|Tips to help you improve the way you look on video calls!|
First impressions are everything! The quality of your video call lighting will determine how people see you.
People form an instant opinion about you based on how you look online! If your image is too dark or too bright, that makes a statement. Ultimately, lighting influences how others receive the messages and ideas you try to communicate.
Before getting stressed about lighting though, relax. Solutions may be simpler than you think.
My tips will improve the quality of your video calls. All you need is an open mind and the patience to try different options.
Some lighting tips cost nothing. Others cost less than $100.
In This Post
- Natural Lighting
- Available Lighting
- Home-made Lighting
- Professional Lighting
- Light Diffusers
- What to Wear
ConnectingVideo conferencing allows people to connect face-to-face in real-time, even when thousands of miles apart. Any device with a camera can connect from anywhere that has internet service.
Whether chatting with family or friends, engaging with your workmates, making a sales pitch to an existing or potential client, conducting a job interview, or participating in a committee or a shareholder's meeting, looking and sounding your best will pay dividends.
Meeting ExpectationsVirtual conversations are different than being together in the same room. We all remember early COVID-19 conference calls with people reclining on their comfy living room chairs with their phones propped on their chest.
They viewed video calls as an opportunity to invite others into their homes. They wanted to appear relaxed and at home. What we saw were double chins and giant nose hairs extending out of their proboscis.
Like it or not, people compare our online image to the way television news anchors or video hosts look and sound. For various reasons, they appear normal. To appear normal, you must follow on-screen protocols.
Don't Be a Shadow Figure
From the moment you sit down in front of your device and turn on your camera, you are entering an artificial world. Your challenge is to enhance and manipulate the elements of that world to make you look and sound normal.
Good lighting keeps people focused on you as the speaker. If you are not the speaker, they look at the other thumbnail images the moment their attention drifts. Either way, people see you.
Poor lighting can amplify negative facial expressions, distort your head size and compromise other features. Harsh shadows, glares, and reflections are distracting. Good lighting will highlight the best you.
It seems that every call with thirty or more people includes at least one person calling from deep inside a dark basement with no windows. A flickering tungsten lightbulb makes them look like ghostly apparitions or spies in a World War II 'B' movie.
We have also seen people's faces that are over-lit by too much sun or artificial light. The bright light makes them squint and washes out their facial features.
See What Others SeeIf you are using your IPAD or phone, use the selfie app to see what others see. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, search for your webcam. Check your …
Many of us do at least one zoom call per day. Others do several back-to-backs.
Every location requires different lighting approaches. Setting up in the living room in front of your ceiling-to-floor plate glass window requires a different approach than a windowless basement using artificial light.
If you have a choice, pick a great spot and use it for every call. It may be your office, living room, guest room or kitchen. It doesn't matter where it is as long as it passes the lighting, audio and internet connection tests.
If you can, leave your gear in place, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel before every call. Once set up, you do not need to go through the stress of setting it up for each call.
When I film videos, I use a felt pen to mark the concrete floor in order to set up my stool, greenscreen, light and camera stands in the same position every time.
Background Light White surfaces reflect light whereas black surfaces absorb it. Chose a space that has white or light-coloured walls and furniture as a background. They will brighten up the room by reflecting the light from your source.
Dress For SuccessProper lighting means very little if you don’t dress appropriately. There are general rules to follow.
- Choose solid colours that will contrast with the background
- Avoid busy patterns which translate poorly on video
- Avoid tight patterns which will breakup the image
- Avoid metallic jewelry which can cause distracting reflections
Stop the Clutter
Clutter deserves a post by itself. Suffice to say that a cluttery background will distract viewers no matter how good the lighting is. It can also cause weird shadows behind you.
A light diffuser is like a secret sauce for photographers and videographers. Light diffusers decrease lighting strength while evening out light for better fill and balance. They produce a softer, more even light. Scattering the light also creates a warmer look.
Professional lighting often comes with built-in or add-on diffusers. However, if you are working with homemade video lights or natural light, you may need to build your diffusers.
