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Webcam and Lighting Tips A Guide for Those New to Working and Presenting Remotely

You’ve been asked to work from home amid - oh let’s say - a serious global health crisis. This includes limiting or eliminating your business travel and in-person meetings with customers or suppliers. But you still have to run your business as effectively as possible.

Welcome to Telecommuting and more specifically, virtual meetings and conferences. This guide is designed to help you get the most out of your teleconferencing webcam experience, without breaking the bank in the process.

General Engagement Tips

  • Remember to smile and make eye contact with your webcam, at least occasionally. If you look at your screen when you are talking, you are not looking at your audience.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. After all, you’re on camera…

Lighting Tips

In general, natural window light diffused through neutral curtains (without the window in the shot) or a soft diffused artificial light source are best and most flattering. If the window light is coming from the side, you can reduce contrast with a reflector on the opposite side. This could be a sheet of poster board or foamcore board, a white pillowcase, your iPad flashlight app or even one of those collapsible windshield reflectors (so long as it’s white).

If your office has a lot of windows, and you can’t avoid them in the background of your webcam view, you might want to consider room-darkening drapes from a discount retailer like HomeGoods or HomeSense. Aside from being an overly bright visual distraction, backlighting can force your webcam to overcompensate exposure, making you too dark in the scene.

Don’t be this guy. Use more illumination than your laptop screen. And sit up straight, will ya?

A softer, diffused light source also illuminates the area more evenly. You can achieve this by pointing your desk lamp away from you, at a sheet of white poster board or rigid white foam core board. This turns the bigger board into the light source and softens the light at the same time.

Overhead office lighting is generally not recommended due to the downward shadows created from overhead light.

Location

Try to find a location in your home with minimal background visual distractions or clutter.

Webcam Position

This can be challenging, as many people use the built-in laptop webcam, but try to position your screen/camera so you are showing head and shoulders at roughly eye-level to your webcam, not a low angle from the neck up with a lot of ceiling. On a related note, no one needs to see how clear your nasal passages are. If you are the dominant subject in the frame, it also cuts down somewhat on background detail because you are blocking most of it.

For a small investment, you can purchase a collapsible laptop stand from Moft. These basic but stylish stands allow for two elevated laptop positions, and collapses so flat you can still pack your laptop - with the stand - in your backback.

The Basic Moft stand. Very affordable, durable and minimalist.

If you opt to purchase a separate webcam, you have much more flexibility in positioning the camera, including setting it up on its own small stand. Webcam prices can vary greatly depending on resolution and feature set.

Eye-level...but no...

How Do You Sound?

Often, you're using both a microphone AND your laptop speakers in a web conference. This can cause some very excessive feedback in the form of a perpetual echo. If you are running into this situation, consider using a headset or ear buds, so the speakers won't be fighting with the microphone.

What to Wear?

Avoid pinstripes, really bold patterns or boxy, loose outfits. Pinstripes can easily cause a very distracting moiré pattern and loose outfits tend to help add to that extra 10 lbs on the camera. Solid colors are recommended, but you can probably sneak in a subtle pattern for personality. Just watch for that moiré. When in doubt, test with a colleague and get their opinion. More fashion and webcam tips:

Going Live in 3, 2, 1...WAIT!

Before you share your webcam live, check out how things look. Look for distractions or lighting issues. Most web conference software gives you a chance to preview your webcam before going live. If not, the native webcam software or even your OS might offer a utility to help. On the Mac, you can open Photo Booth (possibly for the first time, ever) and use it to preview what your audience will see. The lighting examples at the end of this article were all captured using Photo Booth.

DIY Lighting Options

Small LED Ring Light

Usually attached to flexible goose neck, and either USB or AC powered, these lights are quick and easy to set up. Relatively inexpensive, a ring light can provide satisfactory - although somewhat harsh - illumination if the source is close enough. Be aware of the ring light reflection in your glasses.

Typical ring light Found on Amazon

LED Light Panel (video light)

Brighter than the small ring lights, but also more expensive and larger (size of a large iphone or bigger). A separate stand would be needed to support the light. Better quality light than the ring light.

Battery powered light panel found on Amazon

There are also more specialized products that are more portable and much smaller, such as the LumeCube. But the direct light from this may be harsh and unflattering.

LumeCube, battery powered LED light

UPDATE (19/03/2020)

LumeCube is now discounting their video conference kit by $30 USD. Now at $49.95, this is a pretty good deal:

Video Conferencing kit

LED Articulated Desk Lamp

Dimmable, powerful, reasonably priced and you can also change the colors temperature on most (warm light or cool light). Some even have bonuses like a USB charging outlet in the base.

LED Goose neck lamp found on Amazon

Articulated Office Light

Available at IKEA, Amazon, Staples, a traditional articulated desk or work light is probably the cheapest option with great light output. Use a daylight balanced LED or fluorescent light bulb. Not usually dimmable, but bright.

Traditional desk lamp from Ikea

Lighting Examples

Some examples of basic light and webcam set up are seen below. Note how bright windows can be distracting and how slight changes in camera position can hide distracting background elements. Bright windows can also impact how well lit you appear on camera, as the webcam tries to balance exposure for that bright backlighting.

UPDATE: I've added two examples below, showing how some inexpensive drapes and a curtain rod can have a huge impact to your webcam presence. If what's behind you is busy or cluttered (or you just don't want people peeking into your life), a simple setup with some cheap drapery can be the solution. Note, you will need a light stand or some other vertical support, as well as a clamp to connect the curtain rod to the stand or pole. I've also added a new lighting setup using two tiny LumeCube lights, one bounced into a white poster board for my face lighting, and the other lighting the drape, to add more separation between me and the backdrop.

A variety of lighting setups, from very simple to more sophisticated.
Created By
Jim Babbage
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by SHOTPRIME STUDIO - "hacker stealing data from laptop" • Rafael Ben-Ari - "Man Working or learning from home" • chendongshan - "Working in front of the computer, the kitten is lying on his lap." • kerkezz - "Woman using laptop and listening music on a headphones" • cartoonresource - "Upside down" • Beachboyx10 - "Freelancer working at home with laptop computer on cozy sofa" • Aleutie - Man in a business suit coat and swim shorts sitting in front of a computer, having a video job interview or working from home