Tyler’s Tips Episode 41: Better Lighting for Video Calls


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today, I’m going to talk about how we can make you look better on all those video chats by improving your lighting. So why is lighting important during video chats? In my opinion, there’s two reasons. The first, super obvious, it’s got to be bright enough that we can see your face. The whole point is to add facial expressions and body language to a phone call, and if we can’t actually see your face because it’s too dark, doesn’t work. Might as well just be on phone call.

So, number two is storytelling. This is where I think it gets really fun and interesting. Lighting is a powerful storytelling tool. It’s used all the time in movies, TV, everything, photographs of course, still photography, and also video chats. Usually it’s on accident on video chats, and that’s what I’m going to try to help you with a little bit today, but the lighting constructs that… Whether it’s intentional or accidental, they kind of tell a story.

So I want to test your skills in this area, because you already have them. Think about the movies. When the good guy comes on or the bad guy comes on, they play good guy music, they play bad guy music, and there’s usually good guy lighting and bad guy lighting. So here’s an example, I want you to decide if this is a good guy or a bad guy, just based on the lighting. I know that was a really subtle example, but you can totally tell this, you’ve got the skills, you’ve been trained all your life.

So how do we apply that to video chats? I’m going to start by giving you some examples of what not to do, because I just think this is funny, I see this stuff all the time, and I love it. One of my personal favorites, I call this one witness protection. This is great if you really don’t want the people to know who you are in the video chat. On the other hand, if you would like the people to know who they’re talking to, this is less useful. So this is the result of putting a really strong light source right behind you. People usually do this with a window. So that’s a good one, I love it.

Here’s another one that is one of my favorites, this one I call the hothead. This is the result of mixed light, so this is what happens when the room light, the color in the room is blue or neutral, and the color of the light next to the computer is warm or red, and it makes your face look red, and it makes you look really angry. So if you’re not really angry, I recommend against this lighting construct because it looks like your head’s going to explode on the other end of the video.

Another fun one is the sunburn. This one is what happens when you have really harsh, direct light. Direct sunlight does this a lot. The cameras on these computers, on laptops and computers, even cell phones, a lot of times they just cannot handle the contrast of really, really bright, hard light like this. So the result is something like this, you can’t really see the highlights or the shadows, it’s difficult to tell what the person’s facial expression is telling you. Bonus fact, if you switch over to soft light, it looks a lot better in that people can tell what you’re trying to do with your face in terms of your facial expressions, but it also makes you look a lot younger. Hard light accentuates textures and wrinkles, soft light kind of hides all that stuff, so soft light is the way to go.

All right, another one that we’ve all seen a ton of times is the mugshot, and this is what happens when you get direct overhead light, kind of makes your eye sockets look sunken in, and this is really common bad guy lighting in movies, by the way, so don’t be a bad guy. No need for mugshot lighting. And we’ll come full circle back to Anthony Hopkins earlier, this is what I like to call zombie lighting. This is the scariest of all the lighting, you see this in horror movies. So we’re not in a zombie apocalypse yet, we’re getting close, but we’re not there yet, so don’t be a zombie.

And going beyond lighting a little bit, there are some other things that you can do, couple of bonus ideas that really will make your video chats look better. This one I like to call the intimidator. So this is what happens when you’ve got your laptop sitting on your lap, and the camera is way down below your face, so in effect you’re looking down on the viewer, right? And the person on the other end of the video experiences that, they experience this “Whoa” kind of thing, and so if your leadership style is fear and aggression and intimidation, this is a great choice. If you’re more of a collaborator, then I recommend against using this body position in the video chat.

So another one, and this one is one I have to be really careful of, this is what I call the fivehead. So, the wide-angle lenses on laptops and computers tend to distort a lot when you get near the edges, and so when you lean in like this, it really distorts your forehead and it makes it look a lot bigger. Guys like me that have a lot of forehead going on to start with, we got to be extra careful, so watch out for the fivehead, which is just a little bit bigger than a forehead.

Okay, so there are a bunch of ideas of what not to do, now let’s talk about what we should do. So I’m going to switch over to the laptop now, and so you can really see what’s happening as I move around to different lighting constructs, and I’ll show you some easy ways to make your light look great so that you can rock your next video chat.

Okay, switching over to the laptop. All right, the great news is if you are using a laptop for all these video calls, you can just pick the thing up like I am right now, and walk around your space, try not to walk into things, but watch what the light does as you move around in the different lights. The windows, they kind of do different things as the light falls on your face in different ways, right? There’s good, there’s bad, there’s not so good.

So, here’s my tip to keep it really simple, find a window, there’s this window right behind me. If you put it right behind you, it’s not going to look so good, right? We’ve already talked about that. But if you basically point your face towards a window, doesn’t really matter exactly what angle, just get near a window. Maybe if I back up a little bit from that one it looks a little bit better. You can really see my face, and everything looks good, right? This is just a window, that’s all it is. So now you got your laptop, find a chair, sit down, find a table or something to put your laptop on, and you’ve got beautiful light for your video call.

So now, what do you do if you don’t have an opportunity to move your computer, if you got a workstation and it’s not moving to a window? All right, let’s take a look. Okay, so what do we do when we have a workstation that we can’t easily move into beautiful light that’s coming in from the window, or if you’re doing this at night, for example, and there is no light coming in the window? Then we got to bring the light to the computer. The light at my workstation here is terrible if I don’t add something.

So, this does not have to be fancy, does not have to be complicated. For example, we can use this sweet baby. This probably was about 10 bucks at Target. So this is what it looks like if I don’t light my video feed from my computer at my workstation. It’s not good, you can’t even see my face. So, what’s the solution? Our simple handy light. So, we move it just outside of frame, turn it on, and that changes everything. All of a sudden, you can really see my face. It’s not perfect light, it’s not exactly the right color, it’s not perfect, but it’s so much better than it was, completely gets the job done. This does not need to be fancy or perfect, it just needs to show people what you look like.

Okay, so we just saw some examples of what not to do, some examples of what to do. I hope this was useful, as always. Thank you for your time, and if you have any ideas or topics that you’d like me to cover in a future Tyler’s Tip episode, just drop me a line, shoot me an email, and I’ll work it in. Until next time.