Lighting is the first part of the phrase “lights, camera, action!” for a reason.
The central part of any video conference is your face, and the most important element of faithfully rendering your face digitally is the lighting. Too much light and you’ll look washed out; too little and you’ll disappear into a black shadow like an anonymous source on 60 Minutes.
The video conferencing lighting recommendations below will guide you through the do’s and don’ts of video lighting so you can look professional–and your very best–for whoever is on the other end of the call. Video lighting doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated in order to be effective, but as any photographer, live streamer, or serious Instagrammer knows, lighting is crucial for conveying atmosphere, looking professional, and looking like the most attractive possible version of yourself.
Video Conferencing Lighting Recommendations
- Face the Light
- Control the Room
- Use Soft Light
- Try a Smartphone Light
- Use Multiple Light Sources
- Invest in a Lighting Kit
- Don’t Let Your Outfit Compete with Your Face
- Preview Before Going Live
Face the Light
If you only pay attention to one piece of advice on this page, this is it. Place your primary light source directly behind your webcam and aim it at your face. Don’t place it off-center, don’t place it above your head, and certainly don’t place it behind you…unless you’re going for an anonymous look.
Add an extra, direct camera light to chase away any shadows and produce an even, flattering image.
Direct lighting is the simplest, most effective, and cheapest way to illuminate your face. You can achieve quality results from this position with even a lowly desk lamp, and the only hazard you’ll have to negotiate is making sure the light isn’t so harsh that it makes you squint.
You can certainly still make use of the ceiling lights in your home or office, but add the extra direct camera light–you can even try a webcam with a built-in light like the Razer Kiyo–to chase away any shadows and produce an even, flattering image.
Control the Room
The windows in your home or workplace are for ambiance and daydreaming. They are not light sources for your video calls. Natural light is far too unpredictable and unreliable to be a good consistent source of good lighting and the fluctuations in light temperature can give your webcam fits. Control your video conferencing space by paying attention to how the room you’re video conferencing in is designed. Move yourself out of direct sunlight and employ an internal lighting setup as described above.
If you have to make a call outdoors or your situation demands an off-site conference, we suggest you purchase an affordable lighting kit (see below).
Use Soft Light
Your video conference should be more soap opera than police interrogation. Soft, diffused light is always preferable to harsh unfiltered bulb light. If your light or lamp is too intense–if it tends to wash out the contours and features of your face–then diffuse it with a semi-transparent material like a thin white cloth or even paper; just be careful you haven’t created a fire hazard.
Most dedicated lighting sources will have a dimmer function to diffuse the light at its source; this is by far the best choice as it gives you the most control over your light, and it’s a good argument for a dedicated lighting source deliberately chosen for video conferencing.
Try a Smartphone Light
Smartphones have allowed video conferencing to go mobile. The lighting on these mobile miracles, however, isn’t yet up to the same standard as the larger devices you can employ within the home or workplace.
As a result, we recommend purpose-built portable lighting solutions. Devices such as the Lume Cube Air VC, the Genaray LED-2100, and the Godox LEDM32 are small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to clip on to your phone, yet still pack enough lighting punch to illuminate your face.
Use Multiple Light Sources
While a single light source should be sufficient for most video conferencing lighting situations, if one light just isn’t giving you the Hollywood shine you were hoping for, you can try using multiple sources.
In theory, a multi-light approach will fill out the light surrounding you while maintaining a focus on your face.
The best method is to create a triangular layout. Your brightest, primary light source should sit behind your camera at a 45-degree angle to your face. Your second light should be placed at the same angle on the other side of your camera, with your third light source directly opposite that light in front of the camera.
In theory, this multi-light approach will fill out the light surrounding you while maintaining a focus on your face. It’s best to reserve it for complex views that display your seated body all the way down to your lap.
Invest in a Lighting Kit
If you need the added dimension of extra lights then we suggest you invest in a basic lighting kit. Such kits will include the actual lights themselves as well as reflectors, supports, and diffusers. You’ll need time to set the system up though, so this type of kit is best used as part of a permanent video calling setup at or near your workstation.
There are many such kits available so we’ve highlighted a few of the more affordable options (starting at around $50 via Amazon) below:
- Fancier Studio Lighting Kit
- LimoStudio Continuous Lighting
- Neewer Studio Lighting
- Fovitec StudioPRO Softbox Lighting Kit
- ViewMe B2 Lighting Kit
Don’t ruin the resource advantages of video conferencing by spending too much on your lighting equipment. Remember, a simple lamp and shade can usually provide all the light you need.
Don’t Let Your Outfit Compete with Your Face
Finally, with the tech under control, it’s time to consider your wardrobe. We’re not about to offer fashion advice or make alterations to your signature style, but be aware that your outfit can affect your video performance, as we discussed in our post on video conference job interviews. Video and web cameras can be fickle beasts. Wearing pure whites and bright colors can cause unwanted light reflections, while bold geometric patterns or wavy lines can create visual distractions on camera.
Our recommendation? Keep it simple and stick to earthy tones.
Preview Before Going Live
The last–but not least–of our video conferencing light recommendations is to take a second to make sure your lighting is displaying your features as intended. You wouldn’t walk out in public without having one last look in the mirror, so don’t go live over a video call without first checking your appearance in the preview screen. Most major video platforms now include this option, so use it to check for shadows, uneven lighting, your personal presentation, and how you face reacts to your chosen lighting setup.
A good, versatile video conferencing lighting setup gives you confidence.
The goal of all this behind-the-scenes technology and planning is to present yourself in a natural, relaxed, and professional manner. While it might seem like too much hassle, putting effort into how your video conferencing setup is lit can cut down on time wasted fussing with lighting during every call you make. A good, versatile video conferencing lighting setup gives you confidence that you look your best during every call.