With virus concerns limiting face-to-face meetings, more businesses and professionals have turned to video chat services (such as Zoom and Google Meet) or video calls via cell phone. While this is a great alternative to actually being there, it comes with some unconscious expectations from the viewer.

Years of watching film and TV have accustomed us to seeing the “talking head” on the screen appear in the most flattering way possible, which is done intentionally by design in the production industry. However, that expectation is now thrust upon the non-pro as we are all forced into the growing world of virtual communication via video.

When sitting across the table from a business colleague, it’s pretty straightforward as we fully engage in the conversation taking place. However, now that communication is taking place more virtually, there’s a notable decline in our focus and attention span. Distracting thoughts now flash across our mind as we notice how the green hue in the fluorescent lights make others look a bit ill, or we feel the need to reposition ourselves to combat the glare from the window behind their head that makes their face harder to see. We then begin to notice hood-like shadows around the eyes of other participants as the unflattering ceiling lights bear down in a most unflattering way, while also trying to shield our eyes from the over-zealous video chatter because their image is ‘blown out’ from too much direct light.

Normal notable traits, when put under the scrutiny of a video, can become a glaring distraction that has the quietly implies unsophistication or unprofessionalism (in other words, “low value”). This is not how any of us want our business or ourselves to be perceived. The good news is that most of those unpleasant results can be fixed by proper illumination with professional lighting techniques!

Here are a few tips to improve the lighting when you’re on camera without resorting to expensive production lights and professional gear:

  • Give your face contour and depth. Placing a light directly in front of you creates an even wash of illumination across your whole face or “flat lighting.” Without shadows or shading your features don’t stand out, which removes character and visual interest. To combat that, raise your light source just above head level and move it off to the left or right 30 degrees or more. This will cast a light shadow from the nose, lips, and opposite side of your head. This “fall off” of the light across the face makes you look more three-dimensional, expressive, and engaging. It can also help lessen the light’s reflection in eye glasses. You will also notice the points of light reflected in the pupils (called “pin lights”). When you position them slightly off-center of the pupil (as shown in the image), it makes the eyes look more lively and attractive.
  • Diffused light is gentle light. A small light source (like a bare bulb) casts hard and defined shadows and is less flattering (although more dramatic such as the “60 Minutes” interviews). Broaden the source by placing thin fabric, a window sheer, a shower curtain, or tracing paper between the light and you. Be sure to only use white colored material to avoid altering your skin tone. A broad source also “wraps” the light around the subject (photons hitting from more directions) which is how it softens the shadows and sweeps across more of the face. You will lose some intensity level in the diffusion material, however, so play with the strength of the light until you are pleased with the light’s intensity.
  • Balance light across the face. The strongest light source hitting your face is called the key light. But a single key can cause too much shadowing on the opposite side of the face depending on its strength and position. To increase illumination on the shadowed side of the face, use what we call a fill light. Instead of immediately resorting to another active light source, try using a bounce card instead. It can be as simple as a piece of paper or poster board. Foam core board also works great as it holds its shape and needs minimal support. Again, only use white to avoid casting an unflattering color hue across your face. Place the bounce on the shadowed side of the face and angle it to catch and reflect the key light. Increase the amount of fill light you get by moving it closer to the face. This can look more natural that adding another light to that side. If you do end up using another light, make sure the colors of the two lights are matched (you don’t want an orange side and blue side of your face). Also, make sure the fill is lower in intensity than the key. An easy trick to insure that is to simply move the fill light farther away. Instant dimmer switch!
  • Separate from your background. Place another light source behind you or to your flanks at about a 45 degree angle. The light falling on your shoulders and hair (called a back light or rim light) helps to define your figure and make you appear to pop out from the background. It’s generally best to match the color of that light with your key and fill.
  • Screen light pollution. If you’re conducting your video with your computer in front of you, it’s best to turn the monitor off if at all possible. They give a weird blue up-light on the face which isn’t pleasing. If you have to have it on dim it as much as you can.
  • Use natural light if possible. You can also substitute or mix in natural light sources (windows) for any of the three lights as long as you position yourself and the camera to match the principals given above. Just remember that natural light will change in intensity and color as the sun moves across the sky…and it’s no help at night.

These professional techniques will help remove the unwanted distraction of unflattering lights, improve the quality of your videos, brighten your face, and have your viewers commenting on your healthy glow in no time.

We are RL Film Productions – your source for commercial video and film. Contact us any time to discuss your project, and we’ll help you bring it to life!