Webcam Lighting Setup

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One of the biggest ways to make your Google Hangout or any other type of video look its best is to make sure you have good lighting. Really any lighting that you put a little effort into will do wonders. The key is to get adequate amounts of light in front of your face so the audience can easily see you and the camera will look it’s best.

You can accomplish this with any lights you have in the house, office or wherever you are broadcasting from. Often I just use a nice large window (see below) with plenty of daylight coming in. This looks wonderful but can be hard to control. When the clouds pass in front of the sun, your lighting will change dramatically. While I love the look of natural light, the best way to ensure you have consistent, great looking light is by using lights that you control.

Lighting setup for HOA

In the image below you’ll see a more advanced lighting setup that I recently used on my G+ HOA based show, Podcasters’ Roundtable.

On the left is a Linco Flora Easy Softbox* kit and on the right is an F&V R-300 Ring Light (in the “result” portion of the image the Linco can be seen on the left side of my face and the F&V on my right).

I’m employing a basic three-point lighting setup where you have a primary “key” light (the softbox) on one side at approximately a 45 degree angle and another light on the opposing side for “fill.” This “fill light” is often not as bright as your Key Light in order to get a final result that shapes the with subtle shadow rather than simply filling the entire scene with light creating a “flat” look. However both are perfectly acceptable, it just depends on your own preference.

Also notice what is referred to as the “catch light” in my eyes. You can see the large softbox creating a nice reflection in my eyes which brings much more life to image and help draw the viewers attention to your eyes. Now that you’ve seen it, you’ll see “catch lights” in everything you watch on TV and film.

But where is the third light? I said I was using a three-point lighting setup but in reality I’m only using two lights. The third light in a three-point lighting setup would traditionally be placed behind and above my head and shoulders in order to put some light onto one side of my hair and shoulders. This helps to separate the subject from the background, creating more depth to your image and preventing you from blending in with the background.

In my example, I’m actually using a little trick that I like to use in order to get a three-point look out of two lights. What I did was move the ring light slightly behind me and to the side creating a three-quarter back light setup. This provides both fill light and a back light which you can see in the image.

Notice there is a shadow near the middle of my face on the right side. You’ll also notice that there are some highlights on the same side of my face, highlighting my cheek bones and spreading light onto the back of my right side shoulder.

I like this look because it’s not completely flat which is what I would get if I left the lights in the position you see them in the “setup” image. By moving the light to my side, just behind my shoulder, it creates a more cinematic look, shaping my face with light and shadow while still providing fill and a back light.

This is something you’ll want to play around with. How you chose to place your lights is completely up to you and the look you are going for. A higher contrast look like I have here may not look as good depending on the shape of your face or desired result. You can often get a more flattering look by using flat lighting or something that creates a softer shadow. Experiment.

Other factors included in getting a great looking image from your webcam include the webcam itself and software to control that camera manually.

I’m using the Logitech C920 plugged into my iMac with an app called Webcam Settings that allows me to control critical elements of my camera like white balance, brightness, contrast, focus, etc. For Windows users, the C920 comes with some software that will allow you to control the camera. The combination of these tools results in a high quality image and a more professional look that people will definitely notice.

It doesn’t have to cost much to produce a quality looking image from your webcam. Lighting can be handled with simple household items like lamps or you can replicate my setup with cheap supplies from your local hardware store. The largest benefit from investing in lights like you see in my setup is ease of use. I have light stands that hold the lights and everything is easily collapsable for storing when I’m finished. But the look can be achieved with or without a large budget.

All that’s left for getting the best quality production from your webcam streams is quality audio. That will be another post;) But if you want to know, that’s an ATR2100 microphone on the desk, it’s about $50 (the AT2005 is the same mic and is often cheaper) and it’s all you need for fantastic sounding audio with your online broadcasts.

 
*all links should be considered affiliate links. Please read my ethics statement as it relates to products I link to. I only post affiliate links to products and brands I use and/or trust. Thanks for helping support this content. 
About Ray Ortega

Full-time podcast producer and host of The Podcasters' Studio and Podcasters' Roundtable, I enjoy sharing my ten years of experience making podcasts to help others improve or start their own show.

Comments

  1. Thanks Ray – do you use all 6 bulbs in the linco?
    Do you find it hard to work with such bright lights pointing at you in relation to the overall brightness of the room?

    • Hi Jack, surprisingly what you see is only half power (3 bulbs). It's a lot of light but not too bad if not directly in front of you. 6 bulbs however might be a challenge but I haven't found the need for that many yet. More reason why I love the light.

  2. djosephdesign says:

    I have the hardest time with my exposure and white balance in Webcam Settings.

    • Just make sure you don't have any hotspots in your lighting and then it's just a combo of Exposure time and gain. Auto WB is usually a good option for WB and then switching it off once it gets it's WB.

  3. MoneyPlanSOS says:

    Brilliant! And I mean the post, not just the lights.

    I am limited in office space but have been able to fit one softbox to my left, which is about 45 degrees farther than my external monitor. Then I have a normal desk lamp above my left shoulder – high above. It works for now but I'm looking at the ring light as a possible future purchase. I've seen Wistia do some really great stuff with a ring light behind their subjects.

    Thanks for the tips Ray. I'll be creating a video soon on how I turned a $6 architect desk lamp from Walmart into an adjustable webcam stand. This solves my problem of having the webcam set on top of a wobbly external monitor without being too close (as is the case when I set it on my laptop screen). I'll be sure to make the lighting situation better thanks to you.

  4. Some time ago, when I started to make more use of video conferencing in my work, I faced a similar issue. How do I setup correct lighting to ensure good quality video in my otherwise dark home office? That resulted in a few posts, and the purchase of a couple of different lights.
    http://www.mgraves.org/2014/05/home-office-lighti

    You situation, as pictured above, would benefit from a blind on the door window to cut the distraction of the sunlight through the door.

  5. Hi Ray,

    Recently I started doing Hangouts on Air to do webinars, lighting is the main problem for me, after reading this article I got the fair idea about which webcam I have to use and lighting setup information.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and product details in this blog post, see you soon with another article, have a nice weekend

  6. Great post, Ray. I’ve just stuck one stand-alone photography lamp behind and just to the right of my C920. It’s surprising how it improves the image quality. I know I should put a second fill light, but I wanted something simple, permanent and that the wife won’t complain about. It’s great always having the light there so I can video chat whether the sun’s shining or not!

    • Yeah that great thing about lighting is you can accomplish a lot with a little. It’s easier for a guy to get away with one light, no fill because we see that lighting a lot on men in traditional media. Harder shadows go with the harder lines of our face. But a small LED can be useful for adding just enough fill for the other side. Thanks Craig!

  7. Revisiting this post, the new Logitech Brio has proven to be much more capable with respect to high contrast scenes. It handles the bright light from the French terrace doors in my home office without completely losing the detail in the whites, or dropping the dark parts of the scene into the mud.

    • Great to know, thanks for sharing, Michael. There is more gear than there is time to test so it’s really helpful to hear other people’s experience with various pieces of gear. I’ll check it out!

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