Lighting Hacks for Looking Your Best on Zoom Calls

Zoom became ubiquitous practically overnight. As of 2022, over 300 million people participate in Zoom calls daily according to the company‘s reported metrics. With video meetings now routine in our work and personal lives, making a solid on-screen impression really matters.

Unfortunately, amateur lighting can make anyone look rough around the edges on video. Glare shrouds facial expressions behind glassy reflections. Dark shadows and backlighting give an ominous, unintentionally dramatic appearance. Poor image quality strains eyes and hampers meeting engagement.

But significant Zoom glow-ups are possible with simple gear and techniques. This guide by a presentation professional will help you look crisp and competent whenever video calls arise.

Why Should You Care About Lighting for Zoom Sessions?

Humans rely heavily on nonverbal cues and facial expressions when communicating. According to communications experts, over half of meaning stems from body language and tone rather than spoken words alone.

Positive lighting enables viewers to clearly interpret those visual signals during meetings. Properly positioned light sources minimize squinting at shadows so participants can read faces accurately. Well-lit subjects also appear more attentive, friendly, and intelligent according to psychophysical research.

In contrast, poor lighting has psychological influence as well. A study published in Perception journal revealed backlit interviewees seemed less honest while faces obscured by darkness came across as more socially awkward.

Beyond impressions, overly bright or dark footage strains eyes which diverts mental focus from conversations. Glare-free, subtle, diffuse lighting creates comfortable viewing so participants concentrate on topics instead of technical issues.

For all these reasons, upgrading lighting should be a priority for looking and communicating your best on video calls, especially as remote work persists.

Gear & Setup Recommendations

Achieving flattering illumination is easier than you might expect…

Use Natural Light Whenever Possible

Natural light consistently delivers excellent results for video calls and streaming. Position yourself facing a window on overcast or partially sunny days to take advantage of soft, even daylight.

Avoid backlight from windows behind you, which casts overly dark shadows on your face. Filter harsh midday sun with semi-sheer white curtains. These low-cost curtain panels from Mystic Home work nicely to diffuse light.

woman on video call with natural lighting coming through window

Photo by Hidden Couple from Pexels

Pay attention to lighting color as seasons and times of day shift. Blue hour just after sunrise and before sunset creates flattering imagery. The most intense overhead midday sun introduces unflattering shadows underneath eyes, nose and chin.

If repositioning or window filtering doesn‘t resolve issues, portable ring lights and LED panels (covered next) add soft, diffuse fill illumination wherever needed.

Diffuse Shadows & Glare With Reflectors

"Bouncing" light off angled white surfaces visually eliminates shadows and reduces glare from eyeglasses. Foam boards work great for this. Place one off-camera facing a light source to redirect rays back onto you.

These affordable foam boards from Evadow have ultra-white surfaces to maximize reflectivity. Their slim profile permits inconspicuous leaning against walls or furniture.

woman on video call with foam board reflecting light

The same principle works by bouncing portable light sources too. These dimmable smart bulbs from Daybetter let you tune lighting colors and angles for optimal dispersion across your features.

Supplemental Lighting Solutions

While natural light should be favored when available, portable lighting gear comes in handy when extra illumination is beneficial.

Ring Lights

Ring lights cast even, wrap-around lighting to banish unflattering shadows. Compact LED diametres between 6 and 18 inches suit various budgets and applications. Most offer variable color temperatures and brightness levels.

For travel: Clip-on mini ring lights like this USB model from Selfila attach to laptops and monitors. The 5-inch diameter still eliminates dark undereye circles and nostril shadows.

For home offices: Larger semi-portable ring lights sit atop tripod stands. This 10.5-inch desktop model from Yarrashop works nicely for home office video calls. Angle the light and phone mount as needed.

For dedicated streaming/video studios: Pro-grade LED ring light kits feature heavy-duty build quality, expansive diameter for wrapping bigger groups, and smartphone/DSLR compatibility. This 18-inch ring light from Neewer even includes an orange color filter for warmer skin tones.

LED Light Panels

Slim LED panels supplement ambient room lighting to balance exposure and fill any remaining shadows. Cool features like Bluetooth adjustability, light stands, and wall mounting maximize flexibility.

I recommend this dimmable LED two-light kit from NiceVeedi. The cinematic quality light replicates natural sunshine very convincingly during dark video calls.

LED light panels on stands

NiceVeedi LED Studio Light Kit. Image: Amazon

Room Layout Recommendations

As cinematographers say, lighting the scene starts with appropriate "blocking". Here are room organizing tips and diagrams to make the most of natural light from windows in common room types.

diagram showing optimal video call lighting and furniture placement in living room with window light

Living Room Layout for Zoom Calls

diagram showing optimal video call lighting and furniture placement in bedroom with window light

Bedroom Layout for Zoom Calls

Summary: Key Lighting Hacks

Follow these best practices for looking fantastic on virtual meetings:

  • Turn off overhead fluorescent lights which negatively impact color
  • Close blinds if light sources compete or cause glare
  • Face the primary window for ample even front illumination
  • Soften intense sunlight with sheer/white curtains
  • Bounce portable lights off white walls / boards to fill facial contours
  • Add supplementary ring lights / LED panels as needed for brightness/color
  • Adjust camera white balance settings to tune colors and skin tone rendition

For quick reference, download my Zoom lighting checklist here.

I hope these practical lighting techniques make you look (and feel!) fantastic on your upcoming video calls. When setup properly, lighting ensures you appear crisp, competent and approachable no matter when virtual meetings arise.

Let me know on Twitter @techluminary if you have any other teleconferencing questions! I‘m always happy to help optimize your WFH video presence.

FAQs

What is the best type of light for Zoom meetings?

Diffuse natural light is ideal when available. Position yourself facing a window on overcast or partly cloudy days. When unavoidable, compensate for unflattering shadows and darkness with portable ring lights or LED panels.

Where should I place extra lighting gear for video calls?

Position supplementary lights slightly off-camera at face level about 2 feet away pointed toward you. This provides flattering frontal illumination and prevents the bright spotlights appearance.

Is special lighting equipment required for quality video meetings?

Not at all! While specialty video gear helps polish streaming presence, many tricks maximize existing conditions for better Zoom results. Tactically placed laptops, reflectors and basic room lighting adjustments work wonders.

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