- White, sheer pattern-less curtain
- Transparent cloth like silk organza
- Transparent foam core
- Thin frosted acrylic or plastic panels
The size of your light will determine the size need for your diffuser material holder. You may need a simple needle-point frame or a metal hose adjustable clamp. If you have a bigger light, you can build a frame using PVC piping.
Material can be permanently glued to the edges or affixed with spring clamps if you need to disassemble it. Google homemade diffusers to find excellent ideas.
Indoors – Indirect Sunlight
The ideal lighting source is indirect sunlight. On a good day, with consistent natural sunlight, it will create a softer, more attractive look than artificial lighting.
- Naturally diffused
- It is free
The goal is to bathe your face with consistent light. By turning slightly to the left or right, you can create a subtle highlight and shadow effect.
Natural lighting also brings out more accurate clothing, hair and skin tone colours. A room providing a lot of window light can produce an excellent professional look.
The best place to position yourself is facing a window. If the light is too harsh, you can tape a thin white cloth or tissue paper on the window frame to diffuse the light.
Indoor - Direct Sunlight
Direct sunlight can work well. However, testing and planning are critical.
If the light is too bright, you may be able to adjust the intensity by moving your camera closer or further away from the sunlight. A diffuser placed over the window may also help.
The bright sun may also cause flaring or create harsh shadows on your face. It can generate raccoon eyes and make you squint. The hot sun may cause you to sweat, which is generally a bad look.
Beware the Moving Sun
There is another downside. The light can dramatically change during a one-hour meeting as the sun moves quickly across the sky, affecting the light coming through your window frame. Further, passing clouds can cause weird shadows on your face.
While these factors are essential for zoom meetings, they are critical if you want to edit a video of your presentation. Lighting changes during the time it takes to make your presentation will cause segments from the beginning to look different than those from the end. The various clips will be unusable if quality production is your goal.
The Light Behind
Never, ever sit with a window behind you. Webcams automatically adjust to the brightest source of light that it sees.
News flash! If the camera focuses on the glare, you will no longer be in focus. Closing your blinds, drawing the curtains, or covering the window with a blanket will solve the problem.
Natural light is not predictable unless you live in a tropical area where the sky seldom changes. A grey, overcast sky gives different lighting than a blue-sky day filled with brilliant sunshine. It can be manipulated but not controlled. And, to state the obvious, natural lighting is only available during the day.
If natural or existing lighting doesn't cut it, it is time to work with artificial light. Before buying lights, test the lighting you already have. Experiment with a mix of overhead and natural lighting.
Testing is vital at each stage. Why? You may be mixing as many as three sources, including natural light, overhead room light, and a close-up desk lamp or professional video light.
Test your on-screen look as each light source is added or subtracted. Finding the right balance between too much or too little light may be as simple as moving a lamp closer or further away or turning your body slightly to find the best ambient light on your face.
LED BulbsYou can improve your room lights or desk lamps by replacing old-school bulbs with LED lights. They produce much cleaner and purer light than halogen, incandescent or tungsten. While the bulbs tend to cost more upfront, they last much longer and use less energy.
LED colours are warm white, soft white, and bright white. Warm-white and soft-white produce a yellow hue, close to light from an incandescent or tungsten bulb.
That 'brownish-yellow' light is not what you want. A bright white LED light is closer to daylight. They are also cooler.
I have spent many years in TV studios. Before LED lights, studios were hot and uncomfortable because of the lights. The first time I experienced LED studio lights in a studio, I experienced a notable difference in room temperature and light quality.
They are much better for performers. LED lights are very cool – in every sense of the word.
Portable Video Lights
If a mix of room and ambient light isn't quite good enough, desk lamps are the next step.
Lamps with a solid base and a movable spring tension arm are preferable as they are more stable and easily adjusted. New models usually have an LED bulb.
If you don't have a LED desk lamp, it is worth buying one. I recommend buying two. I'll explain why later.
Mainstray LED Desk Lamp
My wife happened to be shopping in our local Walmart and passed their desk lamp display. She noted a Mainstray LED architect desk lamp that had a permanent plastic diffuser.
