Production & Filmmaking
February 18, 2021

Tips for Getting Better Lighting for Your Webcam Videos

By Daniela Bowker 7 min read

Highlights

  • Arrange your space so that you have a plain or a tidy and uncluttered background, ideally with a window to the side
  • Any light can serve as your key light, even a table lamp, just make sure that it is positioned at 45 degrees to you and daylight color-balanced
  • Light your background to provide interest, but not be overwhelming or distracting

Whether you need a great lighting setup for Twitch streaming or you anticipate using Zoom, Meet or Teams a whole lot more in the coming year, we have everything you need to know to get your webcam lighting setup just right.

Getting your setup right

Before you start thinking about your lighting for a webcam broadcast or recording, you need to consider your webcam's position and what's in your background. This will have a huge impact on your appearance to your audience, so it's worth 5 or 10 minutes of your time.

First, make sure that your webcam is filming you from a slightly elevated position. So often, webcams or built-in cameras come at you from below, meaning that they are filming straight up your nose. It's really not very flattering! Instead, raise your monitor or laptop. If you don't have a riser, a pile of books will do the job.

Might be a bit over the top as background. Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

Second, consider your background. Ideally, you want a bare wall without any distractions, but these aren't always easy to come by in a standard house or flat. If you don't have a suitable plain wall, it's not the end of the world. Filming in front of a well-stocked and ordered bookcase makes a very nice backdrop. Otherwise, aim for a tidy and uncluttered background. Positioning a plant in one corner and having an interesting painting or piece of wall art in the opposite corner can look very stylish and professional. 

Now think about windows. They provide excellent light, but not if it's coming from behind you. Window light is best from the side or if you look into it. If you can't avoid having a window behind you, use some net curtains to diffuse the sunlight. Indeed, a bit of diffusion will help any window light.

While we have a post about setting up your Twitch stream, it's an excellent primer for any kind of webcasting and a recommended read. I would also suggest this as an introduction to video conferencing

With your angles and background sorted, you can start to think about your webcam lighting.

Using your screen for webcam lighting

If you're planning on using your webcam or inbuilt camera for many online meetings or Twitch streaming, it will be worth your time and money to buy some dedicated lights. However, for the occasional work meeting on Teams or just for family catch-ups over Zoom, you can get all the light you need from your screen's backlight. Open up a blank document in Word or Google Docs and change the page color to anything from pale peach to a deeper apricot depending on your skin tone.

google doc for better webcam lighting

A simple colored Google doc can improve your webcam video lighting

This should cast a soft glow on you and help you from looking washed out. This works best if you have a larger screen and can split it with your meeting software so that you can see everyone else in the meeting, or set up your phone on a bracket so that it can handle the meeting, but it's a great webcam lighting solution in a pinch.

Making the most of ambient light

Between all the lights that you have in your home, you should be able to put together something that works just fine for lighting webcam sessions. When you have set yourself up with a plain or clutter-free background and angled yourself appropriately to your window, it's time to position your lights. A desk lamp to one side of you will provide a soft key light that's just right for a Zoom meeting. If you need a bit more ambient light, a standard lamp out-of-shot would be good, or some fairy lights in the background could work too.

ambient light

What's important to remember here is that you want your bulbs to be daylight bulbs with a color temperature of about 5000K. If you have tungsten lights, their color temperature will clash with any sunlight and give you an odd color cast. 

Using professional lights

If you're going to be spending a lot of time on Zoom, using Twitch or recording classes or lectures, it will be worth investing in some professional lights as well as some other gear to improve the quality of your online sessions. First, consider buying some good audio equipment, for example, a microphone and stand and some comfortable headphones. If you have an actual camera, setting that up as your webcam is possible and might well be a good move. 

When you hear the word 'professional', you might think that lights are going to set you back hundreds of dollars, and they can. But they don't have to. There are plenty of budget options out there for good webcam lighting. 

If you're going to be doing something like presenting an online lecture or class, a good option is a ring light. They don't cast too many unflattering shadows and are very easy to position. Something like the GLOUE LED Circle Clip-On will cost you under $50 and can attach to your screen. For about $80, ESDDI offers an 18-inch ring light with a stand, offering you even more versatility. 

Lume Cube has a range of powerful, controllable LED panel lights that are ideal for webcam lighting. There's a video conferencing kit that clips onto your monitor or a broadcast kit with a stand. Both are under $100, highly portable, come with diffusers, controllable color temperature and adjustable brightness. 

lume cube webcam lighting kit

Image from lumecube.com

If you know that your webcam lighting will double as lighting for video or photography in other areas of your life, why not take a look at Spekular? It costs more but offers immense versatility. Spekular kits can be configured in a range of shapes, and the lights are dimmable and provide consistent, daylight-balanced light.

Finally, don't forget to throw a little light onto your background to bring some interest to your setup. Something like a Philips Hue lighting set will allow you to control your background color and serve as room lights when you don't need them for webcam lighting. There are cheaper options than Philips out there, but it's a good starting point. Fairy lights strung along a bookcase or mantlepiece in the background will look good, too. 

You don't need to spend a lot of money, and the chances are that all the lights you need are already in your home. All you need is a little strategic placement, and you will be lighting your webcam sessions like a pro!

 

Author bio

Daniela is a writer and editor based in the UK. Since 2010 she has focused on the photography sector. In this time, she has written three books and contributed to many more, served as the editor for two websites, written thousands of articles for numerous publications, both in print and online and runs the Photocritic Photography School.
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