How to use lighting like a pro for your video calls

One great thing about video conferencing is that you can always meet “in person,” as long as you have an Internet connection. Pretty much any device with a camera can get you connected face-to-face, even if you’re an ocean apart from other attendees.

It’s a convenient and cost-effective way to keep the “flat world” closer together.

With this in mind, it’s important that today’s professionals know their information-age etiquette. That includes asking yourself this simple question: “When I turn on my video, do I look like I’m patching in from a cave?”

Without a doubt, impressions still count over webcam. And even though yesterday’s tech might have pixelated you or glitched you out… well, we’ve come a long way. Video fidelity will always vary with the quality of your equipment and your Internet connection, but a basic, presentable video appearance is well under your control and is a key ‘best practice’ for all video conferencing.

Let’s jump in and take a look at some lighting tips and techniques to get you ready for your close up.

Keep it eye-level

First things first: As you adjust your lighting, you’ll want to keep your camera positioning constant. This is not an occasion that calls for experimental point-of-view shots or avant-garde camera tricks. If you’re feeling creative, channel that energy into getting your camera elevated to eye-level.

If you don’t have the right equipment or desk configuration to position your device at eye level, you can go DIY by stacking some flat, sturdy household items. Dictionaries and hardcover books will do nicely. Golf balls, pens, cutlery… not so much.

Straight-ahead primary lighting

Cinematographers often like to use a downlighting approach that brings in a primary light source from above the subject. This is great for casting facial shadows for a dramatic effect, but there’s a good chance your artistic nuances will be lost on the meeting participants who would much rather see your face clearly. For your purposes, a much better placement of your primary light source is close behind your camera, coming from the same direction your camera is pointing. It’s best to avoid placing this light source off-center as well.

Light sources are not all the same

Got some natural light in the room? Your camera will actually display that with a different color temperature than your light fixtures. If you’re getting some funky mixes of warm and cool colors going on, this could be your reason. And as fun as some psychedelic color combos might sound… probably not what you should be going for with that big presentation. Make sure you don’t have too heavy of a lighting combo at work.

And then there’s you

Lighting for a video call takes into consideration how your camera will read different light sources, so it’s also worth mentioning how it will react to you and what you wear in a conference. In general, bright colors and white clothes, all of which reflect lots of light, are not the best choices. Instead, opt for cooler colors, and preferably muted earth tones or blues. Patterns are fun, but if you’ve got a lower-fidelity camera, you might be creating some pretty distracting optical illusions with those thin stripes.

Ultimately, it doesn’t take too much effort to put across a good, clear image in a video conferencing situation, even with the kind of standard webcam technology that comes on your average laptop or tablet. With a little investment in video conferencing equipment, companies can even achieve high-fidelity conferencing experiences that stand in nicely for real, face-to-face interaction and keep employees, clients, and partners closely connected without adding a lot of cost.

By Katie Takacs