Key.” Name it, then adjust the sliders to fine tune your settings. (Don’t overdo it, or you may end up looking like a ghost! 👻)

And that’s it! You’ve now set up OBS Studio to zoom and crop your webcam for free in any meeting software.

This column was originally published in the September 2021 edition of the Tool Box Journal.