The cost was only $35.00, so she bought one on a whim! It has proven to be an excellent tool.
We use one of our professional video lights as our primary light source for most calls. Ceiling lights with LED bulbs wash the wall behind me. We open the curtains on windows located on either side of us to fill in the light. The LED video light does the rest.
However, periodically my wife and I are on different calls at the same time. One of us will set up in our Plan 'A' location and the other in our Plan' B' studio. The second is a bedroom with large picture windows which provide excellent natural light.
We put 3-100-watt LED bulbs in the ceiling fixture. The room light is excellent by itself and even better mixed with the ambient light. The desk lamp simply 'lifts up' our facial features.
Tao Tronic LED Desk Lamp
The Tao Tronic LED Desk Lamp has a solid base, an adjustable frame, a rotatable light housing with an LED tube lamp about 18 inches long.
The best part is that you can adjust the light. It is dimmable, has seven brightness levels and five temperature levels. It is simply a matter of testing to determine which settings are right for you and your space.
I would be remiss not to mention the option of building a light from scratch. Buy low-cost floodlights at a home or industrial supply store. You can choose a variety of LED bulbs and attach a diffuser around the housing. The cheapest ones have a clamp that can be attached to stationary objects.
Computer Screen White Light
A last-ditch option for boosting the light on your face is to google a white screen. If that doesn't work, open a new email.
Powerpoint provides lighting options by allowing you to experiment with different hues. Open a PowerPoint shows and choose various shades of white background.
Make several slides for use at different times of the day. You will be surprised by how well this can work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a wide variety of new video lighting products. While the cost of many products has increased, video production and podcasting gear have remained reasonable or even decreased due to the vast volume being sold.
The samples highlighted below range from $40 - $100. The advantage of professional lights is that most are adjustable, and their light output is consistent and predictable.
Smaller lights are battery-operated, making them ideal for use in a car or outdoor locations where you want to boost the light.
Neewer LED Video Light
Neewer produces a variety of lights ranging from small, lightweight models to high-end video production lighting. Rather than profile a single model, I encourage you to check out the options allowing you to choose one that's right for you.
All of them have LED beads. The larger the light, the more beads. Each light is dimmable and colour adjustable. You can match ambient light. They also come with a soft diffuser.
Most Neewer mini-lights have a hot shoe for video camera attachment. You may need to use a desk-mounted camera or guerilla stand to use with your desktop or laptop.
Lume Cube Light
The Lume Cube light is about the size of an open wallet. What makes it unique is a suction cup on the housing that allows you to attach it to the back of your desktop monitor or laptop top. It comes with a built-in defuser.
The size and battery features mean it can be used with your phone or Ipad in mobile applications like your car. It also has an adapter and can be plugged into a normal socket.
A ring light is a circular light that evenly illuminates the face. Ring lights were developed for medical and dental applications where shadows are dangerous and details matter.
Ring lights are circular configurations of small LED lights that form the shape of a circle. For video calls, the circular design allows users to place the light slightly in front of their camera, which will shoot through the hole of the ring light.
Mini ring lights have a clamp for attaching them to a phone or Ipad. Larger models require a stand. In most cases, larger lights need space behind your desktop or laptop to accommodate the stand.
Every portable light we have discussed, whether it is a desk lamp, homemade or professional light, must be placed directly in front of you so that it will shine on your face. A medium-light evenly on your face is best!
Not from above, not from below or the side. Placing lighting above you will cause dark and distracting shadows that draw attention away from your face.
Avoid harsh side lighting from a window or lamp if you can. Again, this causes dark shadows on one side of your face and will convey a dark or more solemn mood during your video call.
Lighting from below can also cast off-putting shadows. This lighting angle conveys more of a "horror" film image, making you look like a movie villain.
In most applications, I advise buying two of the same light. That gives you more flexibility and lighting options. Place the lights at the 1:00 and 11:00 o'clock positions in front of your face.
Lighting for video calls doesn't need to be a mystery. Good lighting is often a matter of technique as much as the quality of your equipment.