Working from home had already been gaining traction before it exploded overnight as a result of the current health crisis. The business conversations we used to have in person— like meeting a client at a coffee shop to discuss their project or visiting a partner at their office to close a deal—now happen online.

Today, you need to recreate those environments from your home office via video calls.

Contrary to what some people might think, doing that successfully requires deemphasizing the video element to keep the focus on people. Lighting is an important component of video.

Lighting for video conferencing isn’t about making your home office look like the production of a movie set. Instead, it’s about making the lighting look as natural as possible so you and your video conferencing partner can get down to business without any distractions.

As the founder of a fully remote marketing company and someone who conducts multiple video conferences a day, I’ve perfected my video lighting setup (after making my fair share of mistakes). Below are some tips for creating the best lighting for home video conferencing.

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Home vs. Office Lighting For Video Conferencing

It’s likely you didn’t give a second thought to lighting while you were in the office. So why should it matter now?

Offices are lit very differently from homes. In an office, there are multiple sources of overhead lighting that are evenly dispersed and well placed throughout a space. As a result, the lighting looks natural and smooth whether you’re having an in-person or virtual meeting from your office.

In our homes the lighting is quite different. Typically, people set up their home office desks against a wall to make the best use of space. However, the room is usually lit by one overhead light in the center of the room; that light doesn’t always make it to your desk. If you’re working in your kitchen or on your dining table, for example, then you’re also competing with light coming in from windows in multiple directions.

Your web camera is designed to focus on the brightest source of light in its frame. It darkens everything else in order to highlight the main light source. If that isn’t you, then you may end up looking like an FBI witness giving top-secret testimony—not the look you want when you’re video conferencing with important clients.

4 Tips To Create The Best Lighting For Video Conferencing

1. Rate your current setup.

The best way to evaluate your current lighting setup is to re-enact a typical video call. This way, you can figure out what the other person sees. Set up in your home office or wherever you typically take calls from, start a Zoom call, and record yourself for a few minutes. Play back the recording and carefully evaluate the lighting.

Look for odd shadows on your face or shoulders, reflections of light, and dark patches. Basically, identify anything that doesn’t look natural. Remember—we’re trying to recreate an in-person meeting over video, so think about what you likely wouldn’t see in person. These are the elements to correct with proper lighting.

Make sure your camera is positioned at eye level or slightly above. This is the angle at which most people in person see you. If you notice your built-in camera is too low, prop up your laptop on a stand or a couple of thick books. If you’re using a webcam on a stand, raise it up slightly until you appear at eye-level height.

2. Position your lighting carefully.

If the lights you’re using are not in the right place, it can throw off your camera and create distracting shadows in the frame. Positioning is everything.

To produce the best lighting for video calls:
  • Don’t place any sources of light behind you. Lighting for video calls should be placed behind the camera. If the lighting is behind you, then the camera will automatically focus on that light and darken your face. This makes it very hard for the person you’re talking with to focus on your conversation.
  • Don’t have any light directly above you. This can be difficult when you’re working in a home office, especially since overhead lighting is so common at home. Using a different source of light that is positioned behind the camera will be more effective than using your overhead lighting. Typically, overhead lighting creates shadows on your face and a glare on the camera.
  • Do use multiple sources of light. When light comes from different directions and sources, it can fill in shadows and create an even, natural look.
  • Do put some distance between yourself and the light. Shining a light directly on your face from right behind the camera will create a harsh look and wash out your features. If you have the space, position the light a few feet away. For best results, reflect the light source off another surface, like a wall.

3. Invest in the right tools.

You can upgrade the appearance of your home office setup just by following the simple light positioning tips above. However, I’d also recommend investing in a few items that will really up your video conferencing game. To achieve the best possible lighting for video conferencing, try:
  • Professional lights: I’ve tried a few different options, and this product is definitely my favorite. I suggest pointing these lights at a wall behind your camera in order to change the apparent light source size. This makes the light bounce off the wall in different directions, diffusing the intensity of the light, removing shadows, and creating a more natural light appearance. Another popular option is the ring light, a laptop light for video conferencing. However, I find that it often looks too harsh (and reflects in your glasses if you wear them).
  • Logitech webcams: Most built-in webcams are fine for personal video calls. However, if you want to have more control over the webcam software so that you can adjust the focus and customize it for your space and skin tone, we recommend the Logitech Brio or Logitech 920.
  • Sheer curtains or blinds: It’s likely you have a window or two in your home office space. Natural light can help you create the best lighting for video calls, but sometimes it needs a little assistance. To cut the harsh sunlight (which creates glare), try using sheer curtains or blinds. These help diffuse the natural light for a softer glow.

4. Pay attention to the other elements in the room.

There’s more to good lighting than buying and positioning light sources. Sometimes there are other elements present that interact with light sources and create distractions. Once you’ve got the right lighting for video calls in place, you’ll want to make a few small changes to the finer details in your camera frame. Don’t forget to check:
  • Your glasses: If you wear glasses, you know the pain of glare. You can avoid getting glare on your glasses during video calls by softening the light source. Point it toward a wall so it’s not directly on you.
  • Reflective objects: Make sure there are no mirrors directly behind you in the frame of your camera. These will reflect the light and wreak havoc with your camera’s automated settings. If you need a solid background for your video calls, check out these professional options from Anyvoo.
  • Shiny jewelry or clothes: If you’re wearing anything reflective—like a sequined shirt or a big necklace—those may also catch the light at the wrong angle, causing problems on camera.
  • Blinds: If there is a window directly behind you, the light that sneaks in from the blinds periodically can affect your webcam’s focus and cause distractions. Use curtains instead or ensure the blinds are fully closed.
  • Lack of light: If you’re forced to conduct a video conference in a location where there is not enough light, turn up the brightness on your monitor. This is a temporary solution that will help you get through your call while still looking professional.
Getting natural-looking light for your video calls doesn’t require a full film production setup. With a few small changes to your home office space, you can have soft, smooth lighting that doesn’t include any visual distractions. Be sure to focus on the position of the light, the position of your camera, and the different sources of light and reflection in your space.