How to Show Documents Easily With Your Laptop's Webcam


Hacks as old as time

Hacks as old as time
Photo: David Murphy

Teachers create the best hacks. Full stop. No argument. The clever ways they go about managing the number of kids they oversee—and getting around the limitations of old equipment that often isn’t well maintained—always surprise and delight me. And today’s trending trick for sharing documents via video chats is no different, but you don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate it.

Here’s the scenario. Suppose you need to show people in a Zoom chat a document that you’re working on. Whether you’re highlighting multiplication tables or showing off your Dungeons & Dragons character sheet, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that awkwardly holding it in front of your laptop’s webcam, then having to go fumble with settings to mirror-image the picture so it’s actually readable, is a big pain in the ass.

Instead, try this approach. Go find a compact disc—surely you have some old DVD that you haven’t watched in nine years collecting dust on your entertainment center shelf—and a pen or a pencil. Tape the pen or pencil to the back of your laptop, and then place the CD or DVD on that, reflective-side down. You might have to fiddle with the angle a bit, but you should be able to soon get the contents of a document sitting in front of your laptop (on the keys) within the reflection, which your webcam will then pick up, like so:

I tried this out, and I only have one addition. The angle of the CD/DVD you’re using is critical for this to work, and you might not have great luck just flopping the compact disc on the pencil. Don’t use a CD or DVD you really care about, because you’ll probably want to add a little extra tape to the top or bottom to secure the precise angle you’ll need for the reflection to look good.

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Photo: David Murphy

Other than that, though, this hack totally works. You’ll get some strange stares from your roommates and/or loved ones, but don’t ever let that get in the way of productivity. They’re simply jealous of your mad skills.



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