Ah, lighting. Never underestimate the importance of lighting in a video call. No matter whether you’re using VSee or Skype, Cisco or Polycom, the people you’re talking to want to see you. They don’t want to see…
…which is a whole bunch of shadows and backlighting.
They want to see YOU. Something like this…
…which is lit mostly from the front. You’ll note that due to the smaller space I am in, there’s plenty of light reflecting off the back wall to prevent the illusion that I’m in a cave somewhere.
I’ll go into detail about using VSee’s camera settings in a later post; today is about getting good lighting at night whenever you are indoors.
Common Lighting Problems
The above screenshots were taken at about 11:00 p.m. When you are in an environment with a big window, it’s often easier to control the lighting at night. However, there are some difficulties:
1) You may have lamps that are too strong,
2) too weak,
3) or very poorly placed. The picture for “too strong” also illustrates poor light placement. Note the strong shadows cast because the light is off to the side. This can also happen when the light is too directly above (shading your eyes so your audience can’t see them) or too directly below (creating that “campfire horror story” effect).
Of course the ideal is to have a light right in front of you, diffuse lighting behind you to keep away shadows and that cave-like effect , and be at a level that shows your features without washing you out.
Who has that? I, for one, have a computer, another computer, the printer, routers, various desk supplies, etc., before I reach wall. And I don’t feel like spending a lot of money on custom lighting.
Two Easy Lighting Tips
If you’re like me, you learn tricks. And here are two easy lighting tips that take care of both poor placement and either weak or strong lamps.
Tip #1 – First, if your light is too weak, try finding a small lamp you can put directly on some mostly-flat surface on your desk. If that surface is only “mostly-flat”, I suggest the lamp be removed after any video calls so as not to be a fire hazard. I’ve got a nice one from Target that actually lives on the shelves behind me, but has on occasion made an appearance on my printer for the purpose of a VSee meeting. If that’s not enough light, or you just have no space whatsoever, try cranking up the brightness of your screen! Believe it or not, your screen makes a great secondary lighting source (that alone can sometimes help with poor lighting and/or placement). CAUTION: Never…never…use the screen as your only source of front lighting!!! Trust me. It looks awful.
Tip #2 – If your light is too strong, as my current lighting source is, use a professional photographers’ trick: bounceboards. Bounceboards (or reflector boards) are boards that photographers use to (you guessed it) bounce light back onto subjects so that shadows disappear without washing out the details. These are often just pieces of white foamcore. The walls of most workspaces are usually white to cream in color, and therefore make terrific bounceboards.
To create the effect of my decently lit photo above, I have a swivel-arm artist’s lamp clamped to the edge of my desk that’s a wee bit too strong. I’ll include a diagram tomorrow [now below], but I’ve got it pointed at the wall so the light hits the wall so that the camera is directly between me and the lit area. Since the light that bounces from that spot to my face is directly in line with the camera, from the camera’s perspective, I’m lit from the front. The diffuse light bounces everywhere else in the room and prevents me from appearing to type from a cave.
And I even used a little of the “screen brightness” trick just to fill in the light a smidgen.
I hope some of you are able to make use of these lighting tricks, and I imagine you’ve got a few of your own. Please leave them in the comments. Next time, we’ll tackle daytime lighting.