Why lighting is paramount for remote speakers

Lighting is one of the most essential factors for video conferencing, second only to audio in terms of the audio-visual side. Lighting impacts not only your overall look but importantly, the quality of your video. A good amount of light allows your camera to provide the best quality image.

It’s much better (in our opinion) to have a well-lit, lower-quality video than a 1080p video that looks poor due to bad lighting. The excellent news for lighting is that it’s pretty simple and cheap to make improvements to enhance your presentations and online appearances. 

Here are our top tips to help you shine a light on your virtual appearance

Your face should be lit well, with a good balance and clear distinction between foreground and background. This will help keep the focus on you when you’re presenting. 

You will want a light source in front or just off to the side so your face is well-illuminated. Depending on where you are positioned, you can do this in a few ways, but the best solution is to buy a ‘ring light’ or a similar desktop lamp you can set up behind your computer screen. You want the light to be ‘soft’ or diffuse for a better look. It brings consistency whether it’s night or day, and given many people have their desks by a wall, they work great in smaller spaces.

You can pick up these lights for as little as £30 online, though if you want to invest a little more, we’d highly recommend the Elgato Key Light or Key Light Air, which provides soft light and is bi-colour – something we’ll talk about more shortly.   One thing to mention here for those with glasses is that it is common to see the light reflecting back with these lights. Positioning the light higher up or off-centre will generally stop this, but something to watch out for when setting it up.

Natural light sources

If you don’t have a specific light for the task, you can still use what you have to improve how you’re lit. Positioning yourself with any windows in front, or to the side will generally provide better light. It is a good idea to have net curtains that help soften the light, particularly if it’s sunny. But if you’re in the UK like we are, clouds will perform a similar job of diffusing the light! The key here is to understand the light in your space and work with it to get the best results. 

You could use a more standard lamp; however, these can be a bit harsh and depending on the bulb might give a ‘red’ look. We’d recommend ‘bouncing’ any light like this off the wall (i.e. aiming the light to hit a wall first so the reflections illuminate you);  this acts to soften the intensity, essentially softening the light down. The reflected light is much more subtle than direct light and is a technique often used in film for a more natural feel.

One thing to avoid with lighting is having a strong light behind you; this is called a backlight in film talk. Sometimes this can be a window and will also ‘blow out’ – essentially when the light is too strong, you will see a strong white area on the screen. Your camera will tend to balance to the strongest light source, so this may cause silhouetting on you, and we see you as a dark outline. Ceiling lights can cause issues as backlights, particularly ‘flaring’ where you will see streaks on the screen. Often raising the laptop and angling the camera down will frame out lights.

Cool and warm lighting

It’s essential to consider the ‘temperature’ of your light setup. Colour temperature is essentially a measure of how blue, or red, the light source is; it is measured in kelvin for those interested. 3200k would be an incandescent bulb (redder) and 5500k would be daylight (bluer). 

Overall, it’s not important which end of the spectrum your light is; the key is for all the lighting to be consistent and in the same range. Traditional tungsten-style filament lights, i.e. the traditional bulbs you might have had at home, are redder and lower on the kelvin scale, whereas daylight and often LED or Strip lights have a bluer hue. Video conferencing systems will generally adjust the ‘white balance’, which is mostly corrected automatically. However, problems can arise if you have light from two different sources, i.e. one red and one blue, which confuses the auto-adjusting process as it doesn’t know where it should sit as it needs to choose one value. 

Graphical representation of the Kelvin scale

Another reason we recommend a bi-colour ring light; is its flexibility to be tuned to make it bluer or redder. So, in the daytime, you might have it set towards blue, whereas, in the evening, you can tune it towards red as the lighting around you changes. 

Background lighting

We want you to stand out. If your lighting looks good, it is also worth considering how you light your background to further lift the overall look. If you’re the only thing lit, it can all feel a bit “Blair Witch Project’.

Having one light in front of you, plus your available room lights, will usually do a good job, but you could consider a low-powered lamp behind you. This can be used aesthetically to enhance the look of your frame but will give increased separation between you (the subject) and the room (the background). You’ll often see gamers use a coloured LED lamp to to do this, which can work well if that is the style you want to achieve.

Hopefully, this helps when considering your lighting when presenting or streaming online. As always, we welcome feedback, ideas for equipment and any tips you might have! Lighting is just one of the things our new Checkr speaker service tests. Try them out for yourself, and fill out the free test form.

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