(Document includes short links to lighting gear on my Amazon affiliate items)
There are a lot of streamers and Youtubers pushing their recommendations for lighting gear that will give you the “best look” for your Zoom calls, live streams and video podcasts. Most of those recommendations are pretty good. And pretty expensive.
Here’s my theory when it comes to gear, and tools of any kind. Start cheap. When you start a new thing, you have no idea how that thing may evolve, or if you’ll even like doing it. Once you’ve done it for a bit and you see a future in it, that’s when you buy the “good stuff”.
So, what kind of lighting gear will make me look like a pro?
Expensive lighting gear isn’t the key to looking good. How much light, softened sources and where the light is placed are far more important.
One of the cheapest and most effective ways to look good on a webcam is to use a bright lamp you already have and bounce the light off a white surface like a piece of white foam core. Bouncing the light softens it so the light wraps around your face in a pleasant way. Placement of the foam core is the key to this trick. Here’s a simple diagram to help explain the concept. The foam core can be placed on either side. Or both!
In my home office, I have a desk lamp with a cool white LED bulb inside a frosted lamp shade. I have it placed in front of me to my left. It works perfectly. I achieve the soft light by using a fixture that has a frosted shade. It also bounces off a large dry erase board mounted to the wall behind my monitors.
What if I really want to buy lighting gear for my home studio?
If you choose to buy lighting gear, you don’t need to spend a lot. Here are some inexpensive lighting options. These are by no means the only choices out there, but they do provide a place to start comparing apples to apples.
Ring lights are nice because they provide light over a wider area and can cause a pleasing circular reflection in the eyes.
LED panels are also a good choice. Placement is again very important. Place the light in front of you a bit off to the side, the same as the foam core placement in the diagram above.
The real trick to lighting is to play with it. Every setup is a little different. Every room is a little different. Move the light around until you get the look you like. Raise it. Lower it. Use more than one source. You can mix and match the light fixtures and techniques above.
Don’t forget about your background
Avoid placing bright light sources behind you. If your room has a window, place your desk so the window is in front or to one side of you with a thin white curtain to diffuse the light. During the day the window can be a sweet light source!
And give some consideration to what’s behind you that the camera can see. Avoid sitting with your back inches from a wall. It causes some nasty shadows. Open it up a bit. Try to get a minimum of three feet of space between you and the wall. The more room between the better. Dress that wall up a bit with some art. Throw some colored light on it. Have fun!
Here’s a fun kit that’s pretty cheap. They require USB power, so break out all your old USB chargers.
Want more help?
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or have more specific questions, please feel free to contact us. At Third Rail Content, we don’t just make videos. We consult on all kinds of projects, anything and everything that will help you communicate at your best. Contact Us. We’re ready to